There is palpable fear among judicial officers as the National Judicial Council (NJC) prepares to axe more judges in its bid to cleanse the judiciary of corrupt judges.
Last February, the NJC had recommended the compulsory retirement of Justices Abubakar Talba, the judge who controversially gave a very lenient sentence to a self-confessed pension thief, Thomas Naron, and Charles Archibong.
In furtherance of disciplinary measures to be taken on other judges found to be wanting, a source at the NJC told THISDAY that the council would meet this week to take a final decision on judges queried for alleged abuse of office and corruption.
The source said that it is not just high court judges that will be affected, pointing out that some justices of the Appeal Court were also being investigated.
He further revealed that a Supreme Court justice was reported to have narrowly escaped dismissal.
“I can tell you that chief judges are also being investigated,” the source said.
As a result of the on-going investigation, many judges are in panic mode as the fear is that no one might be immune from the gale of disciplinary action across the bench.
The stance of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman of the NJC, Mariam Mukthar, to get rid of the bad eggs on the bench is making many judge uncomfortable.
Sunday, a group, Centre for the Rule of Law, Equity and Justice, issued a statement in Abuja calling on the NJC not to intimidate judges with its plan to determine the fate of 23 judges who have petitions written against them.
The group warned that the planned action of the NJC, if not handled properly, was capable of affecting the morale of judges in the country.
In the statement, which was signed by its Executive Director, Mr. Jamiu Agbabiaka, the group said the NJC must not use its action, which it said had been slated for today and tomorrow, to punish judges unnecessarily.
The statement said: “The Council has fixed April 22 and 23 to consider reports on the judges alleged to have been involved in the ‘sale of judgments’.
“We wish to warn that it is not every judge that has a petition against him that is guilty of the allegations.
“More often than not, most of the petitions are frivolous, vexatious and unfounded. At other times, they are borne out of the inability of litigants to have their way in the open court.”
The group however said that it agreed that there were some unfortunate instances whereby some judges had brought the judiciary into disrepute.
It said because of this, all well-meaning Nigerians should support any initiative to sanitise the judiciary.
But it noted that as an organisation committed to the observance of the rule of law, equity and justice, it had watched with keen interest the recent hoopla concerning the affairs of the NJC, especially as it relates to the exercise of its disciplinary powers with respect to judges.
While stating that the NJC could not be stopped from performing its statutory role, “we wish to advise that it must be done with utmost caution, vigour, thoroughness and above all, the fear of God.”