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NBA wants arrested judges to step aside

THE Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), on Thursday, said the two justices of the Supreme Court and five other judges being investigated by the Department of State Services (DSS) should proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is fully and completely established, or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings.

Justice Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court; Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja; Kabir Auta of the Kano High Court; Muazu Pindiga of Gombe High Court, Mohammed Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal in Ilorin and the Chief Judge of Enugu State, I. A. Umezulike, were, on October 7, arrested, detained for some days and granted bail on self recognition by the DSS over alleged corruption and accusation of receiving bribe.

Speaking during the valedictory session in honour of Justice Sotonye Denton West of the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal, the NBA president, Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, said the affected judges needed to excuse themselves from judicial functions, pending the outcome of investigation on the allegation levelled against them.

This, according to the NBA boss, is “to protect the sanctity of the judicial processes that may involve the judges concerned and safeguard the public image of the institution.

“In the interim, however, particularly having regards to what appears to an ongoing accusations and counter-accusations between some of the judges and other personalities or agencies, it appears to the NBA that it is extremely important that the NJC takes very urgent steps to safeguard the public image and sanctity of the courts.

“We, therefore, strongly recommend that, without prejudice to the innocence or otherwise of the judges involved in the ongoing investigations, they should be required to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is fully and completely established or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings.”

The NBA boss further stated that it had set up a task force team after its meeting with the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, as well as past and serving leaders of the Bar, to urgently review the current developments and come up with clear specific recommendations on how best to clean up the nation’s judiciary and rebuild confidence of Nigerians.

He said the report was expected to be out in two weeks.

In her valedictory speech, Justice Denton West, who bowed out of the nation’s judiciary, having attained the mandatory retirement age of 70, admitted that she was a victim of judicial corruption.

“I was aghast at the level of corruption in the judiciary and the executive arms of government that led to my deprivation of being a Chief Judge and later same level of corruption even to my appointment to the apex court,” she said.

She stressed the need for judicial officers to uphold the tenets of justice and fair play and also charged them to always dispense justice to all  manner of men without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, president of the court, described Denton West as a hardworking, amiable and erudite jurist, adding that the vacuum created by her retirement would be difficult to fill.