19th January, 2021
The Federal High Court, Abuja has dismissed an objection raised by the National Judicial Council (NJC) against the hearing of the case instituted by Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia challenging her dismissal.
Ruling on the matter on Tuesday, Justice Inyang Ekwo dismissed all the objections on the grounds that they were misplaced and that Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia’s claim was misconstrued.
The NJC had, in 2018, dismissed Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court from the service of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) on grounds of alleged gross judicial misconduct.
Not satisfied with the NJC’s action, Justice Ofili- Ajumogobia approached the Federal High Court, Abuja challenging the process adopted by the fact-finding committee of the NJC that recommended her dismissal.
The judge asked the court to declare the report of the committee illegal, unconstitutional, null and void.
The dismissed judge maintained that her fundamental right to fair hearing was breeched in the way and manner she was dismissed from the court bench.
The NJC and other defendants in the matter, however, filed separate preliminary objections against the hearing of the suit on the grounds that the Federal High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain such a matter.
The council held that, being a labour-related matter involving an employee, the judge ought to have gone to the National Industrial Court to ventilate her grievances.
The defendants; the Attorney-General of the Federation, President Muhammadu Buhari, Justice Olufemi Akinta, Justice Ishaq Bello and Justice Julieth Kentu denied the claim of denial of fair hearing alleged by the judge.
They also contended that the case was statute-barred having not been instituted within three months as required by the Public Officers Protection Act.
Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia, in her counter-affidavit, prayed the court to dismiss the objection to her suit on the grounds that she was challenging the constitutionality of her dismissal.
In his ruling, Justice Ekwo dismissed all the objections on the grounds that they were misplaced and that the claim of Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia was misconstrued.
The Judge held that Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia raised constitutional issues bordering on denial of fair hearing in the manner she was dismissed.
He further held that the case of the dismissed judge did not fall under the provision of the Public Officers Protection Act as claimed by the NJC and as such, was not statute-barred.
The judge held that the plaintiff’s claim, being a constitutional matter, could only be heard by a Federal High Court and not the National Industrial Court as canvassed by the NJC.
The judge adjourned the matter until April 5, 6 and 7, for hearing of the substantive matter.