By Joel Agada

Honour and public service are supposed to be siamese and conjoined twins, similar and inseparable.That is why in 1974, Richard Nixon stepped down as the President of the United States of America (USA) due to some unfounded and flimsy allegations amidst the Watergate scandal. Although he maintained his innocence and was rightly so, he honourably resigned to give to room to unbiased investigation. As recently as 2011, Dominique Strauss-Khan, resigned as the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after facing trumped up allegations of sexual assault which were eventually dropped for lack of merit. Although none of these persons were guilty of the allegations leveled against them, accountability and responsibility for their actions and inactions took the centre stage.
By stepping aside even when they were clearly not guilty, these gentlemen have set an example for other public office holders to emulate.

The recent allegations as contained in a petition to the National Judicial Council (NJC) against Justice Maurice Ahemba Ikpambese Ichol, the current Chief Judge (CJ) of Benue State by a group of courageous and patriotic Benue sons and daughters in the diaspora under the aegis of Benue Diaspora Vanguard (US Chapter) should shock everybody in a civilised world. The systemic corruption and high-handedness of the CJ oozes with a stench that speaks eloquently of the rot and decay that has become the order of the day in most public offices and amongst some public officers. To be coming from the number one judicial officer of a state goes to show just how greed and avarice have eaten deep into the fabric of our society. What this Benue sons and daughters have done represents a quest for accountability which is gradually becoming old fashioned and unpopular. They have opened the door for other Nigerians to question the integrity of judicial officers and indeed all public office holders all over the country.

In saner climes where the rule of law is given top priority, as it should be in all democratic societies, the allegations against Justice Maurice Ikpambese, the Chief Judge of Benue State should have won him an outright sack and maybe a temporary abode in a maximum security prison for rehabilitation. Indeed, those allegations presents a gory and disturbing scenario that mirrors the elusive quest for a just and fair society. The petition, painstakingly detailing the instances of glaring nepotism, favouritism, partisanship, corrupt practices, and gross abuse of office, questions the integrity and perception of the judiciary in Benue State and indeed Nigeria at large. This further calls to mind the recent Appeal Court and Election Petition Tribunal judgements where Tribunal Judges and Justices of the Appeal Court gave very conflicting and questionable judgements without recourse to judicial precedents as well as evidence before them especially in the cases of Plateau, Zamfara and Kano States.

Ordinarily, the judiciary is considered the last bastion of justice, the last hope of the common man. With the judiciary in Benue under Justice Ikpambese currently engulfed in accusations of judicial misconduct, fornication, banditry and ethical breaches, one wonders if the people of Benue and indeed Nigerians can beat their chest and approach the courts to seek redress for wrongdoing without the fear of being shortchanged by the CJ himself and his clique of conspirators. The steady eroding of public confidence in the judiciary as elucidated in that petition is a heartfelt cry for restoration and the earlier the prayers of these patriots is answered, the better for all of us. The petition against the bellicose CJ, therefore, is a collective outburst against the sad reality of our judicial system in Benue and the need for Justice Ikpambese to resign to pave way for an independent investigation whose findings will give hope in a hopeless situation of judicial impunity.

The legion of verifiable allegations backed up with facts and evidence, ranging from the manipulation of judicial proceedings for personal gain to clannish and nepotistic appointments of in-laws and relatives as well as dubious financial transactions and underhand dealings have contributed to cast a gloomy shadow on his tenure as the CJ. His alleged involvement in high-stake political cases, coupled with suspicions of bribery and unauthorized financial transactions such as in the case of BIRS vs MTN and the controversial case involving the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Benue where he allegedly collected hundreds of millions in bribes to set aside an exparte order demonstrates a blatant disregard for the principles of impartiality, integrity and accountability which are pivotal to judicial conduct all over the world. Like Richard Nixon and Dominique Strauss-Khan, Justice Ikpambese does not need to be told that it is more honourable to be accountable and responsible for ones actions by taking the path of honour as a gentleman.

The NJC to whom the petition was addressed must understand the severity of the crime of refusing to declare one’s assets as a public office holder as it violates the Code of Conduct Act. The NJC sure understands the implications of political partisanship in the temple of justice. The issue of black market judgements has been a perennial and persistent all at once. The former Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Walter Onoghen was removed from office for this singular act. The apparent reluctance by the CJ of Benue State to declare and disclose his assets as mandated by law, further adds credence to suspicions of financial impropriety. The dubious acquisition of choice commercial properties by the embattled CJ both in Makurdi, the Benue State capital and Abuja, the Federal Captiial Territory (FCT), over and above the earnings of a Chief Judge goes to enkindle the need for transparency and accountability especially as the accusations of black-market judgements in the state are becoming louder. The best thing Justice Ikpambese should do at this moment is to honourably recuse himself and give the NJC and the Code of Conduct Tribunal unhindered access to his work records for scrutiny. With or without his resignation, failure to act by the appropriate authorities will only embolden other citizens and public officials to willfully break the law.

Indeed, the implications of these allegations on the judiciary extend beyond the confines of Benue State. While Nigerians are still nursing the wounds inflicted by corrupt Judges and Justices in the legal battles that followed the 2023 general elections, this damning allegations are nothing short of a confirmation of the bizarre and satanic manipulations perpetrated by our dishonourable Justices who are self-seeking and deceitful. Something must, therefore, be done to rid our society of this crop of Justices whose actions threaten the very foundation of our democratic institutions and values. The judiciary’s independence and impartiality are fundamental to upholding the rule of law and safeguarding citizens’ rights and liberties. Any breach of these principles not only undermines the credibility of the judiciary but also undermines the very fabric of our democracy.

In light of the gravity of the allegations leveled against him, Justice Maurice Ahemba Ikpambese must heed the calls for his resignation. His continued presence at the helm of the judiciary in Benue not only tarnishes the reputation of the arm of that sacred arm of government but also undermines the pursuit of justice and fairness for all citizens. The Governor of Benue State, the Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia and the State House of Assembly under its Speaker, RT. Hon. Aondona Dajoh must as a matter of topmost priority, initiate steps and proceedings towards the eventual removal and prosecution of the belligerent Chief Judge. It is not fashionable for a judicial officer to break the law and failure to act will send very wrong signals across not just in the state but elsewhere.

As a concerned citizen committed to upholding the principles of democracy and the rule of law, I implore the National Judicial Council (NJC) to conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations against Justice Ikpambese and take appropriate disciplinary action if warranted. The integrity of our judicial system depends on holding those entrusted with dispensing justice to the highest standards of conduct and accountability. It is the submission of this piece that the time has come for him to step down from his position as Chief Judge of Benue State and uphold the integrity and dignity of the judiciary. Only then can we begin to restore public trust and confidence in the judiciary and reaffirm our commitment to the rule of law.

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