Group demands probe of Supreme Court judge accused of attempting to influence case

A Supreme Court judge might have influenced another judge’s case.

A justice advocacy group has petitioned the National Judicial Council, NJC, seeking investigation of allegation of misconduct made by a recently retired Federal High Court judge against a Supreme Court judge, Clara Ogunbiyi.

During a valedictory court session organized in his honour on May 27, Justice Okechukwu Okeke, alleged that Mrs. Ogunbiyi, a Supreme Court judge, made extra judicial attempts to influence the outcome of a case before him.

Mr. Okechukwu, who retired on May 18, attributed his recent censure by the NJC to petitions that followed his refusal to vacate an order over which some representation had been made to him by one Funke Ogunbiyi, daughter of the Supreme Court judge.

In a statement, Sunday, Access to Justice urged the NJC to investigate whether the allegations made by Mr. Okeke are founded and true and whether there has been any conduct that violates the code of conduct for judicial officers.

“The allegations have been widely broadcast to national and international audiences. To the best of our knowledge, the allegations have not been denied,” said the statement signed by Joseph Otteh, the Executive Director.

According to Mr. Okeke, the Assets Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON, had filed an application on 28 February with respect to some properties said to have been forfeited by Cecilia Ibru, convicted former Managing Director of the defunct Oceanic Bank.

On March 1, Mr. Okeke granted the order in favour of AMCON “having been satisfied that they had justified its application.”

Five days later, the now retired judge said he received a phone call from Ibrahim Auta, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, who told him that Mrs. Ogunbiyi was “furious” with him for granting the leave to AMCON.

Mr. Okeke’s ruling led to the ejection, by AMCON, of the Supreme Court judge’s daughter and son-in-law from their No. 5A George Street, Ikoyi, Lagos.

On March 8, Mr. Okeke said Mrs. Ogunbiyi’s daughter, after they had filed a motion to set aside the order, came to his chambers telling him to vacate the order at her mother’s directive.

The retired judge said that after he went ahead to dismiss the application from Funke Ogunbiyi’s lawyers and advised them to take their case to the Court of Appeal; “hell was let loose on me.”

“The applicant and their counsel wrote a petition against me which they backdated to March 15, 2013, to the NJC,” Mr. Okeke said, adding that the petition earned him a “serious” reprimand from the judicial body.

Access to Justice said the allegations raise “very troubling concerns” for the independence and integrity of the administration of justice in Nigeria.

“Please, recall that not too long ago, a sitting President of the Court of Appeal made somewhat similar allegations against an incumbent Chief Justice of Nigeria and the events that followed thereafter brought considerable embarrassment and ridicule to the Nigerian judiciary from which it is yet to recover,” Mr. Otteh said.

“While we hold the honourable Justice of the Supreme Court who has been named in these allegations in high esteem, we think it is absolutely necessary in this circumstance that the allegations be properly investigated and that she be given an opportunity to refute or state her position on relation to the claims made,” he added.

The group also urged the NJC to investigate whether Mrs. Ogunbiyi initiated a telephone conversation with the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to express her “fury.”

“We acknowledge your efforts as Chief Justice of Nigeria to reform the administration of justice landscape, hold judges accountable for their conduct, and rebuild public confidence in the judiciary,” Mr. Otteh said.

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