The judges of the Federal High Court were recalled after obtaining separate court judgments that overturned the National Judicial Council (NJC)’s disciplinary action against them.
Two judges of the Federal High Court recently recalled from compulsory retirement, a sanction imposed on them for alleged acts of misconduct years back, are set to begin sitting at the court’s headquarters in Abuja.
The judges – Gladys Olotu and Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia – were recalled after obtaining separate court judgments that overturned the National Judicial Council (NJC)’s disciplinary action against them.
Following their recall to the bench, the two judges have now been assigned separate courtrooms at the court’s headquarters in Abuja, according to the court’s assistant director of information, Catherine Christopher.
The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, John Tsoho, assigned them their new courtrooms on Wednesday, Ms Christopher confirmed in response to a telephone enquiry by PREMIUM TIMES Thursday.
The judges are now set to begin siting over cases which the Chief Judge is expected to start assigning to them earnestly in Abuja.
The Federal High Court has divisions spread across the country.
The Abuja division, one of the busiest in terms of volume of cases it has to deal with, is a highly coveted posting among the judges of the court.
The division handles most of the election-related cases from across the country.
Ms Olotu’s reinstatement comes nearly a decade after her sack by the federal government.
The judge was appointed to the Federal High Court’s bench in July 2000, was compulsorily retired from the bench in February 2014 by President Goodluck Jonathan based on the recommendation of the National Judiciary Council (NJC).
Her forced retirement was sequel to the NJC’s investigations which found her culpable of “gross misconduct.”
Similarly, the NJC indicted Ms Ofili-Ajumogobia of various acts of misconduct including serving as the Director/Chief Executive Officer and sole signatory to a company, Nigel and Colive Company, contrary to the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Ms Ofili-Ajumogobia, during her years-long hiatus from the bench, faced criminal prosecution which was only terminated after another judge of the Federal High Court, Binta Nyako, quashed NJC’s recommendations sacking her.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that in October 2018, the council while dismissing Ms Ofili-Ajumogobia, said several individuals, government officials and business partners lodged funds into various accounts belonging to her.
Ms Olotu’s alleged acts of misconduct
Aloma Mukhtar, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) who headed the NJC, said Ms Olotu’s dismissal was based on findings made by the council after investigations into allegations contained in petitions brought against her.
The NJC found that Ms Olotu “failed to deliver judgment on Suit No. FHC/UY/250/2003, 18 months after the final address by all the counsel in the suit, contrary to the constitutional provisions that judgments should be delivered within a period of 90 days.”
A statement issued by NJC’s Director of Information, Soji Oye, had explained that Ms “admitted before the Fact Finding Committee of the Council that investigated the allegations that she forgot she had a pending ruling to deliver in an application for joinder.”
The NJC equally found that she “entertained a post judgment matter in Suit No. FHC/UY/CS/250/2003 in Port Harcourt (Rivers State), after delivering judgment, which made her “functus officio.”
Also, it was established that “in another case, Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/505/2012, Justice Olotu failed to deliver judgment twice.”
Olotu’s tortuous journey to reinstatement
Following her sack, Ms Olotu launched a legal battle to reverse what she perceived as an injustice.
She filed a suit at the National Industrial Court of Nigeria. But the judge, Evelyn Agbakoba, on 20 September 2017, affirmed Ms Olotu’s compulsory retirement.
Determined to regain her job, Ms Olotu approached the Court of Appeal, seeking to upturn Ms Agbakoba’s verdict.
On 25 February, 2022, the Court of Appeal in Abuja nullified her forced retirement.
A three-member panel of the appellate court led by Peter Ige faulted the process leading to Ms Olotu’s removal from office.
Danlami Senchi, who delivered the lead decision, held that since the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) did not recommend Ms Olotu’s compulsory retirement, NJC’s recommendation to then President Jonathan for her removal was “unlawful, null and void.”
“This finding by the trial court is perverse, wrong and a miscarriage of justice with regards to the appellant whose complaint was that the jurisdiction of the 2nd Respondent was not evoked for failure to comply with Paragraph 13(b) of Part I of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution. Thus, the decision of the Trial Court breached the right of the Appellant to fair hearing and such decision is a nullity,” the appellate court said.
Mr Senchi noted that the FJSC is statutorily empowered to recommend lawyers for appointment as federal judges, its recommendation was also necessary before such a judge could be sacked.
“Thus, this appeal is meritorious and it is accordingly allowed. Going into the other issues will only amount to a waste of judicial energy”.
“The decision of the National Industrial Court in Suit No. NICN/ABJ/380/2016 delivered on the 20th day of September, 2017, being a nullity, it is hereby set aside.”
“Consequently, the action of the 2nd Respondent (NJC) by recommending the compulsory retirement of the appellant as a judge of the Federal High Court, and the approval or acceptance of such recommendation by the 1st respondent (Nigeria’s president) is hereby declared null and void and of no effect, being a nullity, it is hereby set aside.”
“Consequently, the action of the 2nd Respondent by recommending the compulsory retirement of the appellant as a judge of the Federal High Court, and the approval or acceptance of such recommendation by the 1st respondent is hereby declared null and void and of no effect whatsoever,” Mr Senchi declared.
The justice ordered the NJC to pay Ms Olotu all her benefits that have accrued over the years.