Lanre Adewole.TRIBUNE. 29 April 2013
AS more judges bite the dust in the anti-corruption crusade of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and head, National Judicial Council (NJC), Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, Nigerian Tribune can reliably reveal that a former acting head of the Court of Appeal who is still serving is joining the list of top judicial officials under probe.
Five Chief Judges are also being probed.
Nigerian Tribune also gathered that plans are underway by certain stakeholders to push for constitutional amendment that would up the retirement age of Justices of the Supreme Court to 75 years from 70 years.
This is just as a floodgate of petitions against judges is being witnessed at the NJC and the office of the CJN.
A young man who turned in a petition last week said he was encouraged by the punishment being meted out to the erring judges.
If the retirement age is pushed forward, Mukhtar would retire in 2019 instead of 2014.
By current arrangement, she is expected to retire on November 20, 2014 when she would clock the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.
Since she assumed office as the CJN on July 16, 2012, the internal cleansing of the judiciary that she promised has witnessed the warning of a justice of the Supreme Court over refusal to sit; the sack of two judges of the Federal High Court, warning of two others, suspension of a judge of the High Court and probe of about 16 others.
One of the masterminds of the extension concept told the Nigerian Tribune that the genuine efforts by the CJN to sanitize the judiciary and restore it as the last hope of the common man, informed the decision to push for a constitutional amendment in that regard.
Mukhtar’s predecessor-in-office, Justice Dahiru Musdapher advocated life appointment for the apex court justices while in office.
However, the constitutional amendment tabled before the National Assembly on how to reform the judiciary by its leadership did not contain an upward review of the justices’ retirement age.
The source, who noted that the bill could be sponsored to the National Assembly by individuals disclosed that the thinking among the brains behind the project was to give Mukhtar more years to consolidate on the cleansing of the system, “so that the gains of these bold decisions would be institutionalised before she leaves office. We are not saying that she is indispensable, but what she is doing is not usual or ordinary in a conservative system like judiciary where everyone knows the other person.
“So, it requires uncommon courage to move against your colleagues without fear or favour as she is doing. As we talk now, the little she has done is already having effect in the system. Judges are sitting up now. In fact, everyone in the system is sitting up. Imagine another five years in this direction. We would all have again, the judiciary we can be proud of.”
It was also gathered that if the five-year projection would be difficult to push, those behind it are looking at option B of two years.
“The main issue here is that we feel she would need more than next year for the message to sink. The system was almost lost to unethically behaviour that gripped it. Whether she would reject or accept is beyond her once the constitutional says yes. Her opinion would not matter to what we are doing” .
Instead of waiting for a full-blown constitutional amendment, the source said the request could come through a bill, to be sponsored by “progressive-minded lawmakers”.
Her alleged long-time sympathy for General Muhammadu Buhari of the opposition All Progressive Congress could be an issue with the ruling Peoples Democratic Party-dominated National Assembly.
Moves for an extension of retirement age of justices of the apex court had always been on the card since the days of Justice Alfa Belgore who spent six months as CJN, but none had succeeded.
Nigerian Tribune can also reveal that the CJN had imposed a ban on herself concerning any forms of relationship with politicians, which has reportedly seen her shun a very senior government functionary (a South-Easterner) at the federal level, two state governors from the South and a top lawmaker in one of the chambers of the National Assembly.
She reportedly made both her office and official residence a no-go area for them, with a reported standing order to her security details that anyone who allowed politicians into her residence would be dealt with.
“The case of the senior federal official was said to be dramatic, as he reportedly fled CJN house without waiting for his security detail who accompanied him there.
“When he heard her blasting the security officer that came to announce his presence and the embarrassing way the security detail was already handling his own security officer, he just jumped into his car and drove himself away, leaving the hapless security officer behind to find his way out of the mess. It was a funny sight,” a source privy to the scenario revealed.
One of the shunned governors reportedly made an attempt to see her in office and home through the intervention of one of her predecessors-in-office, but she refused to see them, instead reportedly sending words that the governor should communicate with the council through official correspondences.
The shunned top lawmaker was said to be in her office to invite her for a function, but she declined seeing him and reportedly directed that a formal invitation should be sent to her office instead of personal visits.
An informed source revealed that “as long as that person is a politician, she would not see him or her one-on-one, regardless of the purpose.”
Meanwhile, Nigerian Tribune can reveal that petitions against the former acting president of the Court of Appeal are receiving attention from the council, with a panel reportedly in place to look at the issues raised against his handling of the office.
A source said nothing should be ruled out at the end of the day, suggesting he might be fired if found culpable.
It was also learnt that more judges would have been sanctioned alongside Justice Abubakar Talba last Thursday but for the decision of the council to avoid the pitfall in the Justice Archibong’s case, which gave him the opportunity to be making a case of not being given a fair-hearing.
Nigerian Tribune was told that Mukhtar had directed that all those being probed should be allowed to appear before the panels looking into the cases against them.