Justice Talba suspended on April 26 for failing to exercise adequate judicial discretion in a pension theft case.
Some prominent lawyers on Monday faulted the one year suspension without pay given to Justice Abubakar Talba of an Abuja High Court by the National Judicial Council, NJC.
The lawyers said the suspension of the judge was “a slap on the wrist.”
Mr. Talba was handed a suspension on April 26 for failing to exercise his discretion judicially and judiciously in a matter involving John Yusufu, a Director of Pension, convicted of theft.
Mr. Talba had in his judgment delivered on January 28, ordered Mr. Yusufu to pay a N750,000 fine, after he pleaded guilty to conspiring with six others to steal about N23 billion from the Police Pension Fund.
The judgment had generated public criticisms as the judge also had the option of sentencing Mr. Yusufu to a maximum of two years imprisonment for the said offence. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission accused the judge of reneging an agreement it had with Mr. Yusufu and the judge that be convict be sentenced without option of fine after pleading guilty.
Itse Sagay, a Professor of Law, said that Mr. Talba had technically acted within his discretion in delivering the sentence.
“If you are looking at it in the technical manner, he did not even do anything wrong. But if you look at it in the sense of the spirit of the law, the sense of what is to be achieved in the law court when faced with a situation like that, the judge did not act judiciously. The punishment is mild, but it is because, technically, he was within his legal rights; but his discretion was wrongly exercised,” Mr. Sagay said.
Onyekachi Ubani, Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Ikeja branch, said the NJC should be commended for sanctioning erring judges.
Mr. Ubani said the exercise must be sustained in order to improve administration of justice in Nigeria.
“However, the punishment meted out to the learned judge is not commensurate to the opprobrium his wrongful exercise of discretion in the said matter has brought to the Nigerian judiciary generally. He needed to have been shown the way out of the hallowed bench,” he said.
Mr. Ubani further urged the NBA to take a cue from the NJC by punishing erring legal practitioners whose actions have eroded the confidence of Nigerians in the judiciary.
On his part, Wale Ogunade said that only an outright dismissal would deter other judges from following in Mr. Talba’s steps in the future.
Mr. Ogunade said,” One would have expected a dismissal in order to serve as a deterrent to those who would want to behave like him.”
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