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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Looters’ trial: Heads to roll as Salami’s panel begins work

Looters’ trial: Heads to roll as Salami’s panel begins work

Justice Ayo Salami

* To halt undue use of technicalities, fair hearing

* May stop hanging of criminal trials for years

* Non-implementation NJC’s recommendations over’

Anxiety among judges has now heightened as Justice Ayo Salami’s anti- corruption trial Committee begins work in earnest.

Justice Salami was the former President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), who was suspended for more than two years by former President Goodluck Jonathan and thereafter bowed out after attaining the mandatory retirement age.

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The Daily Times further learnt that the National Judicial Council (NJC) has charged Justice Salami Committee to be decisive and ensure that disciplinary measures meted out to judges are implemented to the letter.

The newspaper recalls that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, had recently led Justices of the Supreme Court and other superior courts on a courtesy visit to President Muhammadu Buhari.

Though, the CJN visit was purely on a courtesy ground, it was not lost on the judiciary in reassuring President Buhari that the judiciary is doing everything within its constitutional powers.

The Daily Times further learnt that beside the gesture of the courtesy visit to Buhari, the leadership of the judiciary want the executive arm to be swift in implementing the recommendations of the NJC on judicial officers, and avoid situations where its recommendations as far back as 2011 have remained unattended to by governments.

But a source conversant with the issue of non- implementation of NJC recommendations by the federal and state governments said it is disappointing that Zamfara State government, only couples of weeks ago, sacked Justice Anka, six years after it recommended his dismissal for taking N200, 000 bribe.

The source, who sought anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, also confided in our correspondent that Justice Salami’s jobs are already cut out for him as it is an open secret that certain alleged corrupt practices within the judiciary must be addressed.

The source said: “I can tell you that Justice Salami’s jobs are already cut out for him. You know that the man is a no-nonsense man. And with the terms of reference of his committee, Justice Salami now has the opportunity to prove his mettle.

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“I’m aware that certain members are not supposed to be in the committee, but that will not deter him because we know that he is courageous.

“We definitely need synergy in the war against corruption in the judiciary and we need someone like Justice Salami to monitor looters’ trials in our various courts. This will also send a message to some judges who will like to hide under technicalities to subvert the course of justice.

“But when such judges realise that members of Salami-led panel are sitting in the court and monitoring them, they will sit up and do the needful. The era of ‘this is my court and I can do anything is gone.’ Please note that no errant judge will go scot-free after messing up corruption cases in his court.

“This is because the CJN’s directive on designation of certain courts to handle corruption cases is mandatory and some CJs have complied with the directives. So there is no hiding place for certain judges and some senior lawyers who specialise in hanging criminal trials for years under the guise of technicalities and fair hearing.

“Please note that with the coming on board of Salami’s panel, the era of non-implementation of NJC’s recommendations on errant judges is over as any judge who crossed the red line will be dealt with instantly.”

The fears of uncertainty following recent controversy over alleged corruption in the judiciary and counter accusations from the presidency and NJC over the commitment of each to the fight against corruption are now the main issues between the executive and the judiciary.

Though the executive arm and the judiciary seem to have put the bickering behind them with the return of Buhari from medical vacation, multiple sources said there are still gaps that need to be closed for an effective punch on corruption to happen.

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One of the sources said there is the need for synergy between Justice Salami panel and the executive arms at both federal and 36 states of the federation.

For instance, what will happen to the work of 15 separate committees of the NJC recently set up to probe some judges in the event that it recommends an acceptable disciplinary measure that is not within the purview of the NJC to implement, such as a dismissal of a state judge?

Will state governors affected not delay like what happened in Zamfara State where the state government put on hold the recommendations of NJC for the sacking of errant Justice Anka?

The source further disclosed that the judiciary needs to work very hard to prevent such scenario from repeating itself or any hindrance that will make critics see the judiciary as “not on board with anti-graft war of the Federal Government.”

The source noted that it is difficult to wholly blame the judiciary for problems that often times gave it up to criticism and ridicule.

He said its leadership must block loopholes like the ones that led the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption PACAC), Prof Itse Sagay (SAN), to accuse the judiciary of “not on board with anti-graft war of the Federal Government.”

It is instructive to note that some of the NJC decisions in 2016 whose execution could not be confirmed at the time of this report were the recommendations for compulsory retirement of Justice O. Gbaja- Biamila of the Lagos State High Court and Justice Idris M. J. Evuti of the Niger State High Court.

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The council had found the petition against Justice Gbaja-Biamila to be meritorious when it discovered the judge delivered judgement in a matter that was before him 22 months after written addresses were adopted by all the parties and 35 months after the close of evidence in the court, while Justice Evuti was recommended for retirement for falsification of age.

On December 15, 2016, NJC also ordered the compulsory retirement of two other judges, Justices Ugbo Ononogbo and Nasir Gummi of the Abia State and Zamfara State High Courts respectively.

The two judges were recommended to their governors for dismissal with immediate effect, pursuant to the findings by the NJC on the allegations written against Justice Ononogbo and Justice Umar Nasir Gummi.

Also in same year, precisely, September 30, 2016, the NJC fired the presiding justice, Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya, the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I.A. Umezulike, who was said to have been relieved of his post belatedly and a judge of the Kano State High Court, Justice Kabiru M. Auta, for breaching the code of conduct for judicial officers.

The three judicial officers, according to the NJC , carried out acts that constituted misconduct contrary to section 292 (1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Rules 1.21, 3, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 3.2, 3.7, 4.1, 4.2, 8.4a, 13.1, and Rule 15.2 of the 2016 Revised Code of conduct for Judicial officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

While Justice Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal and the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Umezulike, were recommended for retirement, Justice Auta was dismissed.

When one of the Special Assistants to the Attorney-General of the Federation ( AGF), Chief Okoi Obno- Obla, accused the NJC of not being on the same page with the federal government over war against corruption, the council response was apt and a disclosure that the federal and state governments were still retaining corrupt judicial officers it had recommended for dismissal.

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The NJC then said, “But for suspension of the affected Judicial Officers from office by NJC, they would have to date been still performing their Judicial duties.

“And these are officers that have been found culpable of gross misconduct by NJC after due process and diligent fact finding investigation by Council based on the Rule of Law enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended), NJC Discipline Regulations and Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”

“The number of Judicial Officers that have been removed from office for misconduct particularly for corrupt practices since President Buhari administration came on board, that has been made public by NJC in October and November, 2016, speaks for itself in that vein.

“Some of the Judicial Officers were removed from office by dismissal or compulsory retirement by the President or Governors on the recommendation of the NJC.

“While a number of the Judicial Officers were reprimanded by Council in the exercise of its constitutional powers to exercise disciplinary control over Judges of Superior Courts of record in the Federation, Council is constrained to say that some of the Judicial Officers that have been recommended for dismissal or compulsory retirement from Office by the Presidency or Governors, have not to date been removed from office”.

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