The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Friday struck out the 13 counts criminal charge filed against a serving Supreme Court Justice, Sylvester Ngwuta for lack of jurisdiction.
Justice Ngwuta , one of the seven judges arrested in 2016,was facing the criminal charge for alleged money laundering and unlawful possession of multiple International passports before the Federal High Court in Abuja.
He had through an application brought by his counsel Godwin Agabi (SAN), challenged the jurisdiction of the court to try him when the National Judicial Council (NJC) has not find him culpable of any misconduct or recommended him for the trial.
Ruling on the application, the trial court judge, Justice John Tsoho held that the prosecution did not fulfill “the condition precedent in filing the charge against judicial officers. It is not in dispute that the defendant (Justice Sylvester Ngwuta) is a serving Supreme Court Justice.
Justice Tsoho agreed with defendant who relied on the judgment of Court of Appeal in justice Nganjiwa case. He noted that both the prosecution and defendant counsel are in agreement that the Court of Appeal decision in Justice Nganjiwa applied to this case, except that the prosecution made an exception and listed theft, arson and murder as cases where judicial officers may be arrested and prosecuted without recourse to the National Judicial Council.
“In my humble view, separation of power between the three arms of government is entrenched in the constitution. The National Judicial Council (NJC), is given power to discipline erring judicial officers,” he said.
“By strict adherence, the power is constitutionally vested on the NJC to discipline judicial officers and that power cannot be taken away in a democracy.”
“It is tidy and safer that all matters relating to the discipline of judicial officers should be first dealt with by NJC. ”
Justice Tsoho said that interpretation of the provisions of the laws should be done to avoid absurdity. He said that the gap left in the provision of the law should stand until the constitution is amended and until that is done any arrest of any judicial officers should be declared a nullity.
The judge described count 1 to 9 of the charge which listed offences relating the defendant acquisition of properties as verged.
Justice Tsoho said that count 10 to 13 which deal with unauthorised possession of International Passport, trading and cash payments fall more within the purview of allegations of misconducts and this court has difficulties in determining whether they fall within scope of its jurisdiction. This court is not persuaded that it has jurisdiction.
Justice Ngwuta who look relieved after the ruling, left the dock and walked to the lead counsel and commended him. He refused to answer questions put to him by journalists.
However, a counsel who spoke on behalf of Olufemi Fatunde the prosecution counsel said he need to brief the Attorney General of Federation (AGF) about the decision and that the AGF will decide what next or the way forward on the matter.