A2Justice Applauds the National Judicial Council for Enforcing the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers against Justice Lambo Akanbi

On Wednesday 18th November, 2015, Mr. Soji Oye, the acting Director of Information, National Judicial Council announced the approval by President Muhammadu Buhari for the immediate and compulsory retirement of Justice Lambo Akanbi of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Division, following NJC’s recommendation. According to Mr. Soji, the judge was retired after the National Judicial Council (NJC) found him guilty of having violated the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers.

Part of the allegations against Justice Akanbi, which led to his initial suspension by the NJC and his eventual retirement, includes as follows: that the Justice in two suits before him, unilaterally appointed a referee or valuer not proposed by parties in the cases; that the Justice sat on a case after a new Judge had been transferred to the state without the fiat of the Chief Judge; that the Justice heard and concluded a matter without dealing with the notice of preliminary objection on the jurisdiction of the court; and that the Justice delivered a ruling four months after final addresses were taken.

A2Justice applauds the NJC for the steps taken to defend the integrity of the judicial process by identifying and taking action against adjudicators who exploit their judicial powers in capricious, illegitimate ways to ridicule and tarnish the judiciary and public confidence in the judicial process. However, we observe that some of the allegations against Justice Akanbi were in relation to cases concluded since 2013. Some of the forms of misconduct adjudged against Justice Akanbi – like delivering judgments after a period of 3 months – are fairly routine and commonplace among many Judges in Nigeria and there is no system in place that enables oversight agencies keep incidents of such infractions on their radar. It may be recalled that Justice Glodys Olotu (rtd) was removed for reasons which included delivering judgments in like manner.

Judicial oversights must deal with these recurring, systematic forms of judicial misconduct and proactively too. Relying on complaints made by court users in this regard will represent a reactive, “after the fact” approach that will not effectively manage the scope and urgency of the problem. Many court users, including lawyers, out of fear that they would suffer retaliatory action, would choose not to report these kinds of misconduct to appropriate authorities. This is an opportune time for the NJC to review how it can extend and strengthen its oversight role and capacity, to monitor how Judges deliver on their constitutional and legal responsibilities in order to end the hardships and frustrations many court users have to endure silently. A good performance oversight system should have an early warning system that informs it of the vulnerabilities in a service delivery chain and enables it take action before substantial damage is done.

Chinelo Chinweze
Senior Programme Officer
Access to Justice