Supreme Court: Sacked Kwara Chief Judge Elelu-Habeeb Reinstated
ABUJA, February 17, (THEWILL) – The Supreme Court of Nigeria in a unanimous ruling Friday reinstated the sacked Chief Judge of Kwara State, Justice Raliat Elelu-Habeeb, following her unceremonious removal from office by former Kwara State Governor, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
The Chief Judge was sacked in 2009.
The apex court in its judgement ruled that the governor did not have the power to sack her from her position without the approval of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Justice Mahmud Mohammed who delivered the judgement of a 7-member panel of justices held that when all the relevant provisions of the constitution were read together, it would become obvious that that a state governor could not remove a chief judge from office without having recourse to the NJC.
“It is not difficult to see that for the effective exercise of the powers of removal of a chief judge of a state by the governor and house of assembly, the first port of call by the governor shall be the NJC,” Mahmud stated.
According to him, the council is equipped with the personnel and resources to investigate the inability of the chief judge to discharge the functions of his office and the subject of disciplinary action of removal through the committees of the council.
After citing several sections of the constitution, Justice Mohammed further held that: “From these very clear provisions of the constitution which are very far from being ambiguous, the governors of the states and the houses of assembly of the states can not exercise disciplinary control touching the removal of chief judges of states or other judicial officers in the states.”
Following Justice Elelu-Habeeb’s sack, she consequently dragged the government of Kwara State to the Federal High Court challenging the power of the state’s House of Assembly and the State Government to initiate disciplinary action against her.
Other justices on the panel include Walter Onnoghen, Christopher Chukwumah-Eneh, Muhammad Muntaka-Coomassie, Olufunmilola Adekeye, Mary Peter-Odili and Olukayode Ariwoola.
The appeal was heard by the Supreme Court on 28th November 2011 and judgment was reserved for Friday 17th February 2012
The case before the Supreme Court was an appeal from the decision of the court of appeal sitting in Ilorin, which was delivered on the 2nd day of July 2010.
The Federal High Court had earlier granted judgment in favour of the removed CJ Judge, but the Government of Kwara state appealed to the Court of Appeal in Ilorin, Kwara State.
The court of appeal ruled that the state chief executive could not remove a judicial officer/cum chief judge without an input from the National Judicial Council.
On the other hand, the court of appeal further ruled that the case ought to have been instituted at the State High Court and not at the Federal High Court as in the instant case.
The Supreme Court yesterday held that since the NJC, a federal agency was involved, she was right to have commenced her case at the Federal High Court.
In the suit filed at the Ilorin division of the Federal High Court on her behalf by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN, the Kwara State Chief Judge said that only the NJC has the power to initiate disciplinary proceedings against her in respect of her duty as the Chief Judge of the state.
She therefore asked for an order of injunction restraining the Kwara State House of Assembly and the Attorney General of the State from relying on a letter inviting her to come and show why disciplinary actions should not be taking against her by the state’s House of Assembly.
She also asked that the Kwara State Government be restrained from interfering with her job as the Chief Judge of the state.
In an affidavit she deposed to, Elelu-Habeeb said that all the allegations contained in a letter written by the then State Governor, Saraki to the state House of Assembly related to the exercise of her duties and powers as a judicial officer and that neither the House nor the Governor has the power to inquire into such allegations.
She said that neither the Governor nor the House of Assembly copied her in the letter, which she claimed was widely published in newspapers.
She said, “I know as a fact that unless the State’s House of Assembly and the Attorney General of the State (3rd and 4th defendants) are restrained by an injunctive order, the leadership of the judiciary of Kwara State, being the 3rd arm of government will be adversely affected.”
She argued that neither damages nor monetary compensation can adequately pay for physiological trauma, inconveniences that any adverse action or decision that the 3rd and 4th defendants might take as related the letter initiating disciplinary action against her.
Other reliefs being sought by the Chief Judge include and a declaration that by the combined interpretation of sections 4, 153, 292 and paragraphs 20, 21 of the third schedule to the Constitution, it is only the NJC that has the exclusive power and authority to inquire into any complaint against her.
A declaration that the letter of the Kwara State House of Assembly is in breach and violation of the 1999 Constitution in so far as it relates to the exercise of her functions as the Chief Judge of the State.
An order setting aside the decision of the 3rd and 4th defendants and any other steps taken thereon in so far as it relates to her office as the state’s Chief Judge.
There has been no formal reaction from the government of Kwara State following the ruling.
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