The National Judicial Council (NJC) on Friday disagreed with the call by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for the suspension of judicial officers who are being investigated over allegations of corruption by the Department of State Service (DSS).
The DSS had on October 7 and 8 swooped on seven judicial officers comprising two justices of the Supreme Court, a justice of the Appeal and judges of High Courts across the country.
While speaking at the Court of Appeal, Abuja, at the valedictory court session in honour of Justice Sotonye Deton-West, who retired on Thursday, having attained the age of 70, the NBA President, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), had called on the embattled judges to step down from their positions pending when their names were cleared of all the allegations levelled against them.
But in a swift reaction to the NBA’s recent position on the matter, the NJC, in a statement by its acting Director of Information, Soji Oye, described the call as “unacceptable.”
The disciplinary body of all judicial officers in the country noted that it was not unaware of the views expressed by members of the public and lawyers on the issue, but said that the NJC could only recommend the appointment and dismissal of any erring judicial official to either the president or the governor of a state as prescribed by the law establishing the body.
The NJC admitted that its mandate is limited by the provisions in the 1999 Constitution that established it.
The statement reads in part: “NJC is constrained to inform the general public that its constitutional mandate is to process and recommend to the executive at the federal and state levels, the appointment, and/or the removal of judicial officers from office, including exercise of its disciplinary control of suspending and/or warning judicial officers; after complying with due process and the rule of law.
“Since the creation of NJC vide the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, 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 judicial officers involved in the on-going investigation of judicial officers by the DSS, be requested to proceed on compulsory leave until the conclusion of all disciplinary proceedings against them, is unacceptable to the NJC; as it 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 is to be reiterated also that by the provisions of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, 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.
“Members of the public are hereby informed that the mechanism that will determine a judicial officer to be directed or requested to proceed on compulsory leave or be suspended from office, is a disciplinary power that NJC can only exercise after initiating disciplinary proceeding on the complaint or petition forwarded against the judge, after he has been found culpable.
“Therefore, to act on the recommendation of the NBA 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 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended vis-à-vis its constitutional powers and functions on initiation of disciplinary proceedings culminating in suspension of judicial officers.
“Thus, to act on the request of the departments of government and the recommendation of the NBA, 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.
“NJC is not unmindful of the concern of the public on a situation whereby a judicial officer is being investigated and/or prosecuted for commission of a criminal offence such as murder or robbery; and whether he is not supposed to be requested or directed to proceed on compulsory leave or be suspended from office. In the circumstance, unless the subject judge accused of commission of the offence of murder or robbery is petitioned to NJC, it shall not assume the disciplinary power of control over judicial officers to suspend or direct the subject judge to proceed on compulsory leave.
“Thus, NJC can only direct any judge alleged of committing such criminal offences, to go on compulsory leave or be suspended from office if he has been investigated and found by NJC culpable of misconduct.”