Mohammed Yunusa, a judge who was prosecuted for over four years for taking bribe from lawyers, used an irrelevant National Judicial Council (NJC)’s clearance to secure the termination of his trial, PREMIUM TIMES has found out.
The Special Offences Division of the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja, had on January 25, discharged Mr Yunusa of the bribery charges, citing the NJC’s December 23, 2020 letter which lifted the suspension slammed on him in July 2016.
Serifat Solebo, the trial judge, discharged Mr Yunusa, after overruling an objection raised by the lawyer prosecuting the case on behalf of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Wahab Shittu.
But a copy of the NJC’s letter seen and analysed by PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday showed that the allegations Mr Yunusa was cleared of were the ones levelled against him by the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), and not the bribery charges filed against him by the EFCC.
CSNAC’s petition which, in July 2016, led to the NJC recommending Mr Yunusa for compulsory retirement and placing him on an immediate suspension pending presidential approval of the recommendation, accused Mr Yunusa of arbitrarily restraining anti-corruption agencies from performing their statutory duties.
The EFCC, on the other hand, had charged Mr Yunusa with taking bribe from the law firm of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Rickey Tarfa.
Lanre Suraj, the executive director of CSNAC, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that his petition had nothing to do with the bribery allegation, and suggested that the Lagos High Court must have been misled in issuing the order discharging Mr Yunusa.
Mr Shittu, the prosecutor, also expressed shock about the court’s ruling and vowed to appeal against it.
The NJC’s letter obtained by PREMIUM TIMES confirmed that Mr Yunusa was only cleared of CSNAC’s allegation and not the bribery charges.
“Your Lordship is referred to letter No. NJC/F.3/FHC.49/II/989 dated July 15, 2016 suspending you from office pursuant to the outcome an investigation conducted by the NJC in response to a petition written against you by the Civil Society Against Corruption (CSNAC),” the NJC’s letter signed by its Deputy Chair, Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, who is the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, read in part.
The letter added that the NJC, at its meeting held in August 2020, set up a three-man panel to review the case against the judge following a letter of plea sent on his behalf by a SAN, Yemi Akinseye-George.
“In response to a letter of plea written on your lordship’s behalf by Professor Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN, requesting for a review of council’s decision, the National Judicial Council at its 92 meeting held on August 12, 2020, constituted a three-man Review Committee with the mandate to re-appraise the facts surrounding the petition and advise it on legality or otherwise of such a review,” the letter stated.
“The report of the review committee was considered and deliberated upon by council at its 93rd meeting held on December 17, 2020.
“At the end of deliberation, council accepted the findings and recommendations of the committee and decided to lift your suspension from office, while it awaits the decision of Mr President on the recommendation, please.”
NJC has not made any public statement concerning Mr Yunusa’s case after he was suspended in July 2016.
Judiciary faces public confidence crisis
Commenting on the outcome of the bribery charges and the NJC case against Mr Yunusa, a lawyer and activist, Inibehe Effiong, warned the judiciary and the NJC to be more serious with the issues of corruption and misconduct allegations involving judges in order not to destroy public confidence in the Nigerian courts.
“Head or tail, whichever way it is, the point I want to make is that the NJC and the judiciary as an arm of government, should take the issue of corruption and misconduct by judges more seriously.
“When people lose confidence in the courts, that will lead to the destruction of the Nigerian judiciary.
“At the moment, the confidence level in our courts is not very high. Successive Chief Justices of Nigeria (CJN) have publicly admitted that there is corruption in the judiciary.
“This perception has been there, and some people think that the NJC is not very forceful on this matter. So, I am hoping that the NJC will be more sensitive to the perception of many Nigerians about corruption in the judiciary.”
The Executive Chair of Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, expressed similar view in a separate interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Adeniran said the episode of Mr Yunusa’s cases summarised “the problem with the Nigerian judicial system and that is why, many people have lost confidence in the capacity of the Nigerian judiciary to safeguard their interest.”
He also said the continual loss of public confidence in the Nigerian judiciary “is affecting our economy.”
“Foreign investors will always consider it – if there is any there is any dispute in the course of their transactions, who will they run to?
“Who do they rely on? You see the report of Transparency International. You can’t go to the police, you can’t go to the judiciary, you can’t go to the regulatory agencies. You are just on your own.
“That is the manifestation of a problematic political development that has been confronting on us, and it seems that Nigerians are not in a hurry to change the system.”
What next after reversal of sanction?
Mr Inibehe said the NJC’s reversal of Mr Yunusa’s sanction was in order since President Muhammadu Buhari had yet to act on the council’s recommendation for the judge’s compulsory retirement since July 2016.
“The recommendation cannot be pending ad infinitum,” Mr Inibehe said.
But, on his part, Mr Adeniran urged President Buhari “not to endorse the NJC’s recommendation lifting the suspension of the judge.”
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