The bench yesterday unfolded disciplinary measures for whipping erring judges to line.
The National Judicial Council (NJC) wielded the big stick against three High Court judges for issuing conflicting ex parte orders.
Two of the judges — Okogbule Gbasam and Nusirat Umar — will not move to the “higher Bench” in the next two years, it said.
The third, Edem Kooffreh of the High Court of Cross Rivers State, will remain on the same spot for five years.
Gbasam is a judge of the Rivers State High Court while Umar is of the Kebbi State High Court.
The trio received warning letters which also placed them on a watchlist by the NJC.
They were found culpable of issuing conflicting orders in cases involving the former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus.
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Ibrahim Muhammad had in August summoned them and their colleagues in Anambra, Jigawa and Imo states over conflicting orders that emanated from their courts.
A statement by the NJC Director of Information, Soji Oye, said the decisions were reached at a meeting presided over by the NJC Deputy Chairman, Justice Mary Peter-Odili.
The statement was however, silent on the fate of the other three High Court judges in Anambra, Jigawa and Imo states.
Oye said although no written petition was presented against the three judges, the NJC relied on its disciplinary power under the 1999 Constitution to investigate the circumstances that led to the spate of ex parte orders granted by some courts of coordinate jurisdiction on matters involving the same parties and subject.
He added that the NJC also approved the appointment of 63 judges for 16 states, including nine heads of court, during the meeting held on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The appointments, according to him, followed the notification of the retirements and deaths of some judges.
Oye’s statement partly reads: “The NJC rose from its two days meeting held on 14th and 15th December 2021, with a resolution to bar the three judges of courts of concurrent jurisdiction who granted conflicting ex parte orders in matters with same parties and subject matter from promotion to the higher bench for a period ranging from two to five years whenever they are due.
“Even though there was no written petition, allegations of corruption or impropriety against the subject judges, council nevertheless, initiated an investigation pursuant to its inherent disciplinary powers under the Constitution to unravel the circumstances that led to the spate of ex parte orders granted by these courts of coordinate jurisdiction over matters bearing same parties and subject matter.
“The meeting which was chaired by the Deputy Chairman of the council, Hon. Justice Mary Peter-Odili agreed with the recommendations of the Investigation Committee set up in September 2021 that Justice Okogbule Gbasam of the High Court of Rivers State be barred from elevation to higher Bench for two years whenever he is due, as he failed to exercise due diligence in granting the ex parte order in suit No: PHC/2183/CS/2021 between Ibealwuchi Earnest Alex & 4 others and Prince Uche Secondus & another, as there was no real urgency, in the circumstances of the matter, that would have required an ex parte order.
“His Lordship is also issued with a warning letter to be circumspect in granting such ex parte orders in the future.
“Council also resolved that Justice Nusirat I. Umar of the High Court of Kebbi State be barred from elevation to higher Bench for two years whenever due, having found fundamental defects and non-compliance with the law in granting the ex-parte order in suit No: KB/HC/M.71/2021 between Yahaya Usman & 2 others and Prince Uche Secondus & another.
“He is also issued with a warning letter to be circumspect in granting such ex-parte orders in the future.
“Hon. Justice Edem Ita Kooffreh of the High Court of Cross River State will not be promoted to a higher Bench for five years for allowing himself to be used as a tool for “forum shopping” and abuse of Court process in suit No: HC/240/2021 between Mr. Enang Kanum Wani and Uche Secondus, as it was evident that, in granting the ex parte order, he was seised of earlier orders of the High Courts of Rivers and Kebbi States, being courts of coordinate jurisdiction with his.
“He is also to receive a warning letter to be circumspect in granting such ex parte orders in the future.
“The council also placed him on its watch-list for a period of two years.”
Although the statement did not list the names of the 63 newly appointed judges and the heads of court, it named Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Bello Duwale of the High Court of Sokoto State, Hon. Justices S. A. Omonua and O. S. Uwuigbe of the Edo State High Court, and Justices M. A. Pindiga as well as Beatrice L. Iliya of the High Court of Gombe State among those on the retirement list
Others are Muhammad Abdulkadir, Grand Kadi, Sharia Court of Appeal, Kwara State and Justice S. M. C. Ururuka-Ogeshi, president, Customary Court of Appeal, Abia State.
According to the statement, the judges, who passed on are A. K. Fowe of the High Court of Ekiti State; Chinonyerem Onii of the High Court, Imo State and. Shehu Ahmad, grand kadi, Kaduna State.
It added that the NJC approved the promotion of 84 members of staff of the judiciary ranging from grade levels seven to 17.
Sagay, Ojukwu laud NJC
Lawyers, including Itse Sagay (SAN) and Ernest Ojukwu (SAN) lauded the NJC action.
Sagay said: “The NJC did a very good thing, I will say one of the very best decisions they have ever taken. The NJC is to be congratulated for what they did; it is very positive.
On his expectations regarding any lawyer found culpable in the saga, he said: “I am glad to hear that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is going to discipline these corrupt and irresponsible and undisciplined lawyers who are really the bane of this country’s problems in the legal sphere. They are the ones who bribe judges, who induce judges to do all the wrong things.”
Ojukwu advocated more stringent measures against the judges and lawyers to serve as a deterrent to others. He added that the judges’ competence should also be interrogated.
His words: “The NJC decision is a welcome development; it has shown proactiveness on the subject of discipline of judicial officers. This is a further impetus on that radical posture to nip in the bud ugly, unethical developments that seem to be showing up within the judiciary.
“But, the discipline does not seem to go far enough because in applying disciplinary measures on a professional such as a judge, especially when there is a rising trend on unethical behaviour, one expects disciplinary measures to also act as a deterrence to others. So, in that respect, a stronger penalty would be a better disposition towards deterring others from taking such steps in the future.”