BREAKING: Arrested judges to step aside pending trial.

The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, on Thursday, asked all the judges being investigated over their alleged involvement in acts of corruption to excuse themselves from further judicial functions or proceed on compulsory leave, until their innocence is fully and completely established.

The legal body said such step was not only necessary in order to protect the sanctity and integrity of judicial processes that may involve the judges concerned, but to also safeguard the public image of the judiciary as an institution.

NBA, which made its position known at a valedictory court session that was held in honour of a retiring Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Sotonye Denton-West, further urged the National Judicial Council, NJC, to take very urgent steps to restore the sanctity of the courts.

It will be recalled that among Judges whose homes were raided by operatives of the Department of State Service, DSS, between October 8 and 9, included two Supreme Court Justices- Iyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta. Others included Justices 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.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is equally probing some judges allegedly involved in fraudulent transactions.

Meanwhile, the National President of the NBA, Mr. A.B Mahmoud, SAN, in an address he presented at the special court session, said:

“My Lords, distinguished ladies and gentlemen permit me digress a little. I am sure that many here will be expecting me to make further statements on the ongoing events affecting the nation’s judiciary.

“I have in the course of the last two weeks or so made several statements and remarks on these developments. Our position is therefore well known. We have emphasized our commitment to safeguarding the independence of the nation’s judiciary.

“We have also spoken firmly on our commitment to rid the judiciary and indeed the bar of all corrupt elements. I will like to say we remain resolute on these. In the course of the last several days, the NBA has continued to hold high level consultations with all segments of the bar and other stakeholders and indeed the administration on how to address what has obviously become a major concern to all Nigerians within and outside the country. Ngwuta, Okoro and Ademola “That is corruption in the judiciary.

On Thursday 13th of October at the meeting of bar leaders comprising past NBA Presidents, Past General Secretaries and past Attorneys –General of the Federation, we reviewed very carefully the developments after listening to detailed briefings from both the Attorney General and Minister of Justice as well the Secretary of the National Judicial Council.

“One of the resolutions we took was to set up a Task Force 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 in our law courts. I am expecting the report of that task force in two weeks.

“In the meantime we have continued with our consultations and engagements. We will be coming up with bold and clear recommendations which we will pass to the National Judicial Council and the Government.

“In the interim however, particularly having regards to what appears to an ongoing accusations and counter accusations between the 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 recuse themselves from further judicial functions or required to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is fully and completely established or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings.

“We believe this will be necessary in order to protect the sanctity and integrity of judicial processes that may involve the judges concerned and safeguard the public image of the institution”.

Similarly, Chairman of Akure branch of the NBA, Mr. Oso Adetunji, in his own address, said there was need to deal with corrupt judges without desecrating the sacredness of the judiciary as an institution.

“The task before us as a nation is not to debate whether there are corrupt judges in our judiciary, the task is how to remove or deal with the few corrupt ones on the Bench, without destroying the judiciary.

“A corrupt judge on the bench is a cancer to the system. It eats deep into the system and will eventually kill the system if not removed. But let us remove such cancerous judges with care and due processes so that in our attempt to kill the cancer, we don’t inadvertently kill the system too.

“Let us deal with the corrupt judges in the judiciary without desecrating the sacredness of the institution. In dealing with the corrupt judges in our midst, let us treat the system with decency and dignity, so as to preserve the awe with which the ordinary man holds the court.

“Let every corrupt judge first be subjected to the disciplinary procedure of the NJC, disciplined and removed before subjecting him to the ridicule and treatment of a common criminal. It is not for him. It is for the sake of the system. I would be happy to see a corrupt judge handcuffed, paraded and docked. But for the sake of the system, let such be arraigned and docked as dismissed judicial officers. After all, the Nigeria Police Force will not submit its officer, no matter how junior he is, for prosecution without first removing his uniform.

“We all know that the NJC does not have the statutory power to prosecute. It is only saddled with the power to by virtue of section 292(1), Paragraph 20 (b) (d) of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, to discipline a judge.

“Let the NJC first discipline, by removing a judge from office, before handing him over for prosecution. To be able to this, the NJC must embark on a confidence building process by repositioning itself for this task.

“We suggest that petition against and judicial official be treated thoroughly and with dispatch. It must act without fear or favour. Spouses of any politically exposed person should not be elevated to the Bench. Where the spouse of any politically exposed person is serving before his or her spouse was elevated to the Bench, let such spouse step down from the Bench”, Adetunji added.

Meanwhile, Justice Denton-West who bowed out of the appellate court bench having clocked the 70 years mandatory retirement age, in her speech, said she was a victim of corruption in the judiciary.

Justice Denton-West, who was the first female judge in Rivers State, said: “I would be failing in my duties as a senior citizen of this country, if I fail to comment on the recent goings in the judiciary. Indeed I know and believe that there is corruption unfortunately even in the folds of the judiciary. I have personally been a victim of corrupt acts from the judiciary on some occasions”.

However, she called on the authorities to revisit the remuneration of justices.

“The workload is heavy. Something should be done to give comfort to both serving judges and those that have retired. We spend almost all our time to make the society liveable, so, giving us a liveable life should not be too much. The judiciary still remains the common hope of all. So please may everybody treat the judiciary with respect”, she added.

Among dignitaries at the event included Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.

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