A Benue State-based businessman, Sesugh Akume, has approached the National Judicial Council (NJC) to report two judges, W.I Kpochi and A. Ityonyiman, of the High Court of Justice in Benue State for their alleged breaches of the code of conduct for judiciary officers.
Akume disclosed this in a press statement released on Friday, which he made available to SaharaReporters on Saturday.
He argued that the justices in handling a case between him and the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, “take things personal and even insult, harass and intimidate litigants using their exalted positions.”
The businessmen also noted that they gave contradictory rulings on March 17, 2021.
The statement was titled, “Citizen Fights Back, Drags Two Benue Judges to NJC for Misconduct and Abuse of Privilege.”
It partly read, “The Honourable Mr Justices W I Kpochi, and A Ityonyiman of the High Court of Justice of Benue State sitting in Makurdi, have today been dragged to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for their serial violations of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and contravening the rules of professional conduct for judges, misconduct and misbehaviour.
“In the matter of Sesugh Akume and Governor of Benue & Others (MHC/182/2019, delivered on 21 July 2020) Justice Kpochi held that it was okay for governors to appoint local government caretaker administrations (as against having democratically-elected local government councils) contrary to the express provisions of the Constitution and Supreme Court judgements on the issue.
“He also held that I did not have the locus standi (the right to sue) to bring up the matter to court when I approached it. Even though relying on the most recent Supreme Court authorities on locus standi which give me the right, the judge refused to be persuaded, however much my lawyers tried to convince him.
“Judges are to follow the law as it is written and what the superior courts say it is. Going contrary to Supreme Court judgements means a judge has gone rogue.
“In the matter of Sesugh Akume and Governor of Benue & Another (MHC/293/2020, delivered on 17 March 2021) this same judge, among other things, cited sections of the Benue Local Government Law that are not so, in support of his judgement. What he claimed the referenced sections said is not what is written in the law at all.
“Further to that he insulted me in the judgement, referring to the modest effort of seeking judicial interpretation of various sections of the Benue Local Government Law to attain local government autonomy and extricate that tier of government from the stranglehold of the emperor-governors, as a ‘waste of time’, and further called me a ‘gold digger’ in a matter that I made absolutely no monetary claims whatsoever, nor does the judge know me personally anywhere.
“Judges are to be respectable, dignified and courteous, they are not to descend into the arena, take things personal and even insult, harass and intimidate litigants using their exalted positions.
“In the matter of Sesugh Akume v Government of Benue & Others (MHC/294/2021, delivered on 17 March 2021) Justice Ityonyiman held that I lacked the locus standi in a matter whereby I had made Freedom of Information (FOI) applications at the offices of the accountant-general of Benue, and chairman of Logo Local Government both of which were denied.”
Akume said it was unthinkable that he would lack the locus standi to seek redress in court regarding a letter he personally wrote and was denied his right to access a reply.
He added, “It has increasingly become a trend for judges to hide behind the issue of locus standi to side with the government and deny citizens justice, even when it is clear that it does not apply.
“This same judge refused to answer the questions I brought before him, to wit, whether FOI applies to the state and local government system, etc. Judges are duty-bound to answer questions brought to them and not refuse to answer them at all ostensibly because a person lacks the locus standi.
“These 2 judges (along with another) seem to have the unenviable reputation in the Benue judiciary of being pro-government, others insist. On that 17 March 2021, also both judges gave contradictory judgements on the issue of locus standi in the same day. Both cannot be right at the same time on this issue that has been resolved and now settled.
“It is the duty of the judiciary to assert itself as independent, impartial, fair, just, in order to inspire faith and confidence in it. When judgements are delivered it is not enough that justice is done, it is critical that justice is seen to be done.
“To be sure, when a party is not satisfied with a judgement at the trial court they are to appeal at a superior court, which we have done. However, superior courts do not address issues of misbehaviour, misconduct, abuse of privilege, partiality, etc. Only the NJC does.
“In my submission at the NJC today, I attached copies of the Benue Local Government Law, and the three judgments referred to above, as annexures for them to look at the issue dispassionately and determine it on its merit.
“As a citizen, I have played my part and given the judiciary the opportunity to introspect, investigate this matter, and discipline the erring judges. They may choose to do the right thing or cover up. That will be entirely their call.”