The presidency has again rejected the explanation offered by the National Judicial Council (NJC) for recalling some of the judges investigated for corruption.
NJC at the weekend had cited lack of diligent prosecution, fairness, and the need to adhere to the rule of law as reasons for recalling six out of the eight judges who were suspended by the council last November.
But reacting, the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Okoi Obono-Obla, in a statement Monday, accused the NJC of not understanding the rules of the courts it supervises.
Obono-Obla’s statement, however, refrained from attacking the council’s decision to recall Justice Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court.
In his response to the NJC’s reason explaining the basis for recalling the judges investigated by the Department of State Services (DSS) for alleged corruption, Obono-Obla insisted that the decision of the council to recall Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court was hasty.
According to him, the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation was within the timeframe to comply with the records of appeal to enable it pursue the appeal it had filed against the decision of Justice Jude Okeke of the Abuja High Court who had discharged Justice Ademola of the corruption charges levelled against him by the federal government.
He further argued that it was only if the court’s registry failed to compile the records within 60 days that the responsibility would shift to the appellant.
In practice, however, a diligent appellant usually does not usually wait for the registry to compile the records.
He said: “I wish to debunk some of the assertions contained in the statement issued by Soji Oye, Director of Information, National Judicial Council (NJC), which was widely reported in the media on Monday the 12th of June, 2017.
“One of such false assertions by Soji Oye is the claim ‘that the Office of Attorney General of the Federation had on two occasions – April 18, 2017 and April 21, 2017 – shunned invitations by the Federal Capital Territory High Court for settlement of records of appeal which if it had done would have elevated the notices of appeal to proper appeal’.
“Undoubtedly, the statement of Soji Oye is a deliberate misrepresentation of the law and facts.”
He argued that the FCT High Court registry, by a notice dated 6th June, 2017 signed by one Paul A. Edili (Head of Appeal), had invited both parties to the appeal to attend the court on the 14th June, 2017 for the purpose of reconciliation of records of appeal.
“It goes without saying that the assertion of Soji Oye that the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation had on two occasions, viz, April 18, 2017 and April 21 2017, respectively shunned the invitation of the FCT High Court registry is not correct,” he said.
Obono-Obla challenged Oye to furnish the AGF with proof of service of the notices.
He added: “It is obvious that Soji Oye, in his haste to defend the indefensible, muddled up the law concerning the role of an appellant and the registry of the court where an appeal is emanating from.”
He explained that by Order 8 of the Court of Appeal Rules, 2016, the registrar of the court below had a duty to compile and transmit the records of appeal to the Appeal Court.
“This he has 60 days to do; commencing from the day the notice of appeal is filed. And it is immaterial that parties do not attend court for purpose of settlement of the said records.
“It is only where the registrar fails or neglects to transmit the records of appeal in accordance with Order 8, Rules 1-3, that the appellant may intervene upon the expiration of the initial 60 days, to compile and transmit the record,” Obono-Obla noted.
According to him, the appellant has an additional 30 days to do so.
He also expressed ignorance of the notice, which the NJC cited in its statement, adding that even if there was any notice for settlement of records of appeal, “the failure of the appellant to attend court for settlement of the said records would not prevent the registrar of the lower court from performing his duty in line with Order 8, Rule 2 of the Court of Appeal Rules 2016”.
According to him, if the notice of appeal was filed on the 7th of April, 2017, the registrar had 60 good days, expiring on 7th June, 2017 to settle and transmit the records.
He also argued that since the AGF had filed an additional notice of appeal on 6th June 2017, the registrar had an additional 60 days terminating on or about 6th August 2017 to settle and transmit the records.
He said: “The NJC cannot feign ignorance of the rules of the court it supervises. The assertion that it is a total of 45 days that is allowed for compilation of records of appeal in all circumstances is, with respect, utterly false.
“We are therefore afraid (in the light of the foregoing), that the decision of the NJC to recall Hon. Justice Ademola against whom there are valid and subsisting notices of appeal at this moment is, to say the least, premature, ill-timed and ill-fated.”