The Federal High Court in Abuja has struck out all the 13 counts of money laundering and passport fraud instituted by the Federal Government against a serving Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta.
The Supreme Court judge was among the judicial officers whose houses were raided by the operatives of the Department of State Services, DSS, in October 2016. He was subsequently charged with various corruption offences by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.
In a ruling on Friday, Justice John Tsoho relied on the Court of Appeal decision in the case of Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa of the Federal High Court, and held that the prosecution in the Justice Ngwuta case failed to comply with the condition precedent before bringing charges against a judicial officer.
The appellate court had dismissed the charges instituted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission against the Federal High Court judge on the basis that a serving judge could not be investigated or prosecuted without being first disciplined by the National Judicial Council, NJC.
Justice Ngwuta, through his counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi SAN, had while arguing his client’s motion, submitted that by virtue of the said Court of Appeal’s judgment in Nganjiwa’s case and the provisions of section 158(1), Paragraph 21(8) of the Third Schedule to the Constitution, the charges instituted against his client were incompetent.
He maintained that going by the judgment of the Court of Appeal, the complaints forming the basis of the charges instituted against him ought to have been referred to the NJC and allowed the NJC to discipline him before instituting the charges.
In his ruling on Friday, Justice Tsoho said, as was the Court of Appeal’s decision in the Justice Nganjiwa case, all allegations against a judicial officer, with the exception of murder, arson and the likes, must first be subjected to the scrutiny of the NJC before the affected judicial officer is taken before the regular court for trial.
He said none of the offences in the 13-count charge against Justice Ngwuta fall in the category on the offences on which the Court of Appeal said a judicial officer may be prosecuted with first clearing with the NJC.
The presiding judge noted that the NJC was cautious when it used the word “may” in deciding that some offences could be prosecuted without first subjecting such judicial officer to NJC’s disciplinary process, because such distinction was always difficult to make.