The National Judicial Council (NJC) recently came down hard on three High Court Judges of concurrent jurisdiction in the country. According to the Director, Information, NJC, Mr. Soji Oye, the affected judges granted conflicting ex parte orders in matters with the same parties and subject matters.

Consequently, they were barred from promotion to the higher bench for a period ranging from two to five years whenever they were due for such promotion. The judges affected are: Justice Okogbule Gbasam of the High Court of Rivers State; Justice Nusirat I. Umar of the High Court of Kebbi State, and Justice Eden Kooffreh of the High Court of Cross River State.

The NJC decision was part of its resolutions at its two-day meeting from December 14- 15, 2021.  It said even though there was no written petition, allegations of corruption or impropriety against the judges, nevertheless, it of its volition to initiate investigation pursuant to its inherent disciplinary powers under the Constitution to unravel the circumstances that led to spate of ex parte orders granted by courts of coordinate jurisdiction over matters with the same parties and subject matters.

The meeting was chaired by the Deputy Chairman of NJC, Justice Mary Odili. It agreed with the recommendations of the Investigation Committee set up in September concerning the errant judges.           

Specifically, the legal dispute that landed the Judges in trouble was the recent leadership tussle in the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) involving its ousted former National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus. Justice Gbasam was punished for reportedly failing to exercise “due diligence in granting the ex-parte irder in suit no: PHC/2183/CS/2021 between one Ibeawuchi & four others and Prince Uche Secondus & another. 

Justice Gbasam was also issued with a warning letter to be circumspect in granting such ex-parte orders in the future. In the same vein, Justice Nusirat Umar was found to have made fundamental errors and non-compliance in the case between Yahaya Usman and two others and Uche Secondus. He was also issued with a warning letter to be extremely careful in granting ex-parte orders in future, while Justice Eden Kooffreh was found to have erred for allowing himself to be used as a tool for “ forum shopping” and abuse of court process in the suit no: HC/240/2021 between Mr. Enang KanumWani and Uche Secondus.                    

Undoubtedly, the sanctions on the judges were in order. This will deter other judicial officers from such ignoble roles in future. The NJC acted wisely and swiftly in line with its constitutional duties, which include the “power to appoint and exercise disciplinary control over judicial officers” and the power to collect, control and disburse all monies, capital and recurrent, for the judiciary and to “deal with all matters relating to Policy and Administration.” Therefore, we commend the NJC for disciplining the erring judges. It is long overdue. We believe that the sanctions will save the judiciary from ridicule. It is sad that ex-parte orders have been granted by certain judges in breach of their intendments. Specifically, ex-parte order is a Constitutional leverage given to judges to make an order in exceptional circumstances in granting the request of an applicant in a suit in the interim without hearing from the other party.

Instances abound in our courts where some judges have abused this constitutional influence to favour a party in the suit. Very often, these conflicting orders by courts of coordinate jurisdiction have made mockery of the judiciary. That is why such orders have been described as forum shopping, in which the order goes in favour of the highest bidder. This has become very common in election matters and tussle for supremacy in political parties. This is inconsistent with the oath of office sworn to by judicial officers and therefore unacceptable.                      

Judges should at all times be impartial in their judgments. Adherence to professional ethics should take precedence over individual gains. A compromised judiciary will constitute a threat to our nascent democracy. The judiciary is deemed to be the last hope of the common man. But it cannot effectively serve that purpose if judicial officers are seen to be corrupt. Although the sanctions on the errant judges may appear like a slap on the wrist, it is a sign that such infractions can no longer be tolerated by the NJC. Like Caesar’s wife, judges should be above board in their conduct and rulings. Any judgment from the judiciary is a measure of how strong or weak a nation’s democracy is. The judiciary must offer justice, not farce.

It is in this respect that we demand a thorough scrutiny of those nominated for judicial offices. This requirement has become even more expedient as we approach the 2023 election season. To avoid miscarriage of justice, there is need for a periodic review of court orders.

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Source: news