We commend the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, who, since he assumed office last year, had pledged to clean up the judiciary and seems to be fulfilling that promise in manners that seem unprecedented in the judicial history of Nigeria. The National Judicial Council (NJC) recently added to that record by recommending to President Muhammadu Buhari, the dismissal of two senior judges: Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court, who has also been standing trial, and Justice James Agbadu-Fishim of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria. The NJC, through its Director of Information, Mr. Soji Oye, said it came to that conclusion after it had reviewed the petitions against the two judges at the end of its 87th meeting.
The commission found merit in two different petitions lodged against Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia by the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, who had alleged that Justice Ofili- Ajumogobia is a Director/Chief Executive Officer and sole signatory to Nigel and Olive company, contrary to the code of conduct for judicial officers. The Commission found that several personalities, individuals, government officials and business partners lodged funds into various accounts belonging to the judge. The commission did not fail to mention the “ex parte communication between the Hon Judge and Mr. Godwin Obiah (SAN) during the pendency of his matter before His Lordship.” But the council stated that it could not consider other allegations in the petition because they were already before a court where the judge was standing trial, so the court should decide those aspects.
Equally awful was the case of Justice Fishim. The NJC did confirm that the judge received various sums of money from litigants and lawyers that had cases before him and some influential Nigerians, under the pretence that he was bereaved or that there was delay in the payment of his salary. Such subterfuges, the Commission said, were“ contrary to the Code of Conduct for judicial officers,” and that it had notified President Buhari of the ingredients of the offence of the two judges and recommended their immediate dismissal. In the interim, however, the NJC, in exercising its own disciplinary powers, had ordered the suspension of both judges pending their removal by the President.
Even more inspiring is the extent of NJC’s activities to ensure that petitions against judges are promptly monitored and evaluated. The NJC disclosed that new petitions written against 26 judicial officers in both Federal and State high courts were receiving attention and that four panels have been set up to investigate the issues raised in the petitions. This is, certainly, a truly active NJC, perhaps, the most active in Nigerian history. It deserves all the commendation it is getting. Not only has it boosted the faith of Nigerians in the judiciary, it has also boosted faith in other institutions, especially, with the assurance that if everything fails elsewhere, the aggrieved is confident of receiving justice in the courts. In a political season as we have now, it is truly reassuring and we wish the honourable Chief Justice more grease to his elbows.
We find it to be an exemplary record that since 2017 not less than 45 judges have been dismissed and many more disciplined. We observe the fastidious approach of the present NJC in the example it set with Justice Joshua E. Ikede whose letter of voluntary retirement, the NJC rejected out of hand when the commission discovered that the judge had falsified his age and “ought to have retired since October 1, 2016. The NJC backdated his retirement and recommended to the Delta State government to deduct from the retirement benefits of the judge, all salaries received by him from October 2016 till date and remit such to the NJC “which pays salaries of all judicial officers in the Federation.” The commission found a petition written by David Efunwape, a lawyer, against Justice E.O. Osinuga of the Ogun State High Court to be false. It is, therefore, forwarding a report to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee for “appropriate sanctions for making false allegations against a judge.” The commission dismissed many petitions, and in one case decided to warn the petitioner and asked him to apologise to the Hon. Judge for the false allegation of inducement.”
We find the activities of the NJC inspiring. We hope other Nigerian institutions can follow its example.