The Nigerian Bar Association has recommended that those senior judges under criminal investigation should withdraw from further judicial functions or in the alternative be sent on compulsory leave. It said they should remain off duty until their innocence is established or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings.
NBA President, NBA Abubakar Mahmoud, stated this yesterday during the valedictory court session in honour of retiring Justice Sotonye Denton West of the Court of Appeal. This is coming at a time when the Federal Government has given the go-ahead for the prosecution of the judges who have been under investigation.
It was gathered that the Attorney General of the Federation had approved the immediate prosecution of the suspects so as not to give the erroneous impression that the government was promoting corruption. The affected Judges are Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court, the suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Others arrested were a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, and Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division. The rest are Justices Bashir Sukola and Ladan Manir of the Kaduna State High Court.
The NBA President had said recently that the arrests and detention of two Supreme Court justices and five other justices of the federal high court by the Department of State Security Service (DSS) was unlawful and unconstitutional.
The National Judicial Council NJC also said the action was a clear attempt by the DSS to humiliate, intimidate, denigrate and cow the Judiciary.
But yesterday Mr. Mahmoud said: “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. 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 be an ongoing accusation and counter accusation 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 excuse 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.