Civil Society groups have called on the National Judicial Commission (NJC) to thoroughly and expeditiously investigate the alleged misconduct of Justice Augustina Kingsley-Chuku in a case between the former Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili and former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu.
The Civil Society groups namely; Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, International Human Rights and Equity, Defense Foundation (I-REF), Alliances for Africa, Nigerian Feminist Forum, Tap Initiative for Citizens Development, Centre Against Injustice and Domestic Violence (CAIDOV) and Legal Defense Initiative in a statement in Lagos yesterday said the call had become necessary especially as Odinkalu had already, in his petition dated October 9, 2019, accused the judge of compromising “every appearance of judicial propriety in violation of Rule 1:1 of the Judicial Code of Conduct.”
The groups recalled that Odili in October 2018 filed a defamation suit before the court, demanding a published apology and N1bn as damages from Odinkalu claiming that a book ’Too Good to Die’ published by Odinkalu, had caused him public ridicule.
They noted that Justice Augustina Kingsley-Chuku, while delivering her ruling on the suit on Monday, January 27, 2020, ordered the defendant to pay Odili N250 million and an additional N300,000 as cost while restraining the author from further publication and circulation of the book adding that the Judge ordered Odinkalu to apologise to Odili in two national dailies
The groups quoted Counsel to Odinkalu as saying in a statement issued in response to inquiries received from various well-wishers from within and outside Nigeria that although they received reports of judgment in the case, they were yet to obtain a copy of the judgment and “therefore cannot comment until we have studied the judgment”.
They went ahead to observe that Odinkalu’s lawyers, however revealed that they “had in the course of proceedings filed a petition against the presiding Judge, Hon. Justice Augustina Kingsley-Chuku, before the National Judicial Council (NJC) for manifest acts of bias in clear breach of the Judicial Code of Conduct and violation of basic constitutional guarantees of due process, which made impossible a fair representation of the interests of our clients in the proceedings.”
The Civil Society groups further quoted Counsels to Odinkalu as saying, “They further stated that ‘every effort to bring these breaches to the attention of the court was frustrated. Counsel was denied the basic right to present their case and when counsel applied to the court to recuse itself, the court repeatedly doubled down, ultimately forcing counsel to withdraw from further participation in the proceedings’.
“At the time of the reported judgment, there are appeals pending before the Court of Appeal against several rulings of the court, including its claim of jurisdiction’.
“There is also, pending before the National Judicial Council, a complaint of judicial misconduct in connection with the proceedings in this case. It has not come as a surprise to us that other court users have alleged a similar experience in this particular court, including, most recently, the national Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, who similarly laid a complaint of bias against the same court.”
They recalled that “very recently, in January 2020, the self-same Justice Augusta Chuku of the Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, had to wash off her hands in a suit filed by a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress in the state, Igo Aguma, against the national leadership of the party and Caretaker Committee set up to hold congresses. When the matter was mentioned in court, the trial judge, Justice Chuku, informed the parties about a complaint against her in the matter. She said that following the situation, she had been ordered to transmit the case file to the Chief Judge of the State for reassignment to a new judge.
“Lead counsel for APC, National Chairman of the party and the Caretaker Committee in Rivers State, Tuduru Edeh, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), disclosed that the decision of the judge followed a petition by the third defendant in the matter, Adams Oshiomhole.
“While we are aware that Odinkalu’s lawyers are vigorously pursuing legal remedies on his behalf, including appeals, we are minded to express our concern that a Judge who is now known to have attracted previous allegations of bias in matters before her and had been made to recuse herself based on such petitions against her conduct, would, in this particular case, insist and proceed to give judgment in spite of request by Counsel that she recuses herself and in spite of appeals and petitions against her before the NJC.
“We wonder at what manner of motivation could have emboldened her to defy reason and judicial precedence, and carry on – with hardly veiled bias – to give a tainted judgment.”
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