The National Judicial Council, NJC, has ordered Justices Ugbo Ononogbo of Abia State and Nasir Gunmi of Zamfara State High Court to vacate their offices with immediate effect over their alleged involvement in judicial malpractice.
It said the two judges remain suspended pending the approval of recommendations for their dismissal and compulsory retirement from office, by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia state and Governor Abdul Aziz Yari of Zamfara state.
The council under the Chairmanship of the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, said it took this decision at the end of its 80th meeting held between December 14 and 15, 2016.
NJC specifically explained that it dismissed Justice Ononogbo pursuant to its findings on allegations contained in a petition written against him by Mr. Urum Udensi Ifegwu.
The petition reads: “That the Hon. Judge in Suit No: HOH/25/2013; Mrs Nnenna Enweliku and 4 Ors Vs Udensi Dike Udensi and 2 Ors made a blanket Order for the payment of unascertained amount as Estate fee from the Access Bank Account of late Lord Chief Dike Udensi Ifegwu to the Probate Registrar of the High Court.
“The Assistant Chief Registrar, Probate Division of the Court, Mr. Udeka U. C. was said to have altered the Order of the Hon. Judge in a letter to Access Bank requesting the bank to release the sum of N200, 000,000.00 (Two Hundred Million Naira) only into the personal account of E. M. Ojiako, Esq, Counsel to the Applicant in the Suit. A request which the bank refused to honour.
“The Hon. Judge also granted a second Order to vacate the first Order directing the bank to pay any money assessed by the Probate Registrar for the Estate fee of late Lord Chief Dike Udensi Ifegwu into the personal account of E. M. Ojiako, Esq, without ascertaining the Assessment made by the Probate Registrar.
“Out of the N200, 000,000.00 (Two Hundred Million Naira) withdrawn as a result of the second Order, E. M. Ojiako, Esq, only paid the sum of N83, 000,000.00 (Eighty-three Million Naira) to the Probate Registry.
“That there were discrepancies between the representations of parties in the Order made by the Respondent and the representation of parties in the Record Book of the Court to which Hon. Justice Ugbo Ononogbo admitted that he did not vet the Order before signing same and that it was an oversight.
“Apart from recommending the dismissal of Hon. Justice Ugbo Ononogbo to the Governor of Abia State, Council also recommended that the Hon. Judge, the Assistant Chief Registrar, Probate Division of Abia State High Court, Udeka N. C., and E. M. Ojiako, Esq., be handed over to the police for investigation.
“Council also decided to report E. M. Ojiako, Esq, to the Nigeria Bar Association Disciplinary Committee for investigation and that Abia State Judicial Service Commission should take appropriate action against Udeka N. C., the Assistant Chief Registrar Probate Division after investigation of the allegations”.
In Justice Gunmi’s case, the NJC sacked him sequel to findings on allegations that he failed to deliver judgement in Suit No: ZMS/GS/13/2013; Chiroma Vs Forte Oil Plc, almost twenty-three months after the final address by all Counsel in the Suit.
His action was said to be contrary to the Constitutional Provisions that Judgement should be delivered within a period of 90 days.
“That the Judgement in the Suit was altered by changing the word “dismissal” to “struck out” to which his Court Registrar, Hayatu Wadata Bungudu admitted was done by him, after which he informed the Hon. Judge on phone, as he was out of the State at the time.
“That the Hon. Judge assumed jurisdiction in the matter by a ruling, only to dismiss the same action 22 months after, for lack of jurisdiction, after the cause of action had lapsed.
“Council will write to the Zamfara State Judicial Service Commission to take appropriate action against Hayatu Wadata Bungudu, Registrar of Hon. Justice Gunmi’s court for altering his judgement,” read a statement signed by Acting Director of Information at the NJC, Mr. Soji Oye.
The council stated that the allegations against the two Judges constituted misconduct contrary to Sections 294 (1) and (6) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended and Rules 3 (i), 11(ii) and 2 of the National Judicial Council Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Besides, NJC at the meeting also resolved to issue a letter of strong warning to Hon. Justice D. O. Oluwayemi of Lagos State Judiciary for granting an Ex-parte Order in Suit No: LD/2393LMW/16, relying on an Affidavit of urgency which disclosed no threat of destruction of rights, or interest, in the subject matter of the dispute without putting the other party on Notice.
“Another letter of warning will be issued by the Council to Hon. Justice M. A. Savage of High Court of Lagos State, for holding discussion with Complainant’s Counsel in Suit No: LD/179/2000 which he had judicially acted upon, and for serving as a bridge between him and the other party’s Counsel,” the statement added.