By Associate Professor Ibrahim Abdullahi, SAN
The National Judicial Council (NJC) was established pursuant to the provisions of Section 153 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and by Subsection 2 thereof, the composition and powers of the Council are as contained in the Constitution (See Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999). Pursuant to this, Paragraph 21 of the Third Schedule states;
The National Judicial Council shall have power to (a) … (b) recommend to the President the removal from the office of the judicial officers specified in Sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph and to exercise disciplinary control over such officers …”
The NJC which has the powers to deal with all other matters relating to policy and administration, formulated the National Judicial Policy of April, 2016; Judicial Discipline Regulations of 9th March, 2017; Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of February, 2016; Revised NJC Guidelines & Procedural Rules for the appointment of Judicial Officers of all Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria of 3rd November, 2014. All serving judges are therefore under the management, control and disciplinary jurisdiction of the National Judicial Council as envisaged under Paragraph 21 (b) Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as amended). It has the powers to deliberate and take disciplinary actions on misconduct and or allegations committed against the guidelines meant for judicial officers.
The recent disciplinary sanctions approved by the NJC on some serving judicial officers as it relates to the unwarranted grant and or conflicting exparte orders as it affects Suit No. PHC/2183/CS/2021 between IBEALWUCHI EARNEST ALEX & 4 ors AND PRINCE UCHE SECONDUS & ANOR and Suit No. KB/HC/M.71/2021 between YAHAYA USMAN & 2 ORS AND PRINCE UCHE SECONDUS & ANOR which constituted species of forum shopping and abuse of court process, has further brought to limelight the need for judicial officers to exercise a great deal of caution in carrying out their herculean responsibilities assigned to them by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
The following are some of the lessons which I personally think can be garnered and or implicit in the disciplinary sanctions approved by NJC to wit;
- The need for judicial officers to adhere strictly to the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers. The Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of February, 2016 at page 2 thereof states;
“1. The code applies to all categories of Judicial Officers throughout the Federation as defined in this Code. 2. Violation of any Rules contained in this code shall constitute judicial misconduct and or, misbehavior and shall attract disciplinary action.”
- The need for judicial officers to maintain fidelity with the Constitution and the Law by upholding the course of justice.
- The acquisition and maintenance of professional competence.
- Unnecessary grant of exparte orders in matters where no urgency is involved is an improper behavior, official misconduct and thence the need to avoid abuse of power.
- Indiscriminate and conflicting exparte orders make ridicule of the Judiciary.
- The need for the heads of Courts to take full charge in the assignment of cases and attachment of personal responsibilities in cases involving forum shopping.
- The rather reprehensible practice of choosing the most favourable territorial jurisdiction or Court in which a matter or cause may be entertained and adjudicated upon otherwise known as Forum shopping should never be practiced in Courts for any reason especially for political gimmicks.
- Elevation to the higher bench is based on clear cut professional competence which does not accommodate dereliction of duties capable of smearing the image of the Judiciary.
- In the administration of justice, the courts should not allow their judicial role as an impartial and unbiased arbiter to be diverted from the path of justice by the conduct of an inaptitude counsel or parties through abuse of court process.
- Abuse of judicial office is a misconduct that would not be condoned by the NJC and would act appropriately in the exercise of its statutory disciplinary powers.
With the approval of the disciplinary sanctions by the NJC, all eyes are now centered on the Nigerian Bar Association to do the needful.