By Chukwuemeka Chimerue
Friday, 17th June, 2016.
The National Judicial Council was seemingly inactive in playing the roles that would not only fish-out bad eggs and interlopers in the judiciary but also give the third estate of the realm its desired respect in Nigeria.
The appointment of Justice Fatima Aloma Muktar as the Chief Justice of Nigeria three years ago awoke the NJC from its deep slumber in line with the resolve of Justice Aloma to ensure that the nation’s judiciary regained its strength and honour.
Her reign witnessed relative bite of the NJC which correspondingly called to question judicial officials found wanting in the discharge of their onerous task.
For instance, under the tenure of Aloma as the Chairman of the National Judicial Council(NJC), the Council suspended Justice Abubakar Talba of the Federal High Court, Abuja from office for a period of one year without pay, over the judgment he delivered in the case of the police pension fund thief, John Yakubu Yusuf. Yakubu was sentenced to two years imprisonment on each of the three counts to which he pleaded guilty, with an option of N250,000 on each count as fine
The NJC also suspended the former Chief Judge of Rivers state, Justice P.N.C. Agumagu and did not recommend his appointment to the governor of the state for appointment as the state Chief Judge.
Aloma’s exit didn’t diminish the bite of the NJC as her predecessor promised to sustain the tempo the Council has found, especially in the quest to nip in the bud, corruption and judicial recklessness among the members of the silk in the country.
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In April this year, the NJC sacked Justice O. Gbajabiamila of Lagos State Federal High Court and Justice Idris M. J. Evuti of the Niger State Federal High Court for judicial misconduct.
The council which is headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, said it took the decision at the end of a meeting held on April 13 and 14. NJC okayed Justice Gbajabiamila’s sack after it found that he delivered judgment in a case before him 22 months after written addresses were adopted by all the parties and 35 months after the close of evidence in the suit.
The council said after it investigated a petition lodged before it by one Mr. C. A. Candide-Johnson, SAN, it concluded that the action of the judge took in suit No ID\1279\2007 P. K. Ojo versus SDV and SCOA Nigeria PLC, was contrary to constitutional provisions that judgments should be delivered within a period of 90 days. Besides, NJC, said it found two other judges of the High Court of Niger state, Justices Evuti and Tanko Yusuf Usman, guilty of allegations that they falsified their dates of birth. The judges were indicted on the basis of a petition filed against them by one Mohammed Idris Eggun.
NJC said though it did not suspend Justice Usman because he had earlier voluntarily retired from office, it however, ordered him to refund all the salaries he received from June last year. It ordered the compulsory retirement of the Chief Judge of Abia state, Justice Shadrach Nwanosike over the allegation of age falsification. Also Justice Lambo Akanbi of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers state was relieved of his duty when he was ordered to proceed on a compulsory retirement after the NJC found him guilty of judicial misconduct.
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The NJC further said it has decided to place Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on the “watchlist” for the next four years, following her alleged complicity in acts of judicial misconduct. The council whom issued a stern warning to the judge, said that Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia would not be considered for any elevation to the Court of Appeal or any ad-hoc judicial appointment till her retirement from the Bench.
Earlier in April this year, the NJC queried a judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Mohammed Yunusa, who was accused by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC), of receiving financial gratification from a senior lawyer, Mr. Rickey Tarfa(SAN). The development was sequel to a petition by a civil society group called Civil Society Network Against Corruption, which was signed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria cum Chairman of the NJC, Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
It therefore became worrisome and rather suspicious that in all these supposed anti-corruption fight in the judiciary, the torchlight has never been beamed on Hon. Justice John Terhemba Tsoho of the Court 3 Division of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, despite all the negative reports of his judicial misconducts and recklessness in the judiciary. Could this be attributed to lack of verifiable evidence or a grand design of obstruction by those at the helm of affairs in Nigeria?
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For all we know, Justice Tsoho is one judge you wouldn’t like to encounter in court because he is remarkable for dishing out an unjust and inconsistent rulings against the supreme dictates of the law he swore to uphold. This was why he shamefully and unceremoniously withdrew as the presiding judge from the fundamental rights suit by the Chairman of Bi-Courtney Limited, Dr. Wale Babalakin, SAN, against the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and the EFCC.
Justice Tsoho withdrew from the suit following a petition by Babalakin to the Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Auta, praying him to reassign the case to a different judge. Babalakin was seeking an order barring them from arraigning him on criminal charges filed at the Lagos state High Court, Ikeja.
He has in that petition, said that there was no guarantee he would get “justice” from Justice Tsoho.
According to him, and like always, Tsoho reversed him earlier rulings by vacating an interim injunction he made on 29 April, 2015, barring the EFCC from going on with the proposed arraignment pending the determination of the fundamental rights enforcement suit.
In the same petition, Babalakin said that the judge(Tsoho), discharged the order “without a formal application from the respondents.” They prayed that the case be reassigned to another competent judge. And that saw the shameful and unceremonious removal of Justice Tsoho from presiding over the case by the Chief Judge.
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Again, in Nnamdi Kanu’s case, the inconsistent rulings of Justice Tsoho is an evidence that he is employed and paid by the FG, not just to jail Nnamdi Kanu(Prisoner Of Conscience, POC) and other defendants, but to pervert and obstruct the cause of justice. He has apparently allowed the Federal government through her DSS to hijack the proceedings of the court by the virtue of his dancing to their tunes and dictates.
As has been confirmed, the federal government is now running the proceedings and not the judge. But what I find difficult to comprehend is the reason why a judge in his capacity would want to be used by a temporal and passing-by politician whose tenure elapses at the end of every four years in office, than to maintain his integrity and the reputation he has built over the years for the sake of what he hopes to gain from his paymasters and then forgetting that he is not alone in this world.
As noble men and people of good conscience condemned the way in which Justice Tsoho has handled the case of Nnamdi Kanu(POC), so far, may not be unconnected with his mundane ambition of becoming the next Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, when the current Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Ibrahim N. Auta and his second-in-command, steps down the ladder in 2017.
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Justice John Terhemba Tsoho who is the current third-in-command after Hon. Justice Ibrahim Auta and his second-in-command, Justice Abdukadir Abdu-Kafarati, was born on 24th June 1959. While it is clear that Justice Tsoho can be made the Chief Judge of Nigeria on the basis of his seniority and next in command, the president possesses the constitutional liberty to alter his seniority eligibility, particularly if he is found to be in his black list; hence I am not surprised at his present hostile disposition in Kanu’s case for the purpose of pleasing the federal government on the altar of his life, liberties and sound justice; a repeat of Auta Justice.
Justice Tsoho’s inconsistent rulings has exposed the hatched plan between him and the federal government whom apparently controls the nation’s judiciary, to convict Kanu(POC) against all odds.
To refer to his previous two rulings with the headlines: “Judge Rejects Secret Trial,” and the second one; “Witnesses Now To Testify Behind The Screen(Masked Witnesses),” without the Prosecution team formally filing an appeal against the first ruling, speaks volume in the different judgments on the same issue, from the same judge in the same court on two different occasions.
This judge who has constantly erred on points of law, has made his rulings too abysmal and lacking in merit, thereby making mockery of the Nigerian judicial system which has been reduced to a laughing stock in the eyes of the international community.
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There is therefore the need for the NJC in its match to clean the judiciary of filth, to seriously and genuinely consider and probe Justice John Tsoho in these judicial blunder and misconduct, without which the fight against corruption in the judiciary would not be said to be complete. There are overtures on the NJC to ensure that judges found wanting should be dismissed rather than being suspended which will eventually see their return to the Bench after exhausting the period of their sanctions.
The erstwhile President of Nigerian Bar Association(NBA), Chief Olisa Agbakoba said it was important for the judiciary to be rid of all forms of corrupt, incompetent and fraudulent officers, so as to forestall a collapse of the system.
“With the recent sanctions on corrupt judges, other judges must now come to terms with the fact that the long arm of the law is lurking, and they must take a cue, lest they fall victims themselves,” he said.
He commended the NJC and urged it to keep up with the good work and ensure that the nation’s judicial system is rid of filth.
Stakeholders in the judiciary are also of the opinion that the NJC should sustain the current tempo or momentum of bringing accountability and responsibility on judges and other judicial officers in the country in line with the current “supposed and shadowed” change mantra being propagated by the current administration.
Published By Nwosu C.S
For Biafra Writers