The Senate yesterday confirmed the nominations of Hon. Justice Ejembi Eko and Hon. Justice Amina A. Augie as Justices of the Supreme Court through an electronic voting system instead of the regular voice vote method.
There were however hitches as senators tried for about three times before getting it right with the voting devices attached to their seats, a situation which forced the presiding Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu to repeat the process a few times.
The motion to consider the report of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on the screening of the justices for appointment as justices of the Supreme Court was moved by the Senate Leader and seconded by Senator Barnabas Gemade.
Chairman of the committee, Senator David Umaru, said the committee found both Eko and Augie “versatile and erudite justices,” and that having been satisfied with their exposure, experience, performance, qualifications and integrity, it had recommended that the nominations of the duo be confirmed by the Senate.
He added that, in the committee’s view, the composition of the Supreme Court in terms of geo-political zones and upon confirmation of Justices Eko and Augie, is a fair reflection of the federal character principle as enshrined in Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.
Each of the six geo-political zones will now have three justices in the Supreme Court except South-South with two.
During the voting exercise at the Committee of the Whole, there were 39 senators present and 38 voted for Eko’s confirmation as a justice of the Supreme Court while one senator voted against it.
By the time it was time to vote for Augie’s confirmation, the senator’s attendance had risen to 40 and 38 voted in support of her confirmation, one voted against it while the remaining one abstained from voting.
Before their nomination by President Muhammadu Buhari, both Eko and Augie were justices of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt and Lagos divisions respectively.
Meanwhile, one of the judges arrested by the Department State Services (DSS) on corruption allegations, Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court Abuja, yesterday, withdrew from the case of unlawful possession of fire arms, money laundering and breach of public trust brought against the former national security adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki by the DSS.
The withdrawal of the judge is a fall-out of the bickering and crisis of confidence between the DSS and the judge who was last week arrested and detained for 48 hours by DSS operatives on the allegation that he was involved in a bribery matter.
Justice Ademola, who was to give a ruling in an application by the DSS seeking that its witnesses in the trial of the ex-NSA be permitted to wear masks in court for protection, shocked the lawyers when he announced to them that he would not be able to continue with the trial for reasons that were well known to the general public.
When the case came up before him yesterday, the judge said: “I’m sure you are all conversant with what has been going on in the last seven days. One of the allegations being made against me is that I received some money from Sambo Dasuki. That is the allegation of the DSS.
“Of course, I have responded to that allegation of receiving an unspecified sum of money from the defendant but it will be wise for him to answer some questions.
“Before I announce my decision, let me ask the defendant, Dasuki, some questions,” and the following exchanges followed.
Justice Ademola: “Do you know me at all?
Dasuki: “Before I came to this court, not at all.”
Justice Ademola: “Did you at any time give me money?
Dasuki: “Not that I am aware of.”
Justice Ademola: “Did you send your lawyers to give me money?
Dasuki: “Not at all.”
Justice Ademola: “Did you give money to any of my relatives?”
Dasuki: Not at all, maybe the DSS alleging that did.”
The justice continued: “I am happy that you have answered these questions. In the interest of fair hearing, I am minded to return the case file to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for further action.”
Justice Ademola thereafter announced that he was transferring the file back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, “for reassignment to another judge having regards to the allegations against this court by the complainant (DSS).”
The judge said his decision to return the file to the Chief Judge for “further directive” is in line with the principles of fair hearing to parties before the court.”
Dasuki was arraigned on September 1, 2015 over charges that bordered on unlawful possession of firearms and money laundering but due to intermittent interlocutory applications from both the prosecution and defence counsel, commencement of full trial has been delayed.
Reacting to the decision of the judge, counsel to the DSS, Chief Dipo Okpeseyi (SAN) said: “We are guided by your Lordship’s decision even though we had come for a ruling and continuation of trial.”
Counsel to Dasuki, Mr Adeyeye Adedeji, also concurred with the judge.