Martins Odeh(NAN): The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Mahmoud Abubakar (SAN), on Thursday urged the National Judicial Council (NJC) to order the immediate stepping down of the seven Justices accused of judicial fraud.
Abubakar gave the advice at the valedictory session in honour of Justice Sotonye Denton-West of the Court of Appeal in Abuja. This follows ongoing criticism against Nigeria’s judiciary over fraud allegations brought against the seven senior judicial officers.
Accused judges included two Justices of the Supreme Court and five Justices of the Federal High Court.
“I am sure that many here will be expecting me to make further statements on the ongoing events affecting the nation’s judiciary.
“I have in the course of the last two weeks or so made several statements and remarks on these developments. Our position is therefore well known.
“It appears to the NBA that it is extremely important that the NJC take very urgent steps to safeguard the public image and sanctity of the courts,’’ he said.
The NBA president said: “We therefore strongly recommend that, without prejudice to the innocence or otherwise of the Judges involved in the ongoing investigations, they should be required to excuse themselves from further judicial functions.
“Better still, they may be required to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is fully and completely established or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings.
“We believe this will be necessary in order to protect the sanctity and integrity of judicial processes that may involve the judges concerned and safeguard the public image of the institution.’’
On Denton-West’s retirement, Abubakar said she was easily one of the most ebullient personalities of the Court.
“She is always highly spirited and maintains a warm and caring relationship with people around her,’’ he said.
Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, President of the Court, described Denton-West as a hardworking, amiable and erudite jurist, adding that the vacuum created by her retirement will be difficult to close.
“Justice Sotonye Denton-West is a first in her own right. She is the first female lawyer, first female judge and first female acting Chief judge of the High Court of Rivers State.
“She is also the first female indigene of Rivers State to be appointed to the Court of Appeal,’’ Bulkachuwa said.
Responding, Denton-West described her sojourn through the legal profession as rewarding.
According to her, integrity, peace and love are the virtues she uses to serve justice.
She, therefore, advised legal officers on the bench and bar to remain steadfast, diligent and incorruptible in carrying out their duties.
“It is unfortunate that we have not been able to stop some of the social malaises creeping into the profession. Judicial officers should shun corruption.
“It is also important for us to stay together and prevent foreign forces from encroaching into our ranks,’’ she said.
Denton-West was born on Sept.15, 1946, in Lagos State.
She completed her primary education from Our Lady of Apostles, Yaba, Lagos, from 1953 to 1960, and proceeded to the prestigious Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos from 1961 to 1965 for her Secondary education.
Denton-West obtained her law degree in 1970 from the University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos, and was called to the Nigerian bar in 1971.
She is retiring from active service upon attaining the compulsory 70 years allowed by the Civil Service Rule.
Books written to grace her exit from the legal profession include “VIA IURIS’’, meaning (by means of law), and “Triumph of Integrity: The Life of the Justice Sotonye Denton-West’’.
The third publication is titled “Review on the Compendium of Judgments by Justice Sotonye Denton-West’’.
The occasion was attended by several justices, judges, senior lawyers and politicians including Gov. Nysome Wike of Rivers.