The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has discontinued the trial of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta.
Ngwuta, a serving justice of the Supreme Court was earlier arraigned before the CCT last year on charges bothering on false assets declaration.
A two-man panel of the CCT, in a ruling on Tuesday upheld the argument by Justice Ngwuta, to the effect that, as a serving Justice of the Supreme Court, he could not be tried in any court or tribunal, except after he had been subjected to the investigatory and disciplinary processes of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The CCT, in its decision, also relied on the judgement of the Court of Appeal in the case of Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, in which the appellate court held, in a December 2017 judgment, that by virtue of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution, only the NJC was with the powers to deal try judicial officers for any misconduct while in office.
The CCT said a judge could not be prosecuted by any court of tribunal until the NJC deals with the allegations against him/he and takes a decision of either dismissing such a judicial officer or compulsorily retiring him or her.
It consequently quashed the charges against Justice Ngwuta and discharged him.
Justice Sylvester Ngwuta has pleaded not guilty to eight charges bordering on false declaration of assets preferred against him by the Federal Government before the tribunal.
According to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, Justice Ngwuta contravened section 15 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, laws of the federation of Nigeria, which is punishable under section 23 (2) of the Act.
The Chairman of the CCT, Justice Danladi Umar, adjourned the matter for hearing to July 12, 2017 after the judge pleaded not guilty.
Justice Ngwuta is one of the judges whose residence was raided in October 2016 by the Department of Security Service, which uncovered huge sums of money in in the process.
He is also standing trial before Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on an amended 16 counts bordering on money laundering.
The Code Of Conduct Tribunal has approved April 20, for the arraignment of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, before a two-man panel of the CCT in Abuja.
This was made known in a statement signed by the CCT Head, Press & Public Relations, Ibraheem AL-Hassan on Wednesday.
Justice Ngwuta’s case file was submitted to the Code of Conduct Tribunal by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN), on a 10-count charge bordering on false asset declaration.
Count one states: “false declaration of assets contrary to section 15 of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap C15 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria punishable under Section 23 (2) of the same Act.
According to the statement, service of the summons had on Tuesday been effected to Justice Ngwuta.
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, has adjourned the trial of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, to January 18 and 23, 2017.
The Supreme Court Justice, is standing trial for corruption, alleged money laundering, breach of professional ethics and passport forgery related offenses.
The adjournment followed an application by the counsel to Justice Ngwuta, Chief Kanu Agabi, who told the court that he needed more time to prepare for trials as some documents given to him by the prosecution still needed to be studied.
This did not go down well with the prosecutor who urged the court to turn down the application.
However, trial judge, Justice John Tsoho delivered his ruling in favour of the defendant, Ngwuta, on the ground that section 36 of the constitution allows a defendant time to prepare for his defense.
He also added that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, also allows parties in a suit to at least five request for adjournment, afterwhich he adjourned the case.
Justice Ngwuta is one of the justices arrested and detained by the department of state services on October 8, 2016 for corruption and breach of professional ethics.
In November, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta had entered a not guilty plea to the 15-count charges leveled against him by the federal government.
He was also been granted bail in the sum of 100 million Naira on self-recognition.
Justice Sylvester Ngwuta has entered a not guilty plea to the 15-count charges of money laundering, breach of professional ethics and forgery leveled against him by the federal government.
He has also been granted bail in the sum of 100 million naira on self-recognition.
When the charges were read to him, the Supreme Court judge told the court that he was not guilty of the 15 counts.
Attempt by his lawyer to ask for bail was opposed by the prosecutor, Mr Adeogun Philips who said he had just been served and would need a short adjournment to respond.
With no objection by the defence lawyers, the trial judge, Justice James Tsoho, stood down the case by two hours.
On resumption of hearing on the bail application, counsel to Justice Ngwuta, Kanu Agabi asked the court to release the defendant on self-recognizance, taking judicial notice of the fact that he is a justice of the Supreme Court and the fact that he has been on administrative bail since on October 8, 2016.
Opposing the application, the prosecuting counsel, Mr Charles Philips, said that the defendant cannot be granted bail with respect to his position.
Mr Philips, who referred to charges number three and charges numbers 10-16 against Justice Ngwuta, informed the tribunal that barely 20 minutes after he was released on administrative bail, Justice Ngwuta gave instructions to a witness in the case to remove two or three bags containing 27 million naira from his bathroom at his residence in Abakaliki, Ebonyi state.
The prosecuting counsel also told the court that Justice Nwguta also instructed the said witness to remove three exotic cars from his residence on the same day and that they are nowhere to be found. That is what forms the subject of charge number three.
Speaking further he informed the court that in the course of investigation, the Department of State Services (DSS) discovered that Justice Ngwuta maintained multiple identities.
According to him Justice Ngwuta had four passports which he used concurrently.
Although he had reported two of those passports missing, he argued that in any jurisdiction in the world, if a person possesses several identities he cannot be released on self-recognizance.
He therefore asked the court not to grant bail but if it is inclined to, it should grant bail in the most stringent terms.
Reacting to the counter application, counsel to Justice Ngwuta, Mr Kanu Agabi, told the court that he was not willing to join issues with the prosecutor because he had gone into the substantive suit which is not allowed by law and that the constitution is clear as to when bail should be granted or not.
He added that should the court reach its conclusion based on the prosecutor’s submissions, verdict would have been decided before the case is started.
Having listen to both parties, the trial judge, Justice John Tsoho stood down the matter for ruling at 2:30PM.
On resumption, Justice John Tsoho granted bail to Justice Sylvester Ngwuta in the sum of 100 million naira on self-recognizance.
According to Justice Tsoho though the prosecution sought to impress the court on the defendants’ unworthiness for bail, it failed to show that in spite of the concerns raised, the defendant had his administrative bail revoked.
He also added that it is no secret that the security agencies are watching every move made by the judge with kin interest, which is how they found that he had multiple passports.
As such the prosecution should rely on the same security apparatus to prevent any attempt not to be available for trial.
He added that it would be great injustice to prevent any citizen from enjoying bail in available offence.
According to Justice Tsoho, it is on record that the prosecution had filed an affidavit of completion of investigation and on the other hand it is raising objections that witnesses and evidence will be tampered with.
The prosecution, he said, should be able to maintain consistency rather than the inconsistencies.
Justice Tsoho then went on to say that there is no evidence before the court that Justice Ngwuta would not be available for his trial and because the offence for which he is standing trial is bailable, he is inclined to grant bail.
Trial has been fixed for December 7 and 8.
Justice Ngwuta was one of the seven judges arrested after a DSS raid on the homes of High Court and Supreme Court judges across the country on October 8, 2016.
Bayelsa State Governor, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson has described the Supreme Court ruling striking out a suit challenging his candidature of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the 2012 Governorship election, as a victory for democracy, the rule of law, the government and people of Bayelsa State.
Speaking shortly, after the unanimous decision of the Justices of the Supreme Court in Abuja led by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, Governor Dickson extolled the Nation’s judiciary for its uprightness and firmness, noting that, it has remained a dependable and reliable component of Nigeria’s democracy.
According to him, the judiciary has continued to uphold the rule of law and provided the needed direction and application of the tenets of democracy, without fear or favour, adding that, with an unbiased judiciary like the one in the country, the nation’s democracy was headed in the right direction.
Also speaking to newsmen, after the Supreme Court ruling, Hon. Kemasuode Wodu, Bayelsa State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, explained that, in the ruling, the court asked former Governor Timipre Sylva to pay a cost of N500, 000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira) for wasting the court’s time in pursuing a case that lacks merit and is a complete abuse of judicial process.
The Supreme Court ruling brings to an end, the suit filed by former Governor Sylva challenging the eligibility of Hon. Dickson as the candidate of the PDP in the 2012 governorship election in the State.
The Supreme Court has dismissed an interlocutory appeal filed by former Plateau State Governor, Senator Joshua Dariye, challenging the corruption charges leveled against him since 2007 by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Mr Dariye was arraigned by the EFCC on July 13, 2007 on a 23-count charge bordering on money laundering and other corruption charges alleged to have belonged to the Plateau State Government.
Dariye argued that the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case on the alleged offenses involving funds belonging to the Plateau State Government.
The former governor thus argued that he ought to have been tried in Jos and urged the court to quash the entire 23 counts against him.
However, the Supreme Court said Dariye’s appeal was “unmeritorious,” saying the Court of Appeal was right to have affirmed the ruling of the FCT High Court which had dismissed his notice of preliminary objection.
A five-man panel led by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, said the scenario played out in the suit was a “sad commentary on the country’s anti -graft war”.
The Judges then ordered Dariye to return to the FCT High Court in Gudu, Abuja, to face his trial.
The EFCC accused the former governor of diversion of about 1.2 billion Naira of the state’s ecological funds into the account of Ebenezer Ratnen Venture, which is alleged to be one of the companies through which he allegedly siphoned the public funds.
A five-man panel of the Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal instituted by former governor of Ekiti state, Mr Segun Oni of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which sought to upturn the Court of Appeal’s decision that sacked him from Ekiti state government house.
The former governor had hoped to cash in on the judicial crisis that rocked the nation’s judiciary when Justice Ayo Isa-Salami was forcefully suspended from office by appealing to the Supreme Court alleging likelihood of bias in his defeat at the Ekiti election appeal.
Mr Oni in his suit relied on Section 36 of the Constitution which guarantees right to fair hearing and had asked the Apex court to revisit the judgment of the Court of Appeal which removed him from office.
However counsel to Governor Kayode Fayemi relying on Section 246 (3) opposed the appeal and contended that as at the time the governorship election was conducted in 2007, that the Court of Appeal was the final court to determine governorship election matters.
In an unanimous decision, the Supreme Court agreed with Mr Fayemi and held that attempt by Oni to lure the apex court to exercise its authority by meddling into an appeal already determined by the Court of Appeal which is the final court over the governorship election matters, is an attempt to get back into Ekiti state government house.
In the decision read by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, the court declined Oni’s invitation to interfere in an appeal that had been adequately determined and settled by a competent court which had the final say on such elections as at the time the election was conducted.
The court subsequently dismissed Oni’s appeal and insisted that his appeal has nothing to do with Section 36 of the constitution, especially in view of the provision of Section 246(3) of the same constitution.
In his reaction to the judgment, Mr Fayemi said he is not surprised with the ruling of the court as it has continued to remain the saving grace of Nigeria’s democracy.
According to him the matter ought not to have gone to Supreme Court in the first place as it has no place in the country’s jurisprudence.
He however called for the establishment of Election Offences Commission noting that if the former governor had been prosecuted for committing electoral fraud in the state, he would not have had the opportunity to approach the apex court with what he called a frivolous appeal with the purpose of distracting the government of Ekiti state and a waste of the time of the court.