The National Judicial Council (NJC) yesterday wielded a big stick on Justice Rita Ofili- Ajumogobia of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court. She was barred from aspiring to the Court of Appeal throughout her entire career.
Besides, Justice Ofili- Ajumogobia has been put under NJC’s ‘watch list’ for four years on offences described by the judiciary’s highest body as misconduct and injustice.
The embattled judge, formerly of the Ogun Judicial Division, refused to deliver judgement in an election petition having adjourned the matter twice for judgement. Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia was accused of abusing her judicial powers when she refused to deliver judgement in the election petition suit after parties in the suit No. FHC/ AB/CS/31/2011, had argu-ment on May 22, 2012 in Abeokuta.
The judgement, which was first fixed for judgement on July 10, 2012 and June 14, 2014 never saw the light of the day as the judge never gave her verdict on the matter. Angered that justice was denied in the matter, a party, Mrs. Victoria A. A. Ayeni wired a petition to the NJC. Ayeni, an aspirant for the Ogun State House of Assembly, accused Justice Ofili-Agumogobia of a ‘compromising posture’ and asked the NJC to investigate the judge, insisting that the judge twisted her judicial powers against her since 2011.
Besides, she accused the judge of deliberately delaying the matter filed on June 2, 2011 through an Originating Summons, but hearing never commenced until May 22, 2013 after seven adjournments. This, Ayeni said, was obvious that the judge compromised her position as while waiting for the commencement of the matter,Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia was transferred to the Lagos Judicial Division, adding that it took several months before the Chief Judge directed that the matter be concluded.
Apparently miffed, she asked the NJC to convoke a panel of investigation to be set up to determine whether or not the trial judge “has not compromised her position” as a judge in the suit. Following her petition, the nation’s Chief Justice, Mahmoud Mohammed asked Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia, to explain why judgement was not delivered in the 2011 pre-election suit after judgement was fixed twice within the last three years.
The CJN, in a letter with Reference number NJC/F.3/FHC.26/1/232, entitled: “Re: Petition against Honourable Justice R.N. Ofili-Ajumogobia, sitting at the Lagos Judicial Division of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, I refer to my predecessor’s letter No. NJC/F.3/FHC.26/1/212 dated 14th August 2014 on the above subject matter, which you are yet to forward your response. “I forward herewith a reminder petition dated 31st January, 2014 (sic) by the petitioner, Mrs. Victoria A.A. Ayeni.
“You are, therefore, requested to explain why judgement cannot be delivered in the matter. Your response should be forwarded to my chambers through your Chief Judge within two weeks from the date of your receipt of this letter, please.”
After a thorough investigation, the NJC found merit in Ayeni’s petition and gave a verdict that the judge was guilty of ‘misconduct’ and ‘injustice’. However, the Council said it would not consider the judge for elevation while her career lasts as she was on NJC’s “Watch- List” for the next four years.
NJC, in a statement by its spokesman, Soji Oye, said Justice Ajumogobia would not be considered for any elevation to the Court of Appeal or any Ad-hoc Judicial appointment till her retirement from the Bench.
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