Court Dismisses N81.7m Corruption Case Against Judge

The Court of Appeal Lagos Division yesterday struck out criminal charges filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against  a serving judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa.

The anti-graft agency had on June 23, this year arraigned the judge on 14-count charges before Justice Adedayo Akintoye of the Lagos State High Court, Igbosere.

The commission had alleged that the judge received a total of $260,000 and N8.65 million (about N81,705,000) gratification from some lawyers to enrich himself as a public official.

The judge pleaded not guilty and trial had already started before Justice Akintoye when the defence objected to the charges and informed the court of its appeal before the upper court.

However, in a judgment yesterday, the appellate court panel presided over by Justice Adejumo Obaseki quashed the 14 charges pressed against Justice Nganjiwa.

The appellate court held that the EFCC lack the power to charge the judge to court based on the allegation made against him.

Justice Nganjiwa, through his lawyer, Chief Robert Clarke  (SAN), in its appeal, argued against Justice Akintoye’s jurisdiction to entertain the charges.

Prior to Justice Nganjiwa’s arraignment on June 23, Clarke had argued a preliminary objection challenging Justice Akintoye’s jurisdiction to hear the case.

Clarke had contended that by virtue of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution, only the National Judicial Council (NJC) had the power to deal with the kind of allegations brought by the EFCC against his client, a serving judge.

But the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, disagreed and rather maintained that despite being a serving judge, Justice Nganjiwa did not have immunity against criminal prosecution.

“We must be bold enough to concede that the NJC has administrative power in the appointment and administrative discipline of a judicial officer. But Section 158 of the Constitution did not clothe the applicant with immunity from criminal trial.

“While the act complained about can amount to misconduct that can weigh on the mind of the NJC in recommending the removal of the applicant from office, that same misconduct that has constituted an offence in Lagos State is still liable to be determined by this court,” Oyedepo had argued.

In her ruling then, Justice Akintoye upheld Oyedepo’s argument and dismissed Justice Nganjiwa’s objection.

The EFCC said it will file an  appeal against the ruling of the Court of Appeal.

A statement by Head, Media and Publicity, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren said: “The commission considers the ruling a dangerous precedent that has no basis in law and, is confident that the Supreme Court will upturn the judgment.

“Criminal trial takes precedence over administrative procedures and it is strange that the Court of Appeal wants to put the cart before the horse. This is ridiculous! The appellate court simply wants to confer immunity on public officers from prosecution for corruption, it will not stand.”

By: Adebisi Onanuga
The Nation News