NJC recommends sack of justice Ononogbo
The National Judicial Council (NJC), under the chairmanship of Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has recommended the dismissal of Justice Ugbo Ononogbo of the Abia State High Court of Justice and the compulsory retirement from office of Justice Nasir Gummi of Zamfara State High Court of Justice with immediate effect.
A statement issued yesterday by NJC’s Director of Information, Soji Oye, said the decision to recommend the sack of Justice Ononogbo, which was reached at its 80th meeting held on December 14 and 15, was based on the findings by the Council on petition written against him by Mr. Urum Udensi Ifegwu.
The petition read: “That in a 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 Judge in a letter to Access Bank requesting the bank to release the sum of N200 million 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 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“Out of the N200 million withdrawn as a result of the second Order, E. M. Ojiako, Esq only paid the sum of N83 million to the Probate Registry.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 Justice Ugbo Ononogbo admitted that he did not vet the Order before signing same and that it was an oversight.”
Aside recommending the dismissal of Justice Ononogbo to the Governor of Abia State, NJC also recommended that the 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.
The Council also decided to report E. M. Ojiako, Esq to the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Disciplinary Committee for investigation.
The Abia State Judicial Service Commission is expected to take appropriate action against the Assistant Chief Registrar, Probate Division, Udeka N. C after investigation of the allegations.
Also, Justice Gummi was recommended for compulsory retirement from office to Zamfara State Governor, Abdul Aziz Yari Abubakar, following the findings of Council on allegations brought against him.
The petition held “that the Judge failed to deliver judgment in Suit No: ZMS/GS/13/2013, Chiroma Vs Forte Oil Plc, almost 23 months after the final address by all Counsel in the Suit, contrary to the constitutional provisions that judgments should be delivered within a period of 90 days.
“That the judgment 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 Judge on phone, as he was out of the state at the time.
“That the 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.”
The Council said it would write to the Zamfara State Judicial Service Commission to take appropriate action against Bungudu for altering his judgment.
Council at the meeting also resolved to issue a letter of strong warning to 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 Justice M. A. Savage of High Court of Lagos State for holding discussions 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 allegations against Justices Ononogbo and Gummi constitute misconduct, contrary to Sections 294 (1) and (6) of the 1999 Constitution and Rules 3 (i), 11(ii) and 2 of the NJC Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers.
Meanwhile, NJC, in the exercise of its disciplinary powers under the 1999 Constitution, has suspended Justices Ononogbo and Gummi from office with immediate effect, pending the approval of the recommendations of the Council for their dismissal and compulsory retirement, respectively, from office by their respective state governors.