A coalition, Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), has petitioned the office of the chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), over an alleged misconduct against Hon. Justice Umezulike, the current Chief Judge of Enugu State.
The petition signed by the national chairman of the coalition, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, urged the council to conduct a thorough investigation into the alleged acts of judicial misconduct to Justice Umezulike.
CSNAC said, ‘”In a petition submitted to our organization by one Peter Nwabunike Eze esq of Eze, Dimude, Eze & Co, Legal Practitioners, alleging various acts of judicial misconduct against Hon. Justice Umezulike, the current Chief Judge of Enugu State.
“The petition stated as follows: Sometime in 2010, Diamond Bank Plc. briefed his firm to represent it in suit No E/388/2010 Prince Dr. Arthur Eze v Diamond Bank Plc. before the Enugu State High Court. Honourable Justice Umezulike in the exercise of his functions as the Chief Judge assigned the matter to his court. The subject matter of the suit involved a bank-customer relationship.
“Upon commencement of trial, the Plaintiff closed his case on the 13th of November, 2012 while the Defendant opened its case on the 29th of January, 2014. The matter was eventually adjourned to 19th May, 2014 for continuation of trial.”
The petition noted further that, “On the 17th of February, 2014, Hon. Justice Umezulike held a public presentation of a book which he authored entitled “A B C of Contemporary Land Law in Nigeria” in Enugu.
“Strangely however, Prince Arthur Eze, a party in a suit before him was the special guest of honour at the event. He (Prince Eze) also launched the said book with a sum of N10million. The event also had other government functionaries and lawyers in attendance.
“Following this development, Mr. Peter Nwabunike Eze on the instructions of his client applied for a transfer of the suit from Justice Umezulike’s court as it had become obvious the matter could no longer be judiciously dispensed with as evidenced by the hobnobbing of the Judge and a party. On the 18th of March, 2014, Justice Umezilike granted the application for transfer and reassigned the matter to Justice Ozoemena who sits only thrice a week at the Enugu Judicial Division despite the fact that there are nine other judges who sit there full time.
“Furthermore, shortly after the transfer was made, Hon Justice Umezulike started harassing him in open court and would address him in a discourteous manner as he had over ten cases pending before him, so he (Peter Eze) had to appear in his court regularly. He further stated that on 15th May, 2014, he as counsel to the accused person appeared before Justice Umezulike in a criminal matter Charge No E/37c/2010 Federal Republic of Nigeria v Professor Aghaji. During the proceedings, his attempt to make suggestions from the bar on how exhibits should be marked incurred so much verbal abuse from Justice Umezulike.
“This prompted the accused person to demand that he applied for transfer of the matter as it was yet again obvious he could not get justice in the court. Based on this, he (Peter Eze) filed another application for transfer without stating the reason for the application in order not to further “infuriate” his Lordship.
“When the criminal matter came up for continuation on the 9th day of October, 2014, his colleague in Chambers Mr. Kevin Eyah who represented him relayed the incident that transpired in court and how Justice Umezulike called him all sort of names in a clear case of personal vendetta which is not unconnected with the transfer of his the matter involving Prince Arthur Eze, his close ally from his court. From the foregoing, it is important to highlight the specific actions of Justice Umezulike that are in gross contravention of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers. They include the following:
Inviting a party to a suit pending in his court to an event
“Justice Umezulike expressly named Prince Arthur eze as the Special guest of honour at his book presentation. At this time Prince Eze was a party in two suits pending before Justice Umezulike namely:
Suit No E/388/2010 Prince Arthur Eze v Diamond Bank PLc.
Suit No E/147/2012 Prince Arthur Eze v Major Concepts Limited & Anor
“Also the Chief Judge was aware that Prince Eze was interested in the property situate at Plots M/17 and O/9 Independence Layout, Enugu which is the subject matter of a suit E/411/2012 Senator Andy Uba v Major Okwuosa also pending before him. All these are a gross violation of Rule 1(2)(a) of the Code which provides as follows:
“A judicial officer must avoid social relationships that are improper or give rise to an appearance of impropriety that cast doubt on the judicial officer’s ability to decide cases impartially, or that bring disrepute to the judiciary”.
“Accepting the sum of N10 million publicly from Prince Arthur Eze, a party in several suits pending before him for the purchase of his book.
In contravention of Rules 1(1) and 3e(2)(a-c), Justice Umezulike accepted the sum of N10million from Prince Arthur Eze, (a party in suits currently pending before him) for the purchase of several copies of his book at the book presentation event which was held on 7th November, 2014.
Accepting various sums of money from politicians, government functionaries and lawyers for the purchase of copies of the said book.
At the said public book presentation, politicians, government functionaries and lawyers purchased copies of the said book with various sums of money ranging from N20, 000 to N1million.
“Among them was Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President who donated the sum of N2million. This act of accepting donations from members of the public for his book as a serving judge amounted to exploiting his position and also has grave consequences on judicial impartiality. Rules 3e & f of the Code prohibits such acts.
Failure to disqualify himself from hearing cases in which Prince Arthur Eze was a party or had an interest in.
“Prior to the book presentation event, Justice Umezulike was aware that Prince Arthur Eze was a party or had an interest in subject matter of suits pending before him. Therefore, he ought not to have invited him as special guest of honor to his event. However, having done that, he ought to have immediately disqualified himself from continuing to hear the suits. Failure to disqualify himself amounts to grave misconduct as it was obvious that the Chief Judge had a bias or prejudice towards Prince Arthur Eze having accepted the sum of N10million naira from him at his book presentation.
Deliberate failure to discharge administrative duties diligently thereby leading to miscarriage of justice.
The chief Judge also failed to promptly sign court processes which occasioned miscarriage of justice. Some of the instances were as follows:
“Hon Justice Umezulike did not sign the subpoena which had been filed along with the civil summons in June 2012. Instead, in November 2012, the Chief Judge signed the subpoena issued on the application of the Plaintiff, Prince Arthur Eze in June 2012.
“The Defendant abandoned the first subpoena and filed a fresh subpoena dated 28th November, 2012 and filed on 29th November, 2012. The chief judge still failed to sign the subpoena which prompted him (Mr. Peter Eze) by a letter dated 5th march, 2013, pleading with him to sign the subpoena. Justice Umezulike did not sign the subpoena until sometime late in March 2013.
“Signing of a judgment order in a suit which he did not hear.
“Besides the aforementioned acts of misconduct, please find attached a judgment order signed by Honourable Justice Umezulike in suit no E/170/76 Nnaji & Ors v Nwugwu & Ors decided by the High court of Enugu State on 25th June, 1985. At the material time, Justice Umezulike was not yet a judge and therefore ought not to be signing judgment orders.”
Thus, the “CSNAC is therefore requesting that the council conducts a thorough investigation into the aforementioned alleged acts of judicial misconduct and that appropriate sanctions be meted out to Justice Umezulike where he is found guilty. It is important to know that an impartial and incorruptible judiciary remains a panacea for a sustainable democracy and continued upholding of rule of law in any society.”