Justices C.E Archibong and T.D Naron have been suspended while Justice Abubakar Talba is being investigated.
The National Judicial Council, NJC, on Thursday in Abuja gave reasons why it suspended two judges and commenced investigations on the third.
The Council, at an emergency meeting presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloma Mukhtar, on Wednesday night suspended Justices Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court, Lagos, and Thomas Naron of the Plateau State High Court. The council also recommended that they be retired from the bench, a recommendation that would have to be approved by President Goodluck Jonathan.
In a statement signed by the NJC’s Acting Director of Information, Soji Oye, the Council announced the “immediate” suspension of the two judges pending a decision by President Goodluck Jonathan on its recommendation that they be retired for alleged judicial misconduct.
Mr. Oye, in the statement said, “Hon. Justice Archibong was recommended for compulsory retirement to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, pursuant to the findings by the council on the following complaints leveled against him:
“That the judge dismissed the grievous charges against an accused (Erastus Akingbola) without taking his plea.
“That he refused to release the Certified True Copy of his ruling to the lawyers.
“That the judge issued a bench warrant on some officials of Peoples Democratic Party 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.
“That he made unfounded and caustic remarks on professional competence of some Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
“That there were glaring procedural irregularities which showed that Archibong did not have a full grasp of the law and procedure of the court.
“That he granted the leave sought in the originating summons that had no written address of the parties and without hearing both parties in the originating summons after he had earlier overruled the preliminary objection.”
Naron and Oyinlola
As regards the suspension of Justice Naron, the statement said there were constant and regular voice calls and exchange of mms and sms (text) messages between the judge and one of the lead counsels during the election petititon tribunal sitting in Osun.
“(The communication was) for one of the parties to the suit in the Osun State Gubernatorial Election Tribunal.”
Call logs of Mr. Narons’s phone showed that he was in constant communication with Kunle Kalejaiye, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and lead counsel to the then Osun State Governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, while the judge presided over the election tribunal that would decide Mr. Oyinlola’s fate.
He later dismissed the petitioner’s claim and declared Mr. Oyinlola the validly elected winner of the 2007 governorship election in Osun. Mr. Oyinlola was, however, later sacked by the Court of Appeal which declared his opponent and incumbent Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, the authentic winner of the election.
The statement added that Mr. Naron’s action was contrary to the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers vide Section 292 (1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
“The National Judicial Council has in the exercise of its disciplinary powers under the 1999 Constitution suspended the two judges from office with immediate effect,” Mr. Oye said.
While the NJC has the power to suspend the judges, it can only recommend their sack or retirement to the appropriate executive. In the case of a federal judge like Mr. Archibong, the president has to approve, while in the case of a state judge like Mr. Naron, the state governor, in this case Jonah Jang of Plateau, has to approve.
The council also recommended that the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, discipline Mr. Kalejaiye for his role in the scandal as only the lawyers’ association can discipline its members found wanting.
Meanwhile, the NJC did not punish Justice Abubakar Talba of the FCT High Court, but has set up a committee to investigate allegations against him in the police pension case of the EFCC vs. John Yusuf.
Mr. Talba had, on January 28, sentenced an Assistant Director, Police Pension Board, John Yusuf, to two years imprisonment for his role in the theft of N20 billion of pension funds. The accused had pleaded guilty to three counts of stealing over N3 billion of the money.
In his judgment, Mr. Talba ordered Mr. Yusuf to forfeit the sum of N325 million to the Federal Government.
Mr. Talba further said that the convict must forfeit a total of 32 of his properties to the government.
He also ordered Mr. Yusuf to remit a fine of N750, 000 to the Federal Government treasury, the amount being the total of the N250,000 fine imposed for each of the three count-charge.
“The convict has actually assisted the court by confessing to have taken N3 billion as his share from the N20 billion leading to this summary trial.
“This shows that the convict has a measure of virtue left in him. The court has in this regard found him guilty as charged,” Mr. Talba had ruled.
“John Yusuf, an Assistant Director with the Police Pension Board, being an accused arraigned in this court over N32.8 billion theft of pension funds is hereby sentenced to two years with a fine of N750,000.
“The convict’s properties, which the court had earlier ordered forfeited to the Federal Government, shall remain permanently so,” he added.
The convict promptly paid the fine and was set free; although he was later arrested for another crime by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The EFCC, however, accused the judge of violating a verbal agreement to ensure the accused served his two years in jail without an option of fine.
Mr. Talba’s ruling on the matter has drawn widespread criticism as Nigerians condemned it as a slap on the wrist.