NJC probes judge over secret meetings with Sheriff

The National Judicial Commission (NJC) has reportedly commenced a probe into the alleged meetings between the factional National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, and Justice A. M Liman of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Division.

The meetings between Sheriff and Justice Liman were held in Kaduna and Accra, Ghana.
The Council is also probing the judge over alleged circumstances surrounding a judgement Justice Liman delivered in a suit marked, FHC/PH/ CS/524/2016 filed by the Chairman and Secretary, National Caretaker Committee of PDP, Senators Ahmed Makarfi and Ben Obi respectively, against the factional national chairman and secretary of the party, Sheriff and Prof. Wale Oladipo.
The probe was as a result of a petition against the judge filed by Sheriff and submitted to the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) who is also the Chairman of the NJC.
The petition was entitled “Re: Corrupt practices and breach of the Code of Conduct for judicial officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by Justice A.M Liman of the Federal High Court in respect of suit no. FHC/PH/CS/524/2016.”
Sheriff, in his petition dated July 4 and personally signed by him, alleged that he, on two different occasions, met with Justice Liman at his (Liman’s) request both in Kaduna and Ghana respectively over the suit in respect of the PDP leadership tussle.
“In June 2016 (sic), I received a call from my Principal Secretary who informed me that Justice Liman was with him in his house and it will be good if I speak with him. I then spoke with Justice Liman who informed me that he would be attending Judges’ Conference in Kaduna and that we should meet in Kaduna concerning the case before him.
“On May 28 (sic), I went to Kaduna to meet Justice Liman and stayed at the ASA Pyramid Hotel. Justice Liman came to meet me in my hotel room with a Senior Judge of the Federal High Court,” Sheriff alleged in his petition.
Sherriff added that Justice Liman told him that he (Justice Liman) was under intense pressure to determine the matter in favour of the Caretaker Committee, although he realised that the justice of the matter was on his side in view of the previous orders of his brother judges in the Lagos Division of the court.
“A few days later, Justice Liman informed me that he would be attending a conference in Ghana and that I should come and see him in Ghana for further discussion. I went to Ghana on June 20 and stayed at Movenpic Hotel in Accra for one night.
“That same day, soon after I checked into the room, Justice Liman came to see me in my room late in the evening. My aide, Shettima Shehu, was with me when Justice Liman arrived and left us soon after greeting the judge who was dressed in track suit.
“While in my hotel room in Ghana, the judge reiterated the pressure mounted on him by a PDP chieftain and wondered why the party chieftain was that desperate and he expressed fear of the chieftain,” the petition reads.

In the petition, Sheriff alleged that Justice Liman had, on May 23, among others, granted an ex-parte order in a suit filed by Makarfi and Obi restraining him and other executive members purportedly removed by the National Convention from parading themselves, nor do anything howsoever to negate the decisions reached at the said convention.
Sheriff added that his lawyer had filed a motion to discharge the ex-parte on May 26 and the judge refused to hear the motion within the period of 14 days prescribed by Order 26 rule 12 of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules 2009.
A top source in the judiciary, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said that the NJC is concerned about several conflicting judgements coming from different courts and judges over same subject matter, adding that the council is set to look into it, having received some petitions over the same issue.
According to the source, “when such petition comes, it will go straight to the CJN as the chairman of the NJC. On receipt of the petition, the CJN will now send it to the Preliminary Complaint Assessment Committee.
That is the committee that will look into the merit of the petition. If it is meritorious, the committee will now come before the council to tell it that there is a prima facie case, and that the council should set up a committee to investigate the petition.
“It is after, that a committee will be set up and the two parties will be invited to defend themselves. The two parties will be asked to come with their lawyers, but will also be given the option of defending themselves if they want. It is going to be a threemember committee. The chairman of the committee may likely be a Court of Appeal Justice, alongside two other members.
“After the committee might have looked at the submissions of the parties, it will form an opinion. The committee will, in turn, bring their report to the council where a decision will be taken.”
It would be recalled that the council had not too long sacked some judges over alleged gross misconduct and breach of code of conduct for judicial officers.
Similarly, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is already prosecuting some senior lawyers over their alleged shady dealings with judges handling their matters.
There have been conflicting judgements in recent time over the PDP leadership tussle. Prominent among the judges who are delivering such judgements in the Federal High Court are Justice Buba of Lagos division, Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja division, Justice Liman and Justice Ibrahim Watila of the Port Harcourt division.
While Justice Buba, on May 12, granted an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the PDP from conducting any election into the offices of the national chairman, secretary and auditor of the party, Justice Liman, on May 23, granted a conflicting order, which okayed the removal of Sheriff as the national chairman of the party.

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