Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) has described as subversive of the rule of law and invitation to anarchy, the suspension of the Chief Judge of Rivers State, Justice Peter Agumagu by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
According to the radical lawyer, the NJC’s suspension of Agumagu is illegal and unconstitutional, saying that there is the need for the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mukhtar-led NJC to reverse his suspension and withdraw the query issued to him on the grounds that his appointment was sequel to a verdict of the Federal High Court.
NJC had suspended Justice Agumagu for purportedly failing to conform to the oath of office he swore to uphold by accepting his appointment as the Chief Judge of Rivers State.
But in a statement yesterday, Falana, who is a delegate at the ongoing National Conference, cautioned the NJC not to expose the judiciary to unwarranted ridicule, adding that rather, it should pursue the appeal which it filed against the judgment of the Federal High Court on the matter.
Falana added that since Agumagu “was not accorded any form of fair hearing as stipulated by section 36 of the Constitution his suspension cannot be justified in law”.
The senior advocate further said, “Instead of exposing the judiciary to unwarranted ridicule the NJC is advised to pursue the appeal which it has filed against the judgment of the Federal High Court on the crisis. The NJC under the able and incorruptible leadership of the CJN has done excellently well in repositioning the judiciary. As a body constituted majorly by the cream of the legal profession, the NJC should not allow itself to be diverted from the ongoing progressive sanitization of the judiciary”.
Recalling past similar situations where the NJC accorded fair hearing to Judges believed to have erred, unlike Agumagu’s case, Falana said, “Not too long ago Justice Ayo Isa Salami, the immediate past President of the Court of Appeal was given fair hearing by the NJC before he was placed on suspension. Ditto for Justice Mohammed Talba of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.
“Even the Justice of the Court of Appeal and the two High Court judges who were recently indicted and warned by the NJC were given fair hearing. It is therefore inexplicable why the NJC decided to suspend Justice Agumagu before asking him to explain the allegations of judicial misconduct levelled against him by a member of the NJC”.
Citing Justice Lambo Akanbi’s judgement in which he held that the interpretation of section 171 of the constitution by the NJC was patently erroneous and that the governor is not a rubber-stamp to endorse the recommendation of the NJC hook, line and sinker, Falana said, “The judgment may be wrong but that remains the law until it is set aside.
“In the circumstance, the incendiary statement issued by the NJC after its emergency meeting last week in which the body purported to have set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court is the height of contempt. As the NJC is not an appointing authority, it lacks the power to suspend the Chief Judge of Rivers State or any judge in Nigeria for that matter.
“Section 11 (1) of the Interpretation Act provides that where an enactment confers a power to appoint a person to an office or to exercise any functions, whether for a specified period or not, the power includes the power to remove or suspend him. In the case of Justice Salami, the NJC illegally suspended him from office”.
Noting that what sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, Falana added: “President Goodluck Jonathan approved the suspension and appointed an acting President for the Court. However, when the NJC decided to recommend his reinstatement, it was rejected by the appointing authority. In like manner, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State has rejected the purported suspension of the Chief Judge by the NJC.
“Since the Chief Judge was not appointed by the NJC, the latter lacks the vires to suspend him. No doubt, the NJC is empowered to recommend the appointment, suspension or removal of a judge to the appointing authorities. As a recommending body, the NJC should desist from placing judges on suspension without the approval of the appointing authorities i.e. the President and State Governors”.