The National Judicial Council has asked the Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, to pay the former chief Judge of the State, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, retirement benefits and entitlements accrued to her.
Recall that Uzokwe was purportedly suspended from office by the Abia State House of Assembly in January 2018 following a petition brought against her by a faceless group, known as Global Centre for peace and justice, a petition that was seen by many as politically motivated, even as some insinuate that it was because she is from Anambra, not Abia state.
However, many advocacy groups condemned the action of Abia State House of Assembly and described the alleged suspension as a brutal violation of the Nigerian constitution and a deliberate affront “to the independence of the judiciary as guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution”.
The various groups posit that, the alleged suspension of Justice Uzokwe was null and void because, “First, the legislative arm of a state has no powers to suspend the Chief Judge or any Judge of a state Judiciary and insist that, in so doing, the Executive and Legislative branches overreached their powers, as well as usurped the role and jurisdiction of the National Judicial Council (NJC)”.
Curiously, the National Judicial Council (NJC) without recourse to the law and due process, in March, 2018 recommended the compulsory retirement of Justice Theresa Uzokwe, citing a panel report that investigated the allegations against her, according to a statement then, by its spokesperson, Soji Oye.
However, Justice Uzokwe, through her Lawyer, Barr. Nnamdi Nwokocha Ahaiwe petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC) for a review and the setting aside of the hasty decision of the National Judicial Council, recommending her compulsory retirement, citing an error as the NJC failed to comply with the “Mandatory provisions” of paragraph 16 (1) of the 2014 NJC Judicial Discipline Regulations, thereby denying Justice Uzokwe of a “Fair Hearing” in the proceedings, which denial resulted in gross miscarriage of Justice, as their hasty arrival of a verdict was not only premature but was tainted with procedural irregularities which can only deny a party fair hearing.
Barr. Ahaiwe further stated that; the two accusations against Justice Uzokwe, viz: setting up of a parallel Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the alleged “garnishee order of Abia State Government and Local Government joint accounts” were still matters of litigation in another Court as at the time of that pronouncement and therefore sub – judice.
The National Judicial Council (NJC) in a _volte face_ after the review, resolved to pay His Lordship the former Chief Justice of Abia State, Hon. Justice T.U Uzokwe her arrears of salaries and allowances from the date they recommended her for compulsory retirement to when she attained her statutory retirement.
The NJC had also written thrice to Abia state Government to accord Justice Uzokwe her full rights, an indication that the suspension order then, has been thrown into the trash bin and of no effect.
In one of the letters addressed to Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu and dated May 25, 2022 which was signed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice I.T Muhammad, with Reference No: NJC/ S.1/AB. HC/14/ V111/235), the NJC reminded Ikpeazu to pay the ex-chief Judge all her allowances/entitlements.
The letter read in part, “I refer to our letters Nos NJC/S 1/AB.HC/4/VIII/177 dated 16 December 2021 and Ref No. NJC/S.1/AB.HC/4/VIII/198 dated 07 April 2022, urging your Excellency to pay the entitlements of the retired chief Judge of Abia State, Hon. Justice T.U Uzokwe, which is yet to be done. I am by this letter passionately reminding Your Excellency and further urging you to pay the retired Chief Judge’s accrued entitlements in the interest of Justice, fairness and equity.
Delay in payment of the benefits in such circumstances will greatly cause unbearable hardship to His Lordship.
While I am confident that Your Excellency will give this matter the deserved attention, please accept the assurance of my highest consideration please”.
In a letter copied to His Lordship Justice Theresa Uzokwe dated 25th May, 2022 with reference No. NTC/S.1/AB.HB/4/VIII/293A, the NJC stated amongst others;
“Furthermore, Council has agreed to pay the arrears of Your Lordships salaries and allowances from when you last drew your salary till when you attained statutory retirement.
In yet another letter dated 31st May, 2022 with Reference No: NJC/3/12/36/V111/236 and signed by Ramalan Shehu, Director; ( Finance and Accounts ) on behalf of the Secretary of NJC, the letter listed the accrued allowances/ benefits due to Justice Uzokwe which includes;- Housing, journals, hazards and motor vehicle.
From the combined effects of the correspondences and the action of the NJC in paying His Lordship her salaries and allowances, the Former CJ was no longer suspended or retired compulsory for misconduct but retired statutorily and meritoriously.
But, as at the time of filling this report, the Abia state Government is yet to adhere or respond to the directive of the National Judicial Council ( NJC).