The Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday dismissed the preliminary objection filed by the National Judicial Council (NJC) against a suit instituted by a sacked judge to challenge her dismissal from the bench in 2018.
The NJC had in October 2018 recommended to President Muhammadu Buhari the dismissal of Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, then a judge of the Federal High Court, on grounds of misconduct.
Inyang Ekwo, the judge hearing Ms Ofili-Ajumogobia’s suit, ruled on Tuesday that NJC’s grounds of objection to the suit were “misplaced” and its claims “misconstrued.”
He held that contrary to the council’s contention, the sacked judge’s suit was not governed by the provisions of the Public Officers Protection Act (POPA).
The NJC had urged the court to the declare the suit statute-barred and liable for dismissal on the grounds that it violated the POPA provision which requires such suit targeted against a public institution or officer to be filed within three months following the action being challenged in the suit.
Mr Ekwo held that Ms Ofili-Ajumogobia raised “constitutional issues bordering on denial of fair hearing in the manner she was dismissed.”
The implication, he said, was that it was the Federal High Court that had jurisdiction to hear the case and not the National Industrial Court as argued by the NJC.
He then dismissed the objection and fixed April 5,6 and 7, for hearing of the main suit.
Dismissed for misconduct
The NJC had in October 2018 dismissed Ms Ofili-Ajumogobia for various acts of misconduct including serving as the Director/Chief Executive Officer and sole signatory to a company, Nigel and Colive Company, contrary to the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The council noted in a statement announcing her dismissal on October 4, 2018, that several personalities, individuals, government officials and business partners lodged funds into various accounts belonging to the judge.
The recommendation for her dismissal was passed at the 87th meeting of the NJC which held under the chairmanship of then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, on October 3, 2018.
She was also said to have a private communication with a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Godwin Oblah, while the lawyer’s case was pending before her.
Alleged breach of right to fair hearing
She later sued the NJC and other defendants alleging that the NJC violated her fundamental right to fair hearing in the manner she was dismissed from the bench.
She argued that the process adopted by the fact-finding committee of the NJC and its report recommending her dismissal were “illegal, unconstitutional, unlawful, null and void.”
Others sued by her are, the Attorney General of the Federation, President Muhammadu Buhari, and judges who were members of the NJC’s fact-finding committee – Olufemi Akintan, Ishaq Bello and Julieth Kentu.
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