From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The National Judicial Council (NJC) on Tuesday failed to stop the hearing of a suit filed against it by a dismissed Judge, Justice Rita Ajumogobia, over her dismissal at the Abuja division of the Federal High Court.
Justice Ajumogobia was dismissed by the NJC in 2018 as a judge of the Federal High Court on grounds of alleged gross misconduct.
Dissatisfied with the NJC’s action, Ajumogobia instituted an action at the Federal High Court, Abuja, challenging the process adopted by the fact-finding committee of the NJC that led to her dismissal.
She prayed the court to declare as illegal, unconstitutional, unlawful, null and void the report of the fact-finding committee that recommended her dismissal.
Among others, the dismissed judge claimed that her fundamental right to a fair hearing was breached in the ways and manners she was dismissed from the court bench.
However, the NJC and other defendant’s in the matter filed separate preliminary objections against the hearing of the suit on the ground that the Federal High Court has no jurisdiction to entertain such a matter.
The NJC contended that being a labour related matter, the plaintiff ought to have gone to the National Industrial Court to air her grievances.
The defendants, while denying the claim of the denial of fair hearing by the judge, further contended that the case was statute-barred having not been instituted within three months as required by the Public Officers Protection Act.
Specifically, they claimed that Section 2 of the Public Officers Protection Act makes it mandatory for such a matter to be instituted within three months for the matter to be competent.
Justice Ajumogobia in her counter-affidavit had prayed Justice Inyang Ekwo to dismiss the objection to her suit on the ground that she was challenging constitutionality of her dismissal
In his ruling, Justice Ekwo dismissed all the objections on the ground that they were misplaced and that the claim of the plaintiff misconstrued.
The judge held that Justice Ajumogobia raised constitutional issues bordering on denial of a fair hearing in the manner she was dismissed.
Justice Ekwo further held that the case of the plaintiff did not fall under the provision of the Public Officers Protection Act as claimed by the NJC and as such, was not statute bar.
The judge held that the plaintiff’s claim, being a constitutional matter, can only be heard by a Federal High Court and not a National Industrial Court as canvassed by the NJC.
The judge fixed April 5, 6 and 7for hearing of the substantive matter.
Other defendants in the matter are the Attorney-General of the Federation, President Muhammadu Buhari, Justice Olufemi Akintan, Justice Ishaq Bello and Justice Julieth Kentu.