The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, dismissed the objection raised by the National Judicial Council (NJC) against the hearing of a suit filed by a dismissed judge, Rita Ofili Ajumogobia, to challenge her dismissal.
NJC had, in 2018, dismissed Justice Ajumogobia as a judge of the Federal High Court from the service of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) on ground of alleged gross judicial misconduct. Not satisfied with the NJC’s action, Justice Ajumogobia approached the Federal High Court, Abuja, challenging the process adopted by the fact-finding committee of NJC that led to her dismissal.
The embattled judge 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 fair hearing was breached in the ways and manners she was dismissed from the court bench.
However, NJC and other defendants 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. NJC contended that, being a labour-related matter involving an employment, the plaintiff ought to have gone to the National Industrial Court to ventilate 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 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 NJC and, as such, was not statute bar.
The judge, therefore, 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 NJC. The judge, therefore, fixed April 5, 6 and 7, for 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.