The NJC said this in response to Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP’s) call asking it to hand over the judges to anti-graft agencies.
In a letter dated October 26, 2016, the head of the NJC and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, said “It is necessary to restate that the NJC is a creation of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) being established under Section 153 with its mandate clearly set out in Paragraph 21, Part One of the Third Schedule to the Constitution.
“This provision clearly stipulates at Paragraph 21(b) and (d) that the council may only ‘recommend’ to the President and the governors, the removal from office of judicial officers and to exercise disciplinary control over such judicial officers, which, in effect, is the extent of its power to discipline. Hence, the council cannot, suo moto, dismiss any judicial officer.
“The NJC can also neither ‘hand over’ corrupt judges to law enforcement agencies for prosecution nor recover proceeds of corruption, as you have suggested. It can merely recommend to act upon its findings, as it has always done.”
The NJC said it cannot take responsibility for the inability of the President and Governors to implement its recommendations.
The judicial body also added that it is committed to purging the judiciary of corrupt officials.
The letter also reads: “However, in exercise of its constitutional mandate, the NJC has enacted the Judicial Discipline Regulations, 2014 in order to ensure that petitions are received, investigated and addressed as appropriate.
“As SERAP’s own report attests, 64 judicial officers have been disciplined within five years even preceding the institution of the new guidelines. Any failure on the part of the executive arm of government to act upon such recommendations cannot therefore be blamed upon the NJC.
“With due consideration to the contents of your letter, I am directed to acknowledge and address the concerns which SERAP have raised, which may reflect the wider opinion held by some Nigerians.
“While his Lordship, without doubt, appreciates SERAP’s concern for the incidence of corruption in the judiciary, it is indeed erroneous to conclude that the NJC has ‘felt satisfied with applying only civil sanctions and has not deemed it fit to hand over corrupt judges to law enforcement agencies for prosecution nor recover proceeds of corruption,’ as insinuated in your letter under reference.
“To be sure, every citizen of Nigeria, inclusive of judicial officers, are entitled to the protection of the law and a key provision of the constitution is the presumption of innocence, as enshrined in Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“I must also remind us that the seven judges, like all other persons, are entitled to a fair hearing as stipulated in Section 36 of the Constitution. As such, it would be presumptive and indeed pre-emptive to sanction the said judges without exhausting the proper procedure for their removal.”
The National Judicial Council (NJC), in the new National Judicial Policy resolved to stop the media from reporting details of accusations levelled against judges and employees of the judiciary.