FG Arraigns, Slams 15-Count Charge On Justice Ngwuta
The federal government’s anti-graft war on the judiciary got a boost yesterday, following the arraignment of a Supreme Court judge, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta.
Justice Ngwuta is facing a 15-count charge before Justice John Tsoho at a federal high court in Abuja.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was granted bail on self-recognition. Aside that, he is also expected to sign a N100 million bail bond.
The Department of State Services (DSS) had between October 7 and October 8 raided the homes of Justice Ngwuta and some other judges where large sums of money were allegedly discovered.
Consequently, Justice Ngwuta, presently under suspension, is being prosecuted on money laundering charges as well as being in possession of multiple valid passports.
In his argument for the bail of Ngwuta, his counsel, Kanu Agabi (SAN) pleaded with the court to grant him bail on self-recognition, in accordance with the provisions of Sections 118(2) of Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015; Sections 6, 35(4), and 36(4) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Agabi stated that in view of Sections 32, 158,162 of ACJA and Section 35(4) of the Constitution, the onus was no longer on the defence to show that he was entitled to bail.
The federal government’s lawyer, Philip Charles, told the court that he had filed a counter affidavit in objection to the bail application.
“There is a counter affidavit; we regrettably have to object to the application filed by the defence. The defendant in this case has placed all of us in this courtroom in a very difficult situation. Ordinarily, I would not have objected to the bail application because of the calibre of the man involved.
“But we have a peculiar situation here and our reason for opposing the application is basically for two reasons.
“First, there are sufficient grounds that the defendant will interfere with potential witnesses and or evidence which might be tendered against him.
“We also object because, regrettably, we are of the opinion that there is a substantial likelihood that the defendant may conceal or destroy evidence,” he argued.
The prosecutor disclosed that while under investigation, the defendant made a call to a potential witness in Abakiliki (Ebonyi State capital) and gave him specific instructions.
In his ruling, the court said the prosecution failed to show sufficient reason why the defendant should not be granted bail, insisting that the offences are bailable. It therefore granted the accused bail in the sum of N100 million.
“It will defeat the sense of justice not to grant bail to the defendant. It is on record that the prosecution had filed an affidavit of completion of investigation.
“In view of this, the prosecution should maintain honour of consistency” than to claim that the defendant is likely to interfere with witness or evidence when it (federal government) had already stated that investigations had been concluded on the matter,” Justice Tsoho said.
Besides, Justice Tsoho noted that the court had not been informed that the defendant had attempted to escape or tamper with evidence while on administrative bail.
In dismissing the objection of the federal government, the court said it had not been informed that the administrative bail granted the defendant had been revoked.
The court pointed out that it would be wrong to deny the defendant bail based on the fears of the prosecution “on what he may likely do” if granted bail.
He added that the DSS and other security agencies had eagle eyes to thwart any untoward action by the defendant.
Meanwhile, in Lagos State, a Federal High Court yesterday refused an ex-parte application filed by a judge, Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, seeking her release from the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice Muslim Hassan held in Lagos that the judge’s prayer could not be heard by motion ex-parte.
Mr Hassan said that he was of the view that the interest of justice would better be served if the EFCC was put on notice.
He directed Mrs Ofili-Ajumogobia, also a Federal High Court judge, to put the anti-graft agency on notice and fixed further hearing on the case for November 28.
The EFCC had preferred a 30-count charge against Mrs Ofili-Ajumogobia and Godwin Obla over alleged perversion of justice.
The commission had detained the duo in its custody pending the conclusion of its investigation.
Mrs Ofili-Ajumogobia had filed the ex-parte motion through her lawyer, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), seeking the enforcement of her fundamental rights.
She urged the court to order her release.
In his argument, Mr Onigbanjo had faulted the continued detention of the judge.
The counsel argued that the commission had an option to charge Mrs Ofili-Ajumogobia to court if it was sure she had committed any offence.
He said: “The EFCC has the option to charge her to court but it has not done so. She is ready to defend herself vigorously against any charge that may be slammed on her.
“She is ready to deposit her passport and abide by any other conditions that the court may impose on her. There is no need under the law to continue to keep her in detention except to humiliate her, because the offence is bail-able.”
Shun corruption, acting CJN warns judges
The acting Chief Justice Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, yesterday, warned judicial officers in the country to abide by the code of conduct of the judiciary.
Justice Onnoghen, who made this call while declaring open the 2016 Judges Conference in Abuja, also advised them to shun corrupt acts in the discharge of their functions.
He said: “As ministers in the temple of justice, we must shun all corrupt practices in order to align ourselves with the anti-corruption strides of the current administration.
“As impartial arbiters, we must at all times uphold the rule of law, eliminate unnecessary delays and, above all, ensure that justice is dispensed promptly, without fear or favour, affection and ill-will to both parties in accordance with the provisions of the laws.”
Justice Onnoghen also complimented lower court judges for their important roles in the administration of justice, as they are the first line of defence for the liberties of the citizen.
He told them that as judges of the lower courts, their primary role was to settle disputes that come before them in accordance with the provisions of the law.
“The society, therefore, looks up to you to dispense justice according to law, and without fear or favour, affection or ill-will,” he said.
However, he pointed out that the performance of this onerous task depends on their ability to adhere strictly to the rule of law, the code of conduct for judicial officers, integrity and the independence of the judiciary.
In her opening speech, the administrator of National Judicial Institute (NJI), organisers of the conference, Justice Rosaline Bozimo, reminded participants that a vast majority of cases come before them and a quite number of the cases are concluded in their courts, hence their role as arbiters cannot be overstated in the country’s democratic society.
She stated that for the lower courts to serve as veritable instruments for justice and peace in a democratic society, “they must continually demonstrate deep foresight for productivity, exceptional capacity and remarkable courage in the defence of constitutionally guaranteed individual and institutional rights.”
“The developments in the judiciary have shown that it would rather uphold the rule of substantial justice rather than technicalities of law,” Bozimo added.