Kogi High Court sitting in Koton-Karfe, on Tuesday, ruled that the Executive and Legislature, jointly or unilaterally, cannot remove the state Chief Judge, Justice Nasir Ajanah, without recourse to the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The court also declared that the Chief Registrar of the state High Court held a statutory position as the accounting officer of the Judiciary and was, therefore, not subject to the control and supervision of either the Executive or the Legislature.
Justice Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye, the presiding judge, made the declaration in his judgement on the suit brought against the Assembly, the governor and three others by Justice Ajanah and the Chief Registrar, Alhaji Yahaya Adamu.
Omolaye-Ajileye, who granted all the reliefs and declarations sought by the claimants in the suit, said: “On the whole, I find merit in this action and it succeeds. All the declarations sought are allowed.
“By item 21 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (As Amended), the National Judicial Council (NJC) is the body empowered to exercise disciplinary control over all Judicial Officers of Nigeria.
“It is also the NJC, established under Section 153(i) of the constitution (as amended), that has the power to recommend to the Governor, the removal of a judicial officer.
“Where a Chief Judge of a state is to be removed, for whatever reason, it is the NJC, not the state House of Assembly, that is empowered to make recommendations to the Governor of a state under item 21(d) of the Third Schedule to the Constitution.
“To allow only the House of Assembly and the governor of a state to remove a Chief Judge of a state or any judicial officer for that matter, without the input of the NJC, will be monstrous and outrageous as it is capable of destroying the very substratum of justice and introducing a system of servitude, utterly inconsistent with the constitutional independence of judges”, he said.
The judicial officers had approached the court to challenge the powers of the defendants to remove them from office over refusal to be investigated by the state House of Assembly.
The Suit No. HC/KK/11CV/2018 brought by the Chief Judge and the Chief Registrar had as respondents, Kogi State House of Assembly; Speaker of the House; Bello Hassan Abdullahi, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee; the Governor of Kogi and the state Attorney General.
The claimants, in their Originating Summons posed four questions for determination which revolved round whether the defendants had power to remove the Chief Judge as a “Judicial Officer” within the meaning of sections 292 and 318 of the 1999 constitution.
They also sought to know among others, whether the 1st defendants (Assembly) or its committee was vested with the power to invite the 1stclaimant (Ajanah) to the floor of the house for the purpose of investigation.
They sought declarations that the defendants were not vested with the power to remove the CJ or invite him to the floor of the house for purpose of investigation; that the constitution of the ad hoc committee by the House of Assembly on Dec. 11, 2018 was unconstitutional, ultra vires and therefore, null, void and of no effect.
They equally sought orders of perpetual injunction setting aside the purported resolution and another restraining the defendants, their agents, privies or servants from investigating or exercising any form of disciplinary control or sanctions on the claimants.
Omolaye-Ajileye said that the facts of the matter according to the affidavit supporting the Originating Summons deposed to by Shaibu Yakubu, a Legal Practitioner, revealed that the impasse was ignited by a missive between the heads of the Executive and the Judiciary.
According to him, Mrs Folashade Ayoade-Arike, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) who had a pending case before the Chief Judge, had addressed a letter to him on the orders of the state governor to release the payroll of Judiciary staff for pay parade of civil servants in the state.
The Chief Judge had instructed the Chief Registrar to reply the letter as it was unethical for him to communicate directly with her while the case was pending.
In the reply, the Jurist said, the claimants declined to yield to the demand for staff payroll on the grounds that the request was contrary to the provisions of Kogi State Public Finance (Judiciary Special Provisions), Edict No. 6 of 1991 and sections 81(3) and 162 (d) of the 1999 Constitution.
The development led to a communication between the SSG and the House of Assembly, alleging financial misappropriation on the leadership of the judiciary.
The House subsequently constituted an adhoc committee to investigate the Chief Judge and Chief Registrar on the matter.
On April 2, 2019, the assembly recommended to the governor and the State Judicial Council, the removal of the Chief Judge and sanctions for the Chief Registrar after it adopted the report and recommendations of the adhoc committee.