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Accused Judge Absent from EFCC Arraignment

The arraignment of a serving jugde, Justice Hyeladzira Ajiya Nganjiwa, was stalled today, June 13, 2017 before Justice Akintoye of State High Court, sitting in Igbosere, due to the absence of the defendant in court.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commision has filed a 14 Count charge alleging unlawful enrichment as a public official, as well as giving false information to the Commission. EFCC alleged that the judge received a total of $260,000 and N8.65 million through his bank accounts between 2013 and 2015 from suspicious and inexplicable sources which are contrary to Section 82(a) of the Criminal Law of LagosState, No 11, 2011 and Section 39(2) of the EFCC (Establishment) Act 2004.

When the matter was called up in court today Justice Ngajinwa was nowhere to be found. His counsel, Robert Clarke SAN, who apologized for the absence, told the court that Justice Ngajinwa could not travel from his official base in Bayelsa State due to flight problems, while promising that his client will be in court at the next adjourned date.

The SAN also complained about the failure of the EFCC to attach the title 'Justice' to his client's name on the charge sheet, saying he had already filed a notice or preliminary objection to challenge the charge and to urge the court to dismiss it.

Prosecution Counsel Rotimi Oyedepo miffed at the explanation, expressed disappointment at the absence of the accused whom he claimed intentionally refused to appear before the court, which he concluded is tantamount to disrespect for the court. Rotimi explained that the defendant was served with the charge on the 9th of June 2017, which he acknowleged and was duely informed of today's process.

"We are extremely disappointed by the willful refusal of the defendant to appear before Your Lordship. On the 9th of June, the defendant was served with the charge, which he acknowledged.

He was also duly informed of the proceedings before My Lord today. It is an act of disrespect for the defendant not to appear before this court."

While responding to the failure to attach the title 'Justice' to Nganjiwa's name on the charge sheet,

Oyedepo said, "The issue as to the status of the defendant is not an issue before My Lord. As a matter of fact, all animals are equal.

The status of the defendant has nothing to do with his appearance before Your Lordship. His decision not to appear before Your Lordship is deliberate and is an attempt to frustrate the expeditious trial of this case."

However, Clarke urged the judge to disregard Oyedepo's claim that his client is deliberately refusing to appear in court today, alluding that the prosecution had nothing to prove his claim.

Justice Akintoye said she would give the accused judge the benefit of the doubt.
Clarke, while arguing his client's preliminary objection to the charges, contended that Justice Akintoye lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the case because, according to him, only the National Judicial Council had the power to deal with the kind of allegations brought against Justice Nganjiwa, who is a serving judge by virtue of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic Of Nigeria.

Oyedepo disagreed with the defence counsel, he argued that Justice Nganjiwa had no immunity from prosecution from criminal trial, emphasizing that the power of the NJC rests at being administrative.

"We must be bold enough to concede that the NJC has administrative power in the appointment and administrative discipline of a judicial officer.

But Section 158 of the Constitution did not clothe the applicant with immunity from criminal trial. While the act complained about can amount to misconduct that can weigh on the mind of the NJC in recommending the removal of the applicant from office, that same misconduct that has constituted an offence in Lagos State is still liable to be determined by this court," Oyedepo retorted.

matter had been adjourned till 23rd June 2017 by Justice Akintoye, with an order to Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa to be present in court on that date was given to his counsel.

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