A coalition, Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), has urged the National Judicial Council (NJC), to suspend judges that are being investigated for corruption from adjudicating on matters in the country pending when they will be cleared by the government agencies investigating them.
In a petition forwarded to the Chairman of NJC and signed by the group’s chairman, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, CSNAC said it is an indictment on the judiciary that judges who have been entangled in a web of corrupt practices are still been allowed to preside over cases in court.
According to CSNAC, the development will be a clear case of double standards because precedence had been set in the issue of Mr. Kunle Kalejaiye SAN, who was caught illicitly communicating with a judge in Osun State, was disrobed, and the Justice Thomas Naron, who was involved, was also removed.
The petition reads: “In its report of 25th April, 2016, SaharaReporters an online newspaper, reported how the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have discovered more damning evidence that a well-known lawyer, Rickey Tarfa (SAN) currently undergoing trial for alleged bribery to a judge, transferred huge sums of money to several other judges, including a female member of the Court of Appeal, Justice Uwani Abba-Aji, who reportedly received N8 million from Mr. Tarfa. Justice Abba-Aji played a key role in election petition cases in the hotly contested states of Delta and Akwa Ibom after the 2015 general elections.
The report also states that Justice Abba-Aji was one of the appellate justices who gave the controversial verdict that the use of election card reader was not a legitimate way of determining votes. Some judicial watchers believe the ruling gave a leeway to election riggers in both states. In 2009 and 2010, SaharaReporters had reported that Justice Abba-Aji was one of the justices who allegedly accepted millions of Naira in inducement to uphold the validity of the election of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. Mr. Yar’Adua who himself conceded that the election had significant irregularities.
Furthermore, EFCC investigators also found and further charged Mr. Tarfa of transferring funds to a bank account belonging to the Chief Judge of Nigeria, Ibrahim Auta. A source at the anti-corruption agency disclosed that Mr. Tarfa made a one-time deposit of N500,000 into the Chief Judge’s account. “He is yet to explain why he paid the money to the Chief Judge”. Mr. Tarfa who is currently facing trial for allegedly paying a bribe of N225,000 into the bank account of Justice Mohammed Yunusa in January 2014 has been accused of receiving the sum of $500,000 from one of his clients in 2006 ostensibly to bribe “court and EFCC officials.”
CSNAC wrote further that, “Investigators have also alleged that Mr. Tarfa and four other Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) “donated” N7 million to launch a book written in honor of Justice Auta, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court. The EFCC has found an additional transfer of funds made by Mr. Tarfa to Justice Auta. In his statement of defense, Mr. Tarfa had claimed that some of the transfers were for the hiring of two retired judges, Mustapha Abdullahi, and Oponu-Wusu, which is clearly against the rules governing legal practice in Nigeria, as retired judges are prohibited from law practice upon retirement from the judiciary.
Furthermore, Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, who serves in the Federal High Court in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State is also allegedly ensnared in the bribery scandal. The embattled Mr. Tarfa claimed that he paid money to Justice Nganjiwa because the judge was part of Mr. Tarfa’s law firm before he was appointed to the bench in 2012. However, his defense crumbled when EFCC investigators discovered that part of the N5 million the he had paid into Justice Nganjiwa’s account was later routed to Justice Yunusa.
“Unfortunately however, up till this moment, the judges named in Mr. Tarfa’s widening bribery scandal continue to preside over cases despite the commencement of the trial of Mr. Tarfa and another lawyer at the center of the bribery. Mr. Tarfa himself has also remained a member of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee; the body responsible for awarding the title of Senior Advocates of Nigeria to legal practitioners. This is clearly a case of double standards where Mr. Kunle Kalejaiye SAN, who was caught illicitly communicating with a judge in Osun State, was disrobed, and the Justice Thomas Naron, who was involved, was also removed.
“It is an indictment on the judiciary that judges who have been entangled in a web of corrupt practices are still been allowed to adjudicate on matters in the country. This dangerous trend if allowed to continue will put the judiciary in a bad light and further erode the confidence Nigerians are fast losing in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man.
“CSNAC is therefore by this petition calling on the Commission to also conduct further internal investigation, in collaboration with the EFCC, into the aforementioned matter and mete out necessary sanctions to the indicted judges. The recent independent investigation by an undercover investigative journalist in Ghana leading to indictment and subsequent sanction of affected judges is a reference point and a challenge to our judicial system. In any sane society, the law is sacrosanct and no one, no matter how highly placed is/should be above it,” the petition said.