President Goodluck Jonathan recently approved the sack of two justices – Justice Gladys Olotu of the Federal High Court, Abuja and Justice Ufot Inyang of the Abuja High Court – for gross misconduct. This is sequel to the recommendations of the National Judicial Council (NJC). The Council also issued warning to the presiding justice of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna Division, Justice Dalhatu Adamu, Justice A. A. Adeleye of the Ekiti State High Court and Justice D. O. Amaechina of the Anambra State High Court.
The NJC had last month suspended both Olotu and Inyang and followed it up by recommending to President Jonathan to axe them. Reports had it that 10 defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) federal lawmakers from Katsina State had petitioned the NJC demanding that Justice Olotu be sanctioned for overruling a decision of the Supreme Court and other alleged misconduct.
Justice Inyang, on the other hand, was indicted over his award of N460 million against the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) in a suit by one of its contractors, Prince Chidi Chukwuani, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of BPS Engineering and Construction Limited. The engineering company had sued FERMA for unpaid contract job worth N27 million. In the judgment delivered on December 20, 2011, the judge ordered FERMA to pay principal sum plus 25 per cent interest from 2006 and N50 million in damages. This added up to N460 million. The curious speed with which the order was signed by the judge, enrolled and executed through the Chief Registrar of the FCT High Court, Mrs. Toyin Yaya, despite a subsisting interlocutory injunction by the Appeal Court, Abuja Division, raised some suspicion.
Latest reports have it that Justice Olotu has dragged President Jonathan, NJC, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Attorney General of the Federation and the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja to court, seeking a reversal of her sack, which she said constituted a breach of her fundamental human rights.
The action of the NJC is, nonetheless, in consonance with the pledge of the CJN, Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, to sanitize the judiciary when she emerged as the first female CJN on July 16, 2012. It is a big relief that Mukhtar and the NJC have not relented in ridding the bench of bad eggs. Early last year, if we may recall, the Council recommended the suspension and eventual sack of Justices Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court, Lagos and Justice Thomas Naron of the Plateau State High Court. Archibong was recommended to President Jonathan for compulsory retirement for dismissing the grievous charges against an accused person without taking his plea; refusing to release the Certified True Copy of his ruling to the lawyers, as well as issuing a bench warrant on some officials of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for contempt, even when the counsel who was directed by the court to serve them an affidavit had not been able to serve the contempt application, among others. For his part, Justice Naron was axed for compromising his sacred office with one of the lead counsels during the election petition tribunal sitting in Osun State.
Also not to be forgotten in a hurry was NJC’s one year suspension without pay slammed on Justice Abubakar Talba of the Abuja High Court, for handing an ‘unreasonable’ sentence to a self-confessed pension thief, John Yakubu Yusufu. The judge had on January 28, 2013, directed Yusufu to pay a fine of N750, 000, shortly after the accused person, a former Deputy Director in the pension office, admitted before Talba’s court that he conspired with six other civil servants and stole about N23 billion from the Police Pensions Fund.
It is common knowledge that before the coming of Justice Mukhtar, public confidence in the judiciary had been seriously eroded; instead of being the last hope of the common man in the search for justice, the Nigerian bench became an emporium for shady deals making. The judiciary was not only scourged by a good number of corrupt judges, but by indolent judicial officers as well. All these the CJN and NJC are currently battling to put right. While members of the bench who feel mistreated reserve the right to seek redress in court, no effort should be spared by the CJN, the NJC and the Presidency in working harder to retrieve the bench from further ruination.