The Federal High Court has reshuffled its judges across its 36 divisions in the country.
The changes are to take effect from April 12, a circular issued on March 16 (Tuesday) by the Chief Judge of the court, John Tsoho, states.
“Judges newly posted to judicial divisions must assume duty in such places on April 12, 2021,” the document obtained from a court official by PREMIUM TIMES official late Tuesday, reads in part.
Analysis of the circular by PREMIUM TIMES shows that 53 out of the court’s 77 judges are affected in the shake-up.
Although the postings are seen as a routine usually carried out in every two to four years by successive Chief Judges, the number of affected judges in the new reshuffling is unprecedented.
The last of such redeployments announced by the immediate-past Chief Judge, the late Abdu Kafarati, on February 4, 2019, but which took effect from February 11, 2019, affected only about 22 out of then 84 judges of the court.
Our reporter understands that successive Chief Judges of the court, in recent time, always redeployed judges as a routine, the frequency of which is a factor of how long they stayed in office before retirement.
The new reshuffling announced on Tuesday comes just about two years and one month after the last round came to effect on February 11, 2019.
It is the first under Mr Tsoho who assumed office in acting capacity in July 2019 and was sworn in as the substantive Chief Judge about five months later in December 2019.
Lagos and Abuja remain the divisions with the highest concentration of the court’s judges under the new arrangement.
When the new postings come to effect, the two divisions, undoubtedly the busiest, will have 10 judges in addition to the Chief Judge who has chambers in both places.
While three judges are going to be moving out of Abuja division, which is the court’s headquarters, four are being redeployed there to jerk the number of the judges there from nine to 10 in addition to the Chief Judge who switches between Abuja and Lagos.
Those who are being moved out of Abuja are, Okon Abang redeployed to Warri, Ijeoma Ojukwu redeployed to Calabar, and Folashade Giwa-Ogunbanjo, posted to Abakliki.
Six out of the nine judges currently in the Abuja division are not affected by the new postings.
They are, Binta Nyako, Anwuli Chikere, Ahmed Mohammed, Inyang Ekwo, Taiwo Taiwo, and Nkeonye Maha.
They will now be joined by four others – Z.B Abubakar being redeployed from Kaduna, Obiora Egwuatu, being posted from Kano, Mobolaji Olubukola from Makurdi, and D.U Okorowo from Lokoja.
For Lagos, three out of the seven judges are posted out of the division.
Those posted out are M.A Oyenetu, redeployed to Owerri, Chuka Obiozor, who is also a professor, redeployed to Benin, and R. M Aikawa taken to Akure.
The judges in the division that are not affected by the new postings are, Olayinka Faji, Chukwujekwu Aneke, Muslim Hassan, and Iniekenimi Oweibo.
They will now be joined by six others posted from different places to make the judges in the Lagos division 10, in addition to the Chief Judge, who has a reserved courtroom in the division.
They are Lewis Allagoa being redeployed from Kano, Akintayo Aluko being posted from Abakaliki, Daniel Osiagor from Umuahia Division, Peter Lifu from Osogbo Division, Tijjani Ringim from Owerri Division, and M.O Awogboro from Yenagoa Division.
The Port Harcourt Division in Rivers State, which ranks after Lagos and Abuja in terms of workload, will be manned by six judges when the new postings come to effect.
The three of the judges in the division not affected by the posting – E.A Obile, M.L Abubakar, and Adamu Muhammed – are to be joined by Patricia Ajoku, posted from Ibadan Division, Phoebe Ayua being posted from Abakaliki, and Jude Dagat from Maiduguri Division.
A prominent name on the list is Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, a judge of the court prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) but who was able to secure a Court of Appeal judgment which terminated his trial on the grounds that he had not been disciplined by the National Judicial Council (NJC) before he was charged.
The December 11, 2017 judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, although is being challenged by the commission at the Supreme Court, is the prevailing judicial authority prohibiting the prosecution of serving judges without them being first disciplined and sanctioned by the NJC.
Mr Nganjiwa, who was serving in the Yenogoa Division in Bayelsa State when he was charged with 14 counts charges, including unlawful enrichment, in June 2017, is now back to work and has been redeployed to Gombe Division.
Another prominent judge of the court, Nnamdi Dimgba, who started his career as a judge in the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, in December 2015, and was deployed to Asaba, Delta State in February 2019, has now been posted to Awka, in Anambra State.
Redeployed judges’ prominent cases
By the rules of the court, redeployed judges are expected to continue with their part-heard cases, particularly the criminal cases they started in their old division.
For instance, Mr Dimgba, although redeployed out of Abuja, in February 2019, traveled from Asaba where he was taken to, to Abuja to complete a number of criminal cases he was handling before the posting.
Currently, Mr Dimgba is handling the trial of a former Chief of Air Staff, Mohammed Umar, who is being prosecuted by the EFCC for money laundering, and the alleged $1.6billion crude oil fraud involving Jide Omokore, said to be an ally of a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
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Mr Abang, who is being posted out of Abuja for the second time since 2015, completed the money laundering trial of Olisa Metuh, largely when he was on redeployment to Asaba, Delta State.
Prior to Tuesday’s announcement of new postings which is taking him to Warri, also in Delta State, Mr Abang is handling the money laundering trial of the chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina.
Mrs Ojukwu, who is also being deployed to Calabar, is the judge presiding over the trial of Sahara Reporters publisher, Omoyele Sowore, accused of treasonable felony by the federal government, in the Abuja Division of the court.
Although the EFCC has not been able to present Mrs Alison-Madueke for arraignment, the money laundering case filed against her is also pending before Mrs Ojukwu.
Mr Obiozor being redeployed to Benin, is currently handling the trial of Haruna Baba Jauro, a former Acting Director General of NIMASA, and two others, in the Lagos Division.
Mr Aikawa, who is being redeployed to Akure in Ondo State, is the judge handling the trial of his former colleague, Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, a dismissed judge of the Federal High Court being prosecuted for money laundering in the Lagos Division of the court.
He is also the judge handling the money laundering case involving a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association.
‘Don’t wait for fiat’
The Chief Judge, in his Tuesday’s announcement said judges who ordinarily have to be assisted by another judge should take charge of the cases in their new division without waiting the be given fiat.
“Any judge who is alone in a judicial division ought to have two judges, shall take charge of ALL CASES in that division without the necessity of any formal issuance of fiat, until further notice,” his circular reads in part.
‘Go with assigned household items, take inventory’
Mr Tsoho who asked judges affected by the new reshuffling to “carry along with them the household items already provided them” in line with a policy which he said had been in place since 2015.
He listed the items as, double door fridge, washing machine, gas cooker, deep freezer, 55” television, grass cutting machine, electrical surge appliance, microwave, fan, and water dispenser.
Mr Tsoho also asked them to “ensure that proper inventory is taken of the court’s property in their possession” besides the listed household.
He said the inventory taken by the judges should be “handed over to the Deputy Registrar or the station registrar in charge of the divisions and a copy of same sent to the Chief Judge’s office.”