The National Judicial Council (NJC) has punished three judges who issued conflicting orders in the leadership crisis that dogged the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) this year.
Okogbule Gbasam of the High Court of Rivers State, Nusirat Umar of the High Court of Kebbi State and Edem Kooffreh of the High Court of Cross River State, were barred by the NJC from elevation to either the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court.
While Gbasam and Ms Umar were blocked from promotion to the higher bench for two years, Kooffreh’s sanction carries five years.
It would be recalled that in one week, three courts in different states also issued counter-orders about the office of the national chairman of the PDP.
On August 24, the Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt restrained Uche Secondus from parading himself as PDP national chairman.
However, in another twist, the Kebbi State High Court in Birnin-Kebbi restored Mr Secondus’ mandate as the national chairman of the opposition PDP on August 27.
A day after Mr Secondus’ reinstatement, another High Court in Calabar, Cross River State, issued an interim order restraining him from resuming office as PDP chairman.
This development compelled the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, to grill the Chief Judges of six states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), last September.
Muhammad had warned the judges to immediately stop “the nonsense,” threatening that three of the judges who issued the controversial order would be made scapegoats.
“Your job as Heads of Court is a sacred one, therefore, includes you vicariously taking the sins of others. There must be an end to this nonsense,” a statement by the National Judicial Council (NJC) had quoted the CJN as saying.
In a statement on Thursday by Soji Oye, NJC’s Director of Information, “The National Judicial Council rose from its two days meeting held on 14 and 15 December 2021, with a resolution to bar the three judges of courts of concurrent jurisdiction who granted conflicting exparte orders in matters with same parties and subject matter from promotion to higher bench for a period ranging from two to five years whenever they are due.”
“Even though there was no written petition, allegations of corruption or impropriety against the subject judges,” the statement revealed.
However, “Council nevertheless, initiated investigation pursuant to its inherent disciplinary powers under the Constitution to unravel the circumstances that led to the spate of Exparte Orders granted by these Courts of coordinate jurisdiction over matters bearing same parties and subject matter,” it explained.
“The meeting which was chaired by the Deputy Chairman of Council, Hon. Justice Mary Peter-Odili, CFR agreed with the recommendations of the Investigation Committee set up in September 2021 that Hon. Justice Okogbule Gbasam of the High Court of Rivers State be barred from elevation to higher bench for two years whenever he is due, as he failed to exercise due diligence in granting the Exparte Order in Suit No: PHC/2183/CS/2021 between IBEALWUCHI EARNEST ALEX & 4 ORS AND PRINCE UCHE SECONDUS & ANOR, as there was no real urgency, in the circumstances of the matter, that would have required an Exparte Order.
“His Lordship is also issued with a warning letter to be circumspect in granting such Exparte Orders in the future.
“Council also resolved that Hon. Justice Nusirat I. Umar of the High Court of Kebbi State be barred from elevation to higher Bench for two years whenever due, having found fundamental defects and non-compliance with the law in granting the Exparte Order in Suit No: KB/HC/M.71/2021 between YAHAYA USMAN & 2 ORS AND PRINCE UCHE SECONDUS & ANOR.
“He is also issued with a warning letter to be circumspect in granting such Exparte Orders in the future.
“Hon. Justice Edem Ita Kooffreh of the High Court of Cross River State will not be promoted to higher Bench for five years for allowing himself to be used as a tool for “forum shopping” and abuse of Court process in Suit No: HC/240/2021 between Mr. ENANG KANUM WANI AND UCHE SECONDUS as it was evident that, in granting the Exparte Order, he was seised of earlier Orders of the High Courts of Rivers and Kebbi States, being Courts of coordinate jurisdiction with his.
“He is also to receive a warning letter to be circumspect in granting such Exparte Orders in the future.
“The Council also placed him on its Watch-List for a period of two years.”
Appointment of new Judges
The NJC also approved the appointment of 63 judges for 16 states. Nine of the appointees are heads of court.
“Council also received notification of retirements from Hon. Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Bello Duwale of the High Court of Sokoto State, Hon. Justices S. A. Omonua and O. S. Uwuigbe of the Edo State High Court, Hon Justices M. A. Pindiga and Beatrice L. Iliya of the High Court of Gombe State, Hon. Kadi Muhammad O. Abdulkadir, Grand Kadi, Sharia Court of Appeal, Kwara State and Hon. Justice S. M. C. Ururuka-Ogeshi, President, Customary Court of Appeal, Abia State.
“It also received notification of deaths of Hon. Justice A. K. Fowe, High Court, Ekiti State, Hon. Justice Chinonyerem Onii, High Court, Imo State and Hon. Dr. Kadi Shehu Ibrahim Ahmad, Grand Kadi, Kaduna State.
“Finally, Council approved the promotion of 84 members of staff ranging from salary Grade levels 7 to 17 as submitted by its Appointment, Promotion and Disciplinary Committee,” the statement read.”