NJC toughens stand on erring judges, queries Enugu CJ

The National Judicial Council (NJC) has moved to toughen its stand against erring judges in the country.

To this effect, it has issued a query to the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Innocent Azubuike Umezulike over alleged misconduct.

The query, signed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council reads: “I forward herewith a petition Ref No MISC/23/2016 dated 19th February, 2016 against you by one Peter N. Eze on the above subject matter. The petition speaks for itself. I shall be glad to have your comments within two weeks from the date of your receipt of this letter, please.”

Last week, the council of the Federal High Court issued a warning to Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia for failing to deliver judgment in a pre-election matter.

She was barred from being elevated to the Court of Appeal before her retirement.

The council also placed the judge on its watch-list for the next four years even as it directed that a warning be given to the erring judge.

In the petition against Enugu State Chief Judge, the petitioner alleged that Umezulike refused to comply with a directive of the NJC to transfer some cases from his court to another judge after he was accused of bias in the handling of those cases.

The petitioner alleged that Justice Emezulike refused to comply with the directive of the council and continued to hear the cases.

The petition reads: “In view of the earlier directive that Your Lordship (the CJN) had given that 3 cases involving Diamond Bank Plc pending before Hon. Justice Umezulike be transferred out of his court, judicial propriety required that Hon. Justice Umezulike, tread with caution in suits involving Diamond Bank Plc, and assign them to other courts for hearing.”

Two weeks ago the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami asked the NJC to investigate Umezulike for alleged misconduct.

The minister in a letter with Ref No: HAGF/ENUGU/2000/I and dated February 4, 2016, also directed the Inspector General of Police to investigate the conduct of Justice Umezulike and one Mr. Vincent Aneke, the Director of Litigation at the Enugu State High Court over allegation that they both altered a court judgment and order in Suit No. E/170/76 dated June 25, 1985.

The letter, which was signed by the Special Assistant to the minister, Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla, also directed the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to investigate Aneke for corruption and abuse of office.

The minister’s letter was sequel to a petition to him by a lawyer, Mr. Peter Eze. The petition dated November 25, 2015 complained of forgery and corrupt practices against the Enugu Chief Judge and the Director of Litigation.

The petition read in part: “On June 25, 1985, Justice P. K. Nwokedi, the Chief Judge of Anambra State (who later became a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria) delivered a judgment in Suit No. E/170/76: Nnaji & Ors. V. Nwugwu Ors. The judgment awarded the plaintiffs, the Umunneshi Family of Umunaji Ngene, Amechi Uwani, title to a parcel of land known as and called ‘Agbirigba Umu-Nensi’.

“Surprisingly, sometime in 2009, Aneke and the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Umezulike, forged a judgment order in the said suit, in which Justice Umezulike and Aneke claimed that Justice Umezulike heard the said suit in 1985 and delivered judgment in the suit. No mention is made in the said judgment order, that the suit was heard by Hon. Justice P. K. Nwokedi. The said judgment order was also purportedly signed by Mr. Vin Aneke, Director, Litigation and Courts Division, High Court, Enugu State, on the same date.
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“It will interest you to note that Justice Umezulike was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1980 and was only elevated to the Bench in 1993 when he was appointed a judge of the High Court of Enugu State. At the time he was said to have signed the said judgment order in 2009, Justice Umezulike knew that he was not the judge who heard the case, and that he was not a High Court Judge in 1985, and certainly was never a High Court Judge in Anambra State.

“Similarly, Aneke was only called to the Nigerian Bar in 2002 after reading evening law, and was not a lawyer in 1985. He was also not the Director Litigation and Courts Division, in the High Court of Anambra State in 1985.

“The purpose of Justice Umezulike and Aneke forging and uttering the said judgment order, was for the Judgment Order to be used by the Plaintiffs in Suit No. E/170/76 Nnaji & Ors. v. Nwugwu & Ors to levy execution pursuant to the judgment and hand over possession of the said Agbirigba Umu-Nensi land to the plaintiff.

“Permit me to point out that both Justice Umezulike and Aneke, knew that under the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act and the Judgment Enforcement Rules of Enugu State the fraudulent and criminal enterprise they had embarked upon was illegal. Thus (1) at the time application was made to enforce the judgment on 5/2/2009, the original parties to the suit were dead and contrary to Order V Rule 2, the dead plaintiffs were not substituted.

(2) Order V Rule 8 requires that as between the original parties to the suit, process should issue within 6 years; (3) Six years had passed since the judgment was delivered and no leave of court was sought or obtained before the writ of possession was issued. I attach herewith and mark Annexure 3 the Warrant for Possession signed by Justice Umezulike dated 6/2/2009. There is no note on the process to show that leave was sought and obtained.

(4) Both Justice Umezulike and Aneke knew that before the judgment could be enforced the above steps were required to be taken, and they deliberately closed their eyes so as to aid the plaintiffs enforce a judgment which had lapsed.

“The forged judgment order allegedly dated June 25, 1985 was then used by Aneke to apply to the Commissioner of Police, Enugu State, for policemen to enforce the court order.

“On March 27, 2009, Aneke, using the bailiffs of the High Court Enugu and with the connivance of Justice Umezulike took forcible possession of the land in dispute in the said case. At the back of the warrant of possession, is endorsed the acknowledgment by the plaintiffs that the land was handed over to them”, the petition noted.

Meanwhile, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) has concluded plans to arraign two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, (SAN) Mr. Rickey Tarfa and Dr. Joseph Nwobike, at the Lagos State High Court, for allegedly offering bribe to judges.

According to a statement from the EFCC, the commission has filed separate charges against the two senior lawyers, bordering on offers of gratification running into millions of naira to judges in a ploy to influence decisions in their favour.

Tarfa is already facing a 27-count of alleged willful obstruction of authorised officers of EFCC, refusing to declare asset, making false information to an officer of the EFCC and offering gratification to a public official. Also Nwobike, is facing a five-count charge of allegedly attempting to pervert the course of justice and offering gratification to public official.

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