Chief Justice Mohammed: “Why we asked accused judges to step down”

Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Mahmud Mohammed yesterday explained why the National Judicial Council (NJC) directed judges under probe for criminal allegations to stop sitting pending when their innocence is established.

The CJN, who is the Chairman of the NJC, explained that the council’s decision was informed by the insistence of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), on prosecuting the judges arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS).

He said the Judiciary, being a responsible arm of the government, chose not to interfere with the AGF’s exercise of his statutory powers to prosecute.

Justice Mohammed, who will retire on Thursday, spoke in Abuja yesterday while swearing in Amina Augie and Ejembi Eko as Justices of the Supreme Court.

He said the Judiciary was mindful of the powers ascribed to each organ of the state under a constitutional democracy. He said the Judiciary was resolute in upholding its independence by adjudicating with utmost fairness and justice as prescribed by the Constitution and the law.

Said the CJ: “A common thread that runs through all Judiciaries is that judicial officers are traditionally accorded the highest dignity and respect by all. This is because justice is rooted in confidence and where confidence in our judges is undermined and independence eroded, it is the nation that ultimately suffers most while true democracy is fatally undermined.

“Certainly, the decision of the National Judicial Council at its last meeting reflects our desire to preserve this independence. Hence, we proclaimed to the world that any judicial officer that is standing trial will cease to perform judicial functions.

“The council took this stand following communications it received from the Hon. Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice that he was embarking on the prosecution of the affected judicial officers for the offences disclosed against them from the evidence on the ground.

“We must not forget that we operate a constitutional democracy, which clearly prescribes the powers accorded to each organ of the state.

“I therefore wish to state without fear of contradiction that the third arm of government will remain resolute in its commitment and resolve to uphold its independence and to adjudicate with utmost fairness and justice as prescribed in our Constitution and law.”

Justice Mohammed, who noted that Justice Augie and Justice Eko were joining the Supreme Court bench “at a time when there are a lot of challenges”, said he trusted their capacity to cope.

The CJN urged the new Justices to, more than ever before, “firm, honest and steadfast in the discharge of your duties, while striving to emulate the greats of this court by enthroning the rule of law and respect for our courts.

“I charge you to continue to be diligent in the discharge of your duties. You must remain blind to personality and status and remain the hope of all men, whether common or uncommon.

“Hence, the integrity and impartiality of our court must not be in question or compromised. I am confident that, with the institutions and initiatives that we have put in place, the Nigerian Judiciary will evolve to meet the high standards demanded by our citizens,” the CJN said.