The Court of Appeal, Lagos division, yesterday ruled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) does not have powers to investigate or prosecute serving judicial officers except where such judicial officers have first been dismissed or retired by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
In a judgment anchored on the principle of separation of powers between the three arms of government in Nigeria, the court held that serving judicial officers can only be prosecuted for offences like murder, stealing and others, if such offences are committed outside the discharge of their official duties.
The court while ruling in the appeal by justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, challenging the jurisdiction of the lower court to try him as a sitting judge, held that once the offence is allegedly committed in the discharge of their duties, they must first be tried by the NJC and dismissed or retired before the EFCC can investigate or prosecute them.
The EFCC had arraigned the judge for allegedly receiving $260,000 and N8.65 million gratifications to enrich himself as a public official. Allowing the appeal against a decision of the Lagos High Court, Justice Obaseki Adejumo, who delivered the lead judgment held that the condition precedent to filing of Charge No: LD/4769/2017 by EFCC had not been fulfilled.
He held that the NJC must first strip or remove the appellant (judicial officer) of his judicial standing before he could be charged with such alleged offence allegedly committed in the course of discharge of his duties.
The court therefore held that the High Court of Lagos State lacks the jurisdiction to hear and determine the charge against the serving judicial officer.
The Court of Appeal accordingly set aside the ruling of the Lagos High Court and upheld the preliminary objection filed by the defendant at the lower court.
Meanwhile, the anti-graft agency has described the ruling as a “dangerous precedent.”
In a statement by its spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, the EFCC vowed to appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court.
“The EFCC is to appeal against the ruling of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, which today held that the agency lacked powers to investigate or prosecute serving judicial officials except where such officers have been dismissed by the National Judicial Council.
“The Commission considers the ruling a dangerous precedent that has no basis in law and, is confident that the Supreme Court will upturn the judgment.
“Criminal trial takes precedence over administrative procedures and it is strange that the Court of Appeal wants to put the cart before the horse. This is ridiculous! The appellate court simply wants to confer immunity on public officers from prosecution for corruption, it will not stand,” Mr. Uwujaren said.