By Dipo Awojobi – The National Judicial Council of Nigeria, NJC, has recommended the dismissal of Justice Ugbo Ononogbo of the Abia State High Court of Justice, even as it approved the immediate compulsory retirement his Zamfara State counterpart Justice Nasir Gummi.
The Council took the decision at the council’s 80th meeting held between Dec. 14 and Dec.16.
A statement signed by Acting Director of Information of the council, Mr Soji Oye, Friday in Abuja, said Ononogbo was recommended to the Governor of Abia State for dismissal, pursuant to findings on petition brought against him by Mr Urum Udensi Ifegwu.
Oye said the Judge in 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.
According to Oye, the fee which is from the Access Bank Account of late Lord Chief Dike Udensi Ifegwu went to the Probate Registrar of the High Court.
He said the council found that the Assistant Chief Registrar, Probate Division of the Court, Mr Udeka U. C., altered the Order of the Judge in a letter to Access Bank on the transaction.
Oye said the letter was 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.
The Acting Information Director, however, said the bank refused to honour the request.
He said the Judge committed more error by also granting a second order to vacate the first order.
Oye said the latest order had directed the bank to pay any money assessed by the Probate Registrar for the estate fee of late Udensi Ifegwu into the personal account of Ojiako.
He said the order bestowed unlimited latitude without ascertaining the assessment made by the probate registrar.
“Out of the N200 million withdrawn as a result of the second order, Ojiako only paid the sum of N83 million to the probate registry.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 Ononogbo admitted that he did not vet the order before signing same and that it was an oversight.”
Oye further said: “Council also recommended that the Judge, the Assistant Chief Registrar, Probate Division of Abia State High Court, Udeka and Ojiako, be handed over to the police for investigation”.
“Council also decided to report Ojiako to the Nigeria Bar Association Disciplinary Committee for investigation.
“And that the Abia State Judicial Service Commission should take appropriate action against Udeka, the Assistant Chief Registrar Probate Division after investigation of the allegations,’’ Oye said.
Oye, however, said that the recommendation for compulsory retirement of Gummi also hinged on petition brought against him. He said it was found that the Judge failed to deliver judgment in Suit No: ZMS/GS/13/2013 (Chiroma Vs Forte Oil Plc) 23 months after the final address by all counsel in the Suit.
According to him, the action runs contrary to the Constitutional Provisions that Judgements should be delivered within a period of 90 days.
He said council discovered that the said judgement was altered by changing the word “dismissal” to “struck out”.
Oye said the judge’s Court Registrar, Hayatu Bungudu had admitted the change was done by him, but had informed His Lordship on phone as he was out of the state at the time.
Oye also said 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.
“Council will write to the Zamfara State Judicial Service Commission to take appropriate action against Hayatu Wadata Bungudu, Registrar of Hon. Justice Gunmi’s court for altering his judgement.
“Council at the meeting also resolved to issue letter of strong warning to Hon. Justice D. O. Oluwayemi of Lagos State Judiciary for granting an Ex-parte Order in Suit No: LD/2393LMW/16.
“The Judge had relied 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,’’ he said.
Oye said council agreed to issue another letter of warning to Justice M. A. Savage of High Court of Lagos State, for holding discussion with Complainant’s Counsel in Suit No: LD/179/2000.
He said council found out that the Judge was serving as a bridge between the complaint and the counsel to the other party.
“The allegations against Justices Ononogbo of Abia State and Gunmi of Zamfara State High Court constitute misconduct contrary to Sections 294 (1) and (6) of the 1999 Constitution.
“They also violated Rules 3 (i), 11(ii) and 2 of the National Judicial Council Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Meanwhile, the NJC in the exercise of its disciplinary powers has suspended Justices Ononogbo and Gunmi with immediate effect pending the approval of the recommendations of the Council for their dismissal and compulsory retirement respectively,” Oye said.