The National Judicial Council has suspended Hon. Justice Abubakar Mahmud Talba of the Abuja High Court from office for a period of twelve months without pay.
The council also issued a serious warning against Justice Okechukwu Okeke of the Federal High Court.
Talba was suspended from office sequel to the findings by the council that he did not exercise his discretion judicially and judiciously with regard to the sentences he passed on Mr. John Yakubu Yusuf who was convicted for stealing N1.3 billion meant for payment of pension and gratuities of retired policemen.
A statement issued in Abuja Friday and signed by the council’s Acting Director, Information, Mr Soji Oye, said the council warned Talba not to abuse his discretion again.
The statement reads: “The National Judicial Council, in the exercise of its disciplinary powers under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, also issued serious warning to Hon. Justice Talba to desist from unreasonable exercise of judicial discretion in all matters brought before him.”
The decision on Justice Talba is the recommendation that emerged from the council’s two-day meeting in Abuja which ended on Thursday. The council had set up a panel to further investigate the judge and produce a detailed report of what had transpired between Yusuf and Justice Talba.
Petitions against four justices of the Court of Appeal are also being investigated by the committee that probed Justice Talba’s case. THISDAY could however not confirm the identity of the appeal court justices as the source would not reveal their names.
But it’s expected that the council would consider the committee’s report on the 18 petitions when it meets on June 13.
Justice Talba had on January 28, convicted Yusufu, a director in the Police Pension Office, who pleaded guilty to the charges that he conspired with six other accused persons and stole about N23 billion from the Police Pension Fund.
The sentence which allowed Yusuf to avoid prison after paying N750,000 fine was widely condemned.
Following the public outcry, petitions were written to the NJC against Justice Talba.
He was consequently queried and a committee was set up to investigate him.
The council at its Emergency Meeting held on February 20, set up a Fact-Finding Committee to investigate the allegations levelled against Talba in the Police Pension case of FRN Vs Esai Dangabar and 5 Ors.
The committee found that Justice Talba did not exercise his discretion properly when he allowed the convicted pensions director to avoid jail.
The judge had consistently maintained his innocence and denied any wrong doing.
The council however, observed that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) substituted the charge against Talba with another charge that carried lesser punishment.
In the withdrawn charge which was brought under Section 315 of the Penal Code Yusuf faced ten count charges which carried a maximum jail term of 14 years and fine.
NJC stated that EFCC counsel had substituted the earlier charge with another charge with only three counts under Section 309 of the Penal Code that moulded a lesser punishment of two years imprisonment with or without option of fine.
On the various petitions written against Hon. Justice Okechukwu Okeke of the Federal High Court who is to retire from service on May 18, this year, the council considered his responses and decided to seriously warn him.
Justice Talba’s suspension is the third such sanction by the NJC since the appointment of Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar as Chief Justice of Nigeria. But while Talba would return to his job in 12 months, the other two judges – Justice Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court and Justice T.D. Naron of the Plateau State High Court – had a more severe sanction. The NJC ordered their compulsory retirement.
JD:Well,there seems to be a light at the end of the judiciary tunnel.since the appointment of the current cj one has seen concrete efforts being made to sanitise the judiciary and Justice MariamMuhktar deserves our support and commendation.the real test will be in 2015,when immediately after the elections politicians will be headed to the various tribunals for redress.But hopefully long before then,these reforms would have taken root.well done Madam