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Governors lack powers to remove a Judicial Officer, court rules

"The powers to investigate, probe and indict any judicial officer for any misconduct in the discharge of duties is constitutionally vested in the National Judicial Council NJC only"-Justice Ekwo

By Olalekan Awojodu
Abuja

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja Thursday stopped the Ondo State Governor, Mr Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, from embarking on the sack of the Chief Judge of the State, Justice Oluwatoyin Akeredolu.

While delivering his judgment over the matter, Justice Inyang Ekwo held that the governor and five others seeking to remove the Chief Judge from office without recourse to the National Judicial Council NJC lacked constitutional powers to do so.

The Judge consequently granted an order of perpetual injunction, restraining the governor and five others from probing, investigating or tampering with activities of Justice Akeredolu in the discharge of her official duties.

Justice Ekwo also made an order nullifying any decisions made by the governor and other defendants aimed at suspending, sacking and investigating the plaintiff on the ground that doing so will tantamount to act of illegality.

The court equally held that the powers to investigate, probe and indict any judicial officer for any misconduct in the discharge of duties is constitutionally vested in the National Judicial Council NJC only.

The Judge further held that for a state governor to unseat a judicial officer, he must act on the recommendation of the NJC adding that in the instant case, the NJC had not investigated the plaintiff’ and that there was no recommendation from NJC for governor Akeredolu to act upon to legally remove the Chief Judge.

Justice Ekwo thereafter dismissed the claims of the governor and the Attorney General of Ondo that the case of the Chief Judge was opinionated and speculative adding that all averments in the supporting affidavit were founded on facts of law.

To worsen the matter, the court held that the defendants did debunk the averments of legally joined issues with the plaintiff.

The Judge then held that the governor and the Attorney General must act strictly to the provisions of the law before any Judicial officer can be investigated or removed from office.

The Judge has also barred the six defendants, their agents and privies form acting on any purported investigation report to carry out any act of illegalities against the Chief Judge.

Justice Akeredolu had in the suit filed on her behalf by Mr Jibrin Okutepa SAN contended that the Ondo State Governor, the AG and the House of Assembly lacked the powers under the Constitution to investigate the Chief Judge for any allegation of professional misconduct.

In his argument, Okutepa said the NJC that has such power was not investigating her as at the time of commencing the case,

In a supporting affidavit, the plaintiff stated that after the video by Fagboyegun was allegedly published online by Dele Momodu and Femi Fani-Kayode, the then AG of Ondo State said he investigated the claim by Fagboyegun that the CJ instigated his detention for three years and found the claim to be false.

She added that despite the AG’s finding that Fagboyegun’s claims were false, “the same Hon. Attorney General of Ondo State, in further demonstration of the script he acted, said in the report that: This matter is further referred to Ondo State House of Assembly for investigation.”

Justice Akeredolu stated that the Ondo State governor, the AG and House of Assembly “have vowed to remove her from her office as Chief Judge of Ondo State on the trumped up allegations being sponsored on social media as aforesaid.

“That the third to fifth defendants (Ondo State governor, the AG and House of Assembly) have elicited the political support of the first and sixth defendants (the AGF and IGP) to illegally remove her from office when she has not been investigated by the second defendant (NJC), which has the constitutional duty to do so.”

She added that all the defendants, except the NJC “are planning to and will use unlawful means to remove her from office as Chief Judge of Ondo State and interfere with the performance of her judicial functions unless this court intervenes.”

The plaintiff stated that her rights to fair hearing and judicial duty and functions have been, are being and are likely to be contravened by the defendants, except the NJC, unless the court intervenes.

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