By Martins Odeh
The National Judicial Council, NJC, has recommended compulsory retirement from office of Justice Mohammed Tsamiya, Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division over breach of professional conduct.
The Council also prescribed outright dismissal of Justices I. A. Umezulike, Chief Judge, Enugu State and Kabiru Auta of the High Court of Justice, Kano State with immediate effect.
According to the Council’s Acting Director of Information, Mr Soji Oye, the decision was made at the Council’s 78th Meeting held Sept. 29
Auta, he said, will be handed over to the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 1, Kano, for prosecution.
Tsamiya’s punishment came pursuant to the findings by the Council in the petition written by Nnamdi Oji against him and Justices Husseini Muktar.
He said others named in the petition were Justices F. O. Akinbami and J. Y. Tukur, all Justices of Court of Appeal who sat on Election Appeal Panel in the Owerri Division of the Court during the 2015 General Elections.
The Petition contained allegations of corruption, malice and vindictiveness; and giving perverse and conflicting decisions on the same issue in similar matters. The appeals listed include Chief Dr. David Ogba Onuoha Bourdex Vs Hon. Mao Onuabunwa & Anor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu & Anor Vs Hon. Mao Ohuabunwa & Ors; and Nnamdi Iro Oji Vs Nkole Uko Ndukwe & 16 Ors.
According to Oye, the Council found that there was evidence that a Petitioner met with Tsamiya thrice, in his residence in Sokoto, Gwarinpa, Abuja and Owerri.
On those occasions, the Justice demanded from the petitioner the sum of N200 million to influence the Court of Appeal Panel in Owerri or risk losing the case, Oye said.
According to Oye, the NJC found untrue the allegations of giving two conflicting judgments on the same matter, as the two judgments were in respect of two different appeals.
One of those appeals was in respect of House of Representative Seat, a Federal Constituency, while the other was in respect of a Senate Seat which covered one third of the State.
The NJC also held that there was no allegation and no evidence that the Petitioner ever met or discussed with Mukhtar, Akinbami and Tukur in respect of the appeal before them.
Oye said it was in the light of the foregoing that Mukhtar, Akinbami and Tukur were exonerated.
According to Oye, NJC recommended Umezulike’s compulsory retirement sequel to the findings by the Council on a number of allegations levelled against him by Mr Peter Eze, a legal practitioner.
Oye said the Chief Judge failed to deliver Judgement in Suit No E/13/2008: Ajogwu V Nigerian Bottling Company Limited in which final Addresses were adopted on Oct.23, 2014.
Judgement was however delivered on March 9, 2015, about 126 days after addresses were adopted, contrary to constitutional provisions that judgement should be delivered within a period of 90 days.
Umezulike in Suit No E/159M/2014, Ezeuko Vs Probate Registrar, High Court of Enugu State and 3 Ors ordered the arrest of the petitioner by police after the matter was amicably resolved and judgement entered on terms of Settlement.
The Council further held that the Chief Judge in a speech delivered by him to the Eastern Bar Forum on March 4 openly made uncomplimentary remarks containing vulgar language against the Petitioner.
The Council said Umezulike’s public outburst ran contrary to Rule 1.3 of the National Judicial Council Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers.
Oye said at the time of the book launch of the Chief Judge, donation of N10 million was made by Prince Arthur Eze during the pendency of the two cases in His Lordship’s Court.
According to him, the NJC investigation showed that the donor had vested interest in the two matters.
There have been many instances of abuse of Judicial powers by the Chief Judge, particularly against the two defendants in Suits Nos. E/6/2013 and E/88/2016, NJC found.
The Chief Judge clung to these two suits to remain in his Court, despite all genuine efforts made by the defendants to get the suits transferred to another Court.
According to the statement, the Chief Judge sitting at a vantage position of Senior Judicial Officer and Head of Court should not have allowed his emotions to dictate his judicial functions.
In the case of Auta of the High Court of Justice, Kano State, the statement said his dismissal and prosecution became apt because of the allegations leveled against him by Alhaji Kabiru Yakassai.
The NJC held that the Petitioner paid the sum of N125 million into an account approved by the Judge.
The NJC said the Petitioner further made cash payment of N72 million to Auta in several instalments through his Personal Assistant, Abdullahi Bello.
According to the statement, those payments are ostensibly for the purpose of assisting a former Chief Justice of Nigeria to secure an accommodation.
The statement further said the gesture was also aimed for the Petitioner to be in turn rewarded by the award of some contracts.
NJC said Auta facilitated telephone communications in his house between the Petitioner and purportedly the former Chief Justice of Nigeria on the other end.
Auta facilitated meetings between the Petitioner and a lady who introduced herself as the purported Chief Justice of Nigeria in a Prado Jeep, escorted by armed Police Officer in a hotel in Kaduna.
The Petitioner suspecting foul play went ahead to report the matter to the police.
The Council said Auta agreed to pay the Petitioner the sum of N95 million as part of his claim while Abubakar Mahdi was to pay the sum of N125 million to the Petitioner.
It said pursuant to the agreement, Auta made a part payment of $11, 000 and N16 million respectively to the Petitioner.
The Council held that Auta undertook to pay the balance before the commencement of the Fact Finding Committee set up by the National Judicial Council to investigate the allegations.
Auta admitted accepting to pay the money as agreed in AIG’s Office in Kano in order to protect his image and the image of the judiciary.
The statement quoted Auta as saying that the settlement was for him to pay N35 million and not N95 million and to that effect paid N20 million so far including the $11,000.00.
The NJC quoted Auta as admitting that the Petitioner was his friend and had always sought favours for his people who had matters before him.
The NJC ruled that Auta’s conduct was in itself self-indicting and a serious abuse of Judicial Oath.
It therefore, said the allegations against the three Judicial Officers constitute misconduct contrary to Section 292 (1) (b) of the 1999. Constitution.
The Council held that the justices conduct also breached the 2016 Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Meanwhile, the National Judicial Council, in the exercise of its disciplinary powers has suspended Hon. Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya, Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division.
“Others suspended are Hon. Justice I. A. Umezulike, Chief Judge of Enugu State and Hon. Justice Kabiru Auta of Kano State High Court from Office with immediate effect, pending the approval of the recommendations of the Council for their compulsory retirement and dismissal respectively.