Sacked Federal High Court judge, Justice Charles Efanga Archibong, has petitioned President Goodluck Jonathan to restore him to the position from which the president compulsorily retired him last Monday.
In the petition, which was copied to Chief Justice of the Federation, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the judge claimed unfair hearing and miscarriage of justice against him by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
He specifically asked the President to rescind/withdraw acceptance/approval of the NJC’s recommendation that he be compulsorily retired as judge of the Federal High Court.
The judge’s troubles started last year when two petitions were written against him to the NJC.
In the first petition, Chief J.B Dauda, one of the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, complained that Justice Archibong had dismissed, without a plea or considering the gravamen of the charges preferred, the grievious charge of criminal infractions against Dr. Erastus Akingbola, former Managing Director of Intercontinental Bank Plc.
Some of the alleged breaches were fraudulent conversion, obtaining by false pretense, money laundering, market manipulation, loan scam, and fraudulent and wrongful trading of securities, amounting to N346,185,841,243.75 and £10,925,649.58.
The judge also reportedly made some pronouncement on the professional competence of the prosecuting team of six Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), comprising Damien Dodo, A.B Mahmoud, Kola Awodein, Konyinsola Ajayi, E.C Ukala and J.B Daudu.
In the second petition by Chief Olajide Ajana, counsel for a faction of PDP in Ogun State, the judge was alleged to have issued a Bench Warrant against respondents that were not served the contempt application before him (judge) and for granting the main reliefs in an application that was not moved ex parte.
Following the petitions, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, asked for Justice Archibong’s comments, which he gave in July 2012.
The judge said he exercised his discretion to terminate proceedings in the case against Dr. Akingbola due to lack of diligent prosecution by the counsel, who, “for the umpteenth time in three years sought leave to amend charges.”
“The Prosecution Team’s response to each challenge was an application to further amend charges,” the judge said.
“In point of fact, at the time I terminated proceedings, the prosecution had effectively been permitted to withdraw the existing charges yet again, declined to present fresh charges but rather decided to embark on an appeal specifically prohibited by provisions of the EFCC Act.”
In any case, Justice Archibong stated that the order disbanding the team was made on the Attorney General of the Federation, adding that, “any talk of the judge frustrating an appeal by counsel of the Prosecution Team is totally baseless.”
He said he did not discharge Akingbola, as widely suggested, as the accused’s properties were still attached by the State.
“The effort to get Akingbola to give an account of his stewardship of his Bank was simply frustrated by the prosecution team’s incompetence, an uncomfortable but very self-evident fact,” he said.
On Chief Ajana’s petition, Justice Archibong said the counsel “represented serial contemnors” and that his petition should be discarded “without much ado.”
Perhaps, not content with mere written response to the allegations, he specifically asked to be granted audience by the NJC, noting that the petitioners were people who could make representations, written and unwritten, formal and informal at various levels; a privilege he did not have as a judge.
The NJC Investigation Committee did not grant him (or any of the parties) the privilege of appearing before it to defend the allegations against him.
However, the three-member committee, headed by the Chief Judge of Benue State, Justice I. Hwande, sat on Wednesday, November 21, 2012, to consider the case.
Noting that, “all facts were complete with regard to the submission by the Petitioners and the response by the Judge,” the committee decided not to invite the parties, “as it had sufficient evidence before it to deliberate on the matter.”
And having looked at the petitions and the response of Justice Archibong, the Investigation Committee formulated eight issues for determination, including the reported discharging of Akingbola without taken his plea; the judge describing the prosecuting lawyers as indolent and incompetent, and a drain on public purse; his alleged refusal to release the Certified True Copy of his ruling to the EFCC; issuance of arrest warrant on parties without due service on the parties; and whether the judge was in order in dismissing application that was never heard on the ground of incompetence.