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Why we can’t suspend judges, NJC tells NBA

NBA President, Mahmoud Abubakar

NBA President, Mahmoud Abubakar

The National Judicial Council (NJC) has said that the call by the President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Mahmoud Abubakar (SAN) for the suspension of the seven judges accused of corruption  is  “unacceptable”.

The Acting Director of Information of the Council, Mr Soji Oye, made this known in a statement to newsmen in Abuja on Friday.

Oye said the Council was not unaware of the various views expressed by members of the public on the matter, adding that it reserved the right to ensure the best action was taken.

He said the NJC could only recommend appointments, dismissal and if need be other punitive measures against erring judicial officials to either the President or the Governor of a State as prescribed by the Law establishing it.

“The Council’s mandate is limited by the provisions of the 1999 Constitution that established it.

“NJC is constrained to inform the general public that its Constitutional mandate is to recommend to the Executive at the Federal and State levels, the appointment, and or the removal of Judicial Officers from office.

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`This includes exercise of its disciplinary control of suspending and or warning Judicial Officers after complying with due process and the Rule of Law,”  the NJC director of information said.

He further said:“since the creation of Council vide the 1999 Constitution it has exercised its powers and performed its functions within its Constitutional limitations”.

“Thus, the current position of the NBA vis-à-vis its recommendation that the affected judges under investigation by the DSS, be requested to proceed on compulsory leave until the conclusion of all disciplinary proceedings against them, is unacceptable to NJC.

“That breaches the 2014 Revised Judicial Discipline Regulations formulated by NJC pursuant to Section 160 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended,” it said.

“By the provisions of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution, NJC shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person while exercising its disciplinary power of control over Judicial Officers in the Federation, ” he said

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Oye said the mechanism to determine erring judicial officer to proceed on compulsory leave or be suspended from office was a disciplinary power that NJC could only exercise after such officer was found culpable.

“Therefore, to act on the recommendation of the NBA, it is not only contrary to the provisions of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution, but it means NJC will direct any Judicial Officer that has been petitioned even if the allegations contained therein are frivolous and baseless, to proceed on compulsory leave or be suspended from office without complying with the Rule of Law.

“That is not the understanding of NJC of the intention of the framers of the Constitution vis-à-vis its Constitutional powers and functions on initiation of disciplinary proceedings culminating in suspension of Judicial Officers.

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“Thus, to act on the request of the departments of government and the recommendation of the NBA, means the 808 Judicial Officers that had been petitioned and accused of professional misconduct and or corrupt practices, without investigation by NJC, would have all been suspended or sent on compulsory leave and the Courts would have been deserted,” Oye said.

The NBA boss  on Oct.20 at the valedictory Court session in honour of retiring Justice Sotonye Denton-West, called on NJC to order the stepping down of the embattled judges pending the resolution of the allegations.

The association had vehemently criticised the Department of State Services (DSS) for treating the judges the manner it had done.

The DSS had on Oct.7 and Oct. 8, swooped on seven federal judges including two Justices of the Supreme Court, in sting operations, designed to catch them red-handed. Huge money in local and foreign currencies were recovered from the judges.

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