THREE judges who granted conflicting court orders face a number of severe punishments, including dismissal, following an investigation launched into their conduct by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The NJC is a body that is responsible for appointing, promoting and disciplining judges.
The ICIR reported that the Chief Justice of Nigeria Tanko Muhammad had summoned the chief judges of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Rivers, Kebbi, Cross River, Jigawa, Anambra and Imo states over the issuance of conflicting orders on the same subject matter by courts of coordinate jurisdiction under their authority.
The NJC, in a statement issued by its spokesman Soji Oye on September 6, disclosed that three judges of high courts in the FCT and six states whose chief judges were summoned by the CJN had been invited to appear before the council.
The CJN heads the NJC.
The judges, whose identities were not revealed, are to show why disciplinary action should not be taken against them for issuing conflicting court orders on the same subject matter.
The chief judges of the FCT, Rivers, Kebbi, Cross River, Jigawa, Anambra and Imo states appeared before the CJN on September 6.
The NJC disclosed in the statement signed by its spokesman that the CJN quizzed the seven chief judges separately for over an hour before later reading a ‘riot act’ to them at a joint session.
The CJN directed that chief judges must put an end to indiscriminate granting of ex parte orders, conflicting judgements or rulings occasioned by forum-shopping.
Addressing the chief judges, the CJN, Muhammad, said, “Your job as heads of court is a sacred one, and it, therefore, includes you vicariously taking the sins of others. There must be an end to this nonsense. You shall henceforth take absolute charge in assigning cases or matters, especially political personally.”
* How the NJC’s Discipline Regulations will affect the judges under investigation
“We shall make example with these three judges and never shall we condone such act,” the CJN was quoted to have vowed while addressing the chief judges.
The three judges, who were summoned to appear before the NJC to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken against them for granting the conflicting ex parte orders face a number of severe punishments, including suspension and outright dismissal, checks by The ICIR reveal.
The NJC is a federal body responsible for the appointment, promotion and discipline of judicial officers, including judges.
Ordinarily, the NJC investigates petitions and complaints of misconduct brought against judicial officers but in the current case, the council is initiating the investigation of the three judges for issuing conflicting court orders.
Going by provisions of the NJC’s Discipline Regulations, as spelt out in the Judicial Discipline Regulations 2017, the judges could be subjected to interim suspension pending the final outcome of the investigation.
Section 24 (1) of the Judicial Discipline Regulations 2017 states that “prior to taking the final decision, the NJC may suspend the subject (of the investigation) from performing judicial functions.”
Section 25 of the Judicial Discipline Regulations 2017, which spells out proposed disciplinary action, notification and final decision, states that, upon the conclusion of investigations, if the case is substantiated, the NJC may decide to censure or reprimand the subject judge or suspend the subject judge.
The NJC may also direct that the subject judge be put on a ‘watch list’ for the purpose of monitoring or reporting his conduct or ability to perform the functions of his office for a specified period.
In the same vein, the NJC may prohibit the nomination of the subject judge for appointment to a higher judicial office for a specified period, or permanently.
Also, Section 25 (2) of the Judicial Discipline Regulations 2017 states that the NJC may exercise its power to recommend that the subject judge be removed from judicial office.
The NJC’s recommendations are usually forwarded to the president for approval.
Although the statement released by the NJC on September 6 did not disclose the identities of the concerned three judges, The ICIR had earlier reported that judges of state high courts in Rivers, Kebbi, Cross River, Jigawa, Anambra and Imo – six of the states whose chief judges were summoned by the CJN – had delivered conflicting court orders on political matters in recent times.
The concerned political matters involve the controversy over the identity of the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) for the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State, and the ongoing leadership crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
* Jigawa, Imo, Anambra, Rivers, Kebbi, Cross River high court judges issued conflicting orders on Anambra APGA, PDP leadership crises
On June 28, Justice Musa Ubale of the Jigawa State High Court handed down an order to affirm Jude Okeke’s claim to the position of national chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
Okeke is the leader of a faction of APGA which conducted the parallel primary election that produced a member of the House of Representatives Chukwuma Umeoji as the party’s candidate for the governorship election in Anambra State.
Justice Ubale upheld Okeke’s claim that he became the acting national chairman of APGA after purportedly taking over from one Edozie Njoku, who was said to be on suspension.
A former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Chukwuma Soludo had also emerged the APGA candidate for the Anambra gubernatorial election by winning the June 23 primary election organised by the party’s leadership led by Victor Oye, who is recognised as party chairman by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The primary, which produced Soludo as APGA candidate, was monitored by INEC and was also endorsed by Governor Willie Obiano, who had chosen the former CBN governor as his successor. Obiano is a member of APGA.
As a result of the June 28 court order delivered by the Jigawa State High Court, INEC listed Umeoji, rather than Soludo, as APGA candidate when an initial list of candidates for the election was published on July 16.
An Anambra State High Court presided by Justice C. C. Okaa on July 19 reinstated Soludo as the APGA candidate for the gubernatorial election by declaring that the former CBN governor was the authentic candidate of APGA.
The court described the Okeke-led APGA faction and its governorship flagbearer (Umeoji) as meddlesome interlopers and ordered INEC to publish Soludo’s name as the gubernatorial candidate of the party.
But, following a suit filed by an APGA member Chike Dike to challenge the publication of Umeoji’s name by INEC, an Imo State High Court presided by Justice B. C. Iheka on June 30 affirmed that Okeke remained the national chairman of APGA, with Umeoji as the party’s gubernatorial candidate.
However, INEC finally reinstated Soludo as the APGA candidate for the gubernatorial poll after Justice Nwosu-Ikpeme of the Court of Appeal, Awka Division, in August, had dismissed an application filed by the Okeke faction to challenge the July 19 judgment of the Anambra High Court which declared the former CBN governor as the party’s authentic flagbearer.
Judges in Rivers, Kebbi and Cross Rivers states have in the past few days delivered conflicting court orders concerning the leadership crisis in the PDP.
The first court order came on August 23 when a Rivers State High Court presided by Justice O. Gbasam granted an interim injunction restraining Secondus from parading himself as the chairman and a member of the PDP.
The order followed an ex parte application in suit No: PHC/2183/CS/2021 filed by Ibeabuchi Ernest Alex, Dennis Nna Amadi, Emmanuel Stephen and Umezirike Onucha against Uche Secondus (1st defendant) and the PDP (2nd defendant).
A second court order was issued on August 26. In a ruling which upturned the earlier pronouncement by the Rivers State High Court, a state high court in Kebbi State ordered Secondus to return to his position as the national chairman of the PDP.
The Kebbi State High Court, presided by Justice Nusirat Umar, gave the order while ruling on an application filed by three concerned members of the PDP – Yahaya Usman, Abubakar Mohammed and Bashar Suleman – in a suit numbered KB/AC/M. 170/2021.
The third court order, issued by a Cross Rivers State High Court presided by Justice Edem Kooffreh on August 27, overturned Secondus’ reinstatement by the Kebbi State High Court.
Just hours before Secondus was billed to preside over a meeting of the PDP National Executive Committee (NEC), the Cross River State High Court sitting in Calabar barred him from returning to office as the national chairman of the party.
* Court of Appeal demanded punishments for Jigawa, Imo high court judges who issued conflicting court orders
The ICIR had also reported that while reinstating Soludo as the APGA candidate for the Anambra guber election, Justice Nwosu-Ikpeme of the Court of Appeal, Awka Division, had demanded punishment for Justice Musa Ubale of Jigawa State High Court and Justice B. C. Iheka of Imo State High Court for what she described as their unprofessional conduct of dabbling into the controversy surrounding Anambra State gubernatorial election and giving consequential judgments on the matter.
Nwosu-Ikpeme had accused Anambra politicians of going round the country shopping for favourable judgments that would enable them to contest in the November 6 governorship election, rather than appear before the courts with the territorial jurisdiction to adjudicate on the election.
The Court of Appeal justice regretted that some judges and lawyers indulged such politicians and as a result brought the legal profession into public ridicule.