Law News
Alleged bribe: SERAP demands judge’s suspension

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has urged the United Nations to prevail on the National Judicial Council to immediately suspend a judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Mohammed Yunusa, over the allegation that the judge was paid N225,000 by Mr. Rickey Tarfa (SAN), which was alleged to be a bribe.

The group, in a statement on Sunday by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said its petition, calling for Justice Yunusa’s suspension, was addressed to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Ms. Monica Pinto.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had, in a counter-affidavit to a N2.5bn fundamental rights enforcement suit filed against it by Tarfa, alleged that Tarfa bribed Justice Yunusa with N225,000 on January 7, 2014.

Tarfa had, however, explained in a further affidavit that the N225,000, forwarded, through his law firm’s Access Bank account, to Justice Yunusa on January 7, 2014, was not a bribe but a donation by some friends of the judge towards the funeral of his father-in-law.

But SERAP, in his petition to the UN, dated February 19, said it was concerned that despite the allegations making the rounds, the NJC had not thought it needful to suspend Justice Yunusa, at least, pending the conclusion of investigation into the bribery allegation.

This development, according to SERAP, is capable of undermining the integrity of the Nigerian judiciary.

The group raised the same concern over the failure of the Nigerian Bar Association to take the same step in the case of Tarfa, who was accused of bribing the judge.

It added, “SERAP is concerned that the allegations of bribery and corruption, such as the alleged payment and receipt of N225, 000, threaten the very essence of the independence of the judiciary and the actors in the legal profession.

“Such allegations also severely undermine the rule of law, the public’s confidence in the judiciary, raise the cost for judicial services because litigation is driven by corruption instead of by the legal process, discourage people from resorting to the formal justice system, and ultimately victimise the most disadvantaged sectors of the population, who do not have the means to play by the informal rules set by a corrupt system.

“SERAP believes that the NJC and the NBA are in the best position to tackle judicial corruption and corruption within the legal profession and to ensure the application of appropriate disciplinary measures in cases of bribery and corruption such as the alleged N225,000 bribe highlighted above.”

It urged Pinto to use her good offices to prevail upon the NJC and the NBA’s Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee to suspend Justice Yunusa and Tarfa, failure of which SERAP said would “undermine the efforts of all other institutions of governance and can lead to impunity.”

Meanwhile, another group, Access to Justice, has urged the NJC to disregard the Rule 13 of the National Judicial Policy, which stipulates that if a petition before it has been leaked to the media, the NJC will no longer hear that petition against the judge.

The group’s Director, Joseph Otteh, said the public was interested in the outcome of investigation into the case of Justice Yunusa.

Otteh stated, “If the NJC in this particular case, for any reason, thinks that the petition against that judge has been leaked to the media by any of the parties involved, it can very well say that pursuant to that policy, it’s not going to consider that petition.

“But we think that that rule of the National Judicial Council, which is contained in the National Judicial Policy of 2013, unduly interferes with the right of Nigerians to receive information and express their opinion.

“I think the public is interested in what happens in this matter and we urge the NJC not to interpose that regulation in this particular case.”

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