The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, has forwarded the names of more judges to the Department of State Services for investigation.
The PUNCH learnt on Tuesday that the names sent by the AGF to the security agency were those of judges whose cases of allegations of misconduct, contained in petitions earlier sent by civil society groups to the National Judicial Council, were allegedly not investigated.
It was learnt that the weekend’s arrest of some judges in different parts of the country followed complaints received by the office of the AGF and thereafter transmitted to law enforcement agencies, including the DSS.
Operatives of the DSS had between Friday and Saturday raided the houses of some judicial officers, including two justices of the Supreme Court, and arrested them on suspicion of corruption in Enugu, Gombe, Sokoto and Kano states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The DSS had, during the simultaneous operations, arrested Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court; the suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Others arrested were a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, and Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division.
Besides the seven judges, the DSS said it was investigating eight other judges, bringing the total number to 15.
With the six names submitted to the DSS, the service is now investigating a total of 21 judges.
Large sums of money in local and foreign currencies were reportedly recovered from three of the arrested judges during the operations that lasted between Friday night and the early hours of Saturday.
One of our correspondents confirmed from a source in the Federal Ministry of Justice on Tuesday that the names of a fresh set of judges, marked for investigation, were sent to the SSS on Monday.
It was learnt that the letter by the minister was personally delivered at the DSS headquarters in Abuja by a senior aide.
The new names on the minister’s list, it was learnt, included two Chief Judges of High Courts, three judges of different divisions of the Federal High Court, and a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
The letter, containing the names, was accompanied by the summary of allegations levelled against the judges in the petitions earlier sent by individuals to the NJC by the Chairman of Civil Society Network Against Corruption as well as Human and Environmental Development Agenda Resource Centre between 2014 and May, 2016.
One of the petitions sent to the NJC against one of the Chief Judges, dated February 26, 2016, and signed by the Chairman of CSNAC, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, was titled ‘‘Request for investigation of contravention of the Code of Conduct by Judicial Officers.’’
Another petition by CSNAC against a Federal High Court judge was dated May 12, 2016.
Suraju also signed a petition (its date not stated) against a Federal High Court for allegedly granting a perpetual injunction, restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from investigating criminal allegations against a businessman.
Another petition, dated January 11, 2016, by CSNAC, also accused a Chief Judge of judicial misconduct, an allegation which its details were not stated.
CSNAC, also in another petition, dated April 20, 2016, sent to the NJC against a Justice of the Court of Appeal and others, who served on an election petitions appeal panel this year, accused the panel of receiving N8m from a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Yet, another petition accused the SAN of paying N500,000 into the account of a Chief Judge.
In another petition, CSNAC alleged that N7m was paid to a Chief Judge for a book presentation.
It was also alleged in another petition by CSNAC that a Federal High Court judge received N5m bribe from a SAN.
The AGF’s letter, forwarding the names to the DSS, described as unconscionable the alleged failure of the NJC to investigate the petitions.
The letter read in part, “It is unconscionable that all these petitions that border on the unremitting and impeachment of the integrity of these judicial officers have not been investigated by the National Judicial Council, the constitutional and statutory body vested with the power by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) to so do.
“Undoubtedly, if this type of deliberate inattentiveness; lethargy and benign neglect and dereliction of responsibility by the NJC is allowed to persist in an administration that came to power under the mantle of change, it will surely lead to the death knell of the judicial branch of government, which centrality the maintenance of law, order, rule of law and social harmony cannot be overemphasised.
“It is unfortunate that despite the preachment of the administration on the need for the judicial officers to be above board, we still have some of them that have stubbornly refused to change from their old ways.”
When contacted on Tuesday, Suraju confirmed that he forwarded to the AGF office summaries of the petitions, which he earlier sent to the NJC but that he was not aware of the actions so taken on them by the minister.
“It is a welcome development. I actually forwarded to the AGF office the various allegations which I earlier sent to the NJC against some judges. But the AGF office has yet to contact me,” he stated.
CJN writes Buhari over allegations of corruption against judges
Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Muhammed, has formally written to President Muhammadu Buhari on the decision of the NJC on the cases of misconduct established against some judges,The PUNCH has learnt.
A top source in the Presidency told one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity on Tuesday that Buhari received the communication on Monday.
Although the communication came at a time of outrage on the arrests of some judges by officials of the DSS, the source said the arrests and the raids on the judges’ homes were not part of the letter.
The source added, “As a matter of fact, two issues were included in the communication. The first was the issue of the judge, who was said to have collected a N200m bribe.
“The other was a comprehensive report of the National Judicial Council on some judges that were sanctioned for misconduct.
“The issue of the raids on the homes of some judges and their arrests were not contained in the communication.”
The source suspected that since the letter was received on Monday, it could have been prepared before the weekend incident.
Meanwhile, the Director-General of the DSS, Lawal Daura, met briefly with Buhari on Tuesday.
The agenda of the meeting, described as a routine one, was not made public.
Daura was also sighted joining worshippers for prayer at a mosque located beside the President’s office before leaving the Presidential Villa.
Senate knocks DSS, reviews powers of security agencies
On Tuesday, the Senate condemned the DSS for its clampdown on some judges across the country over the weekend.
It has therefore ordered a review of the laws establishing all security agencies while mandating its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, to review the aspects dealing with the powers of security agencies and put them in line with the tenets of democracy.
The committee is to submit its report in four weeks.
The Senate also called on Buhari to caution all security agencies and direct them to observe the rule of law in the discharge of their statutory duties.
The lawmakers condemned the action of the DSS, stressing that the security agency went outside the confines of its constitutional powers, which amounted to the usurpation of the powers of the NJC.
The Senate, however, rejected a recommendation that the Director-General of the DSS be summoned to explain to the Chamber what informed the action of the agency against the judicial officers.
The resolutions were made by the lawmakers, sequel to the motion of urgent public importance, brought to the floor of the Senate by Joshua Lidani (PDP, Gombe South), who raised questions on the action of the DSS, praying the Senate to intervene.
While leading the debate on the motion, Lidani said he was alarmed that such unconstitutional action could be adopted by the DSS to sanitise the Judiciary.
He said, “I am alarmed that the extra-constitutional approach to sanitise the judiciary in line with the war against corruption is bound to be counterproductive because it erodes the role of the judiciary and undermines the importance of the judiciary as well as demoralises many patriotic and upright judges who have determined to support the crusade against corruption”.
Lidani, who is a lawyer, said the DSS had no constitutional right to arrest or molest judiciary officers, arguing that the action of the agency was ultravires, unconstitutional, illegal, null and avoid.
Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West), opined that even though it was true that the judiciary was currently very corrupt with empirical evidences, and despite his total support for the ongoing fight against corruption, the DSS went outside its constitutional mandate, and must be cautioned in the interest of democracy.
He said, “It is also a celestial truth that judges have been dishing out what I call commercial rulings; it is also a fundamental truth that judges need to face the full wrath of the law, especially where the issue of corruption is concerned. This Senate, therefore, will continue to celebrate the war against corruption either in the judiciary, the legislature or the executive.
“The responsibility of the DSS is clearly defined in the National Security Agencies Act 2010, Cap 350, which states clearly that the State Security Services shall be charged with the responsibility for the prevention and detection within Nigeria of any crime against internal security of Nigeria. I emphasise the ‘Internal security of Nigeria’.
“The second responsibility as enshrined by the law setting up the DSS states that the protection and preservation of non-military classified matters concerning again, the internal security of Nigeria.
“The third and the last responsibility, as enshrined by law, is such other responsibilities affecting again internal security within Nigeria, as the National Assembly or the President as the case may be, may deem necessary.
“Mr. President, my respected colleagues, how does bribery and corruption become the issue of internal security? How does bribing judges or official misconduct in their official capacity become a threat to internal security? The point here is that the DSS in her fight against corruption overstepped its boundaries and abused its mandate.”
Also, Deputy Leader of the Senate, Senator Bala Na’Allah, recalled that the massive support and commitment of Nigerians to the government was because they were all unanimous in the fight against corruption, warning that the government should not do anything to betray it.
In his remarks, the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, cautioned that the anti-graft fight must conform with constitutional process.
“We must ensure that this fight against corruption is within the rule of law; any act of anti-corruption that goes against the rule of law does not help the corruption fight.
“That is why this action, as has been seen in this manner, is condemned by the Senate, and all agencies of government must ensure that they act within the rule of law,” he said.
House of Reps summons DSS
Also, the House of Representatives said on Tuesday that the DSS should appear before lawmakers to explain how it got the powers to invade the houses of some judges to arrest them.
An ad hoc committee was given the mandate to investigate the arrest of the judges, which took place on Friday and Saturday.
A motion on urgent matter of public importance, moved by the Chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts, Mr. Kingsley Chinda, to investigate the invasion, was sustained.
The House, acting on Chinda’s motion, also recalled that the DSS had previously invaded the Ekiti State Government House and Akwa Ibom State Government House, among others in the past.
It said, “An ad hoc committee is set up to investigate all cases of invasion by the DSS since May 2015, to see how they comply with the National Security Agencies Act.”
Arguing the motion, Chinda cited Section 2 (3) of the Act, where he said the role of the DSS was principally to prevent crimes against the “internal security of Nigeria.”
He added, “The Act is not ambiguous but very specific. The function of the DSS is the prevention and detection of any crime against the internal security of Nigeria.
“The DSS’ functions do not involve investigation of corruption.
“The DSS, by its action, went against the law setting it up. This is a democracy and it is necessary for them to tell Nigerians how they derive their powers.”
The Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, quickly rounded off the debate, saying further comments by lawmakers could “prejudge” the outcome of the investigation.
“Whenever there is an allegation of breach of a law, we should not prejudge the investigation.
“Let us investigate the allegation and establish whether the DSS breached the law or not”, Dogara stated.
Earlier, an attempt by a member from Osun State, Prof. Mojeed Alabi, to halt the motion, was overruled.
Alabi had moved a counter-motion on the grounds that the House should not delve into an issue that was within the purview of another arm of government.
However, lawmakers shouted him down before Dogara also overruled him.
Some members chorused, “sit down”, “sit down”, “sit down.”
The House resolution came just 48 hours after its Committees on Federal Judiciary and Justice had criticised the DSS’ action.
The Chairman, Committee on Federal Judiciary, Mr. Aminu Shagari, had told The PUNCH that the manner the judges were arrested, humiliated the judiciary.
NJC to blame for judges’ arrest, says SERAP
In a similar development, a human rights advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, has blamed the arrests of the judges on the failure of the NJC to live up to its responsibility of purging the judiciary of its rot.
The group, in an open letter on Tuesday, demanded that the NJC should immediately hand over the concerned judges to the anti-graft agencies for probe and prosecution, following their release on bail by the DSS.
In the open letter signed by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP noted that though the NJC was in the best position to sanction erring judges, its usual practice of merely sending culpable judges on compulsory retirement without prosecuting them had encouraged corruption in the judiciary.
The group recalled that it recently forwarded to the NJC a copy of its latest report titled, ‘‘Go home and sin no more: Corrupt judges escaping from justice in Nigeria’’, where it chronicled no fewer than 64 cases where judges were disciplined in that manner by the NJC between 2009 and 2014.
It said, “SERAP is seriously concerned that over the years the NJC has felt satisfied with applying only civil sanctions and has not deemed it fit to hand over corrupt judges to law enforcement agencies for prosecution nor recover the proceeds of corruption.
“This omission has left a destructive gap in judicial accountability in Nigeria, and resulted in other agencies of government, with no mandate, expertise and experience in the field, getting involved in the efforts to combat judicial corruption.”
Security agencies shouldn’t operate outside the law –Gowon
A former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, has said the arrest of the judges can be a threat to democracy should the Federal Government allow security agencies to operate outside their mandate.
He therefore urged the government to give directives to security operatives not to go outside the laws of the land.
The former Head of State spoke with journalists in Abuja on Tuesday ahead of the 20th anniversary of the ‘‘Nigeria Prays’’, a prayer movement for the country, scheduled for October 15 at the National Christian Centre, Abuja.
Gowon said, “It is a serious thing that judges could be arrested. By law, you cannot just arrest anybody just like that. There should have been a proper way of doing it.
“Honestly, it is a serious thing and I hope that the government would give directives to the operatives not to go outside the precepts and the law because if the situation is mishandled, it can be a threat to democracy.
“But you can really do something to make sure that it does not do further harm than it has done so far.”
Nigeria is not a banana republic, declare Catholic bishops
Also, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria has condemned the arrests of the judges, saying Nigeria is not a banana republic.
The President of CBCN and Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, who said this, stated that the rule of law must be followed, especially while dealing with cases concerning corruption.
Kaigama said, “We have been very clear with the President in our various meetings that the rule of law must be upheld and there should be no sentiments in the application of the rule of law. We are not in a system of government where people are just fished out for selfish or political interest.
“I condemn anything that has no legal backing. We are not just a banana republic; we are a serious nation populated by millions of people and we should measure up to international standard. We should be seen to follow due process. We wouldn’t like arbitrariness.
But the Executive Director, Advocacy for Societal Rights Advancement and Development Initiative, Adeolu Oyinlola, has hailed the DSS for arresting the judges.
He said, “Like Caesar’s wife, judges ought to be above even a whiff of suspicion, because a corrupt judge is worse than an armed robber, a kidnapper and an assassin rolled into one. We wholeheartedly support and endorse the raid on the homes of ‘Bureau de Change Operators’ masquerading as judiciary officers and, in fact, unreservedly encourage the DSS to hold more of the money-laundering members of the Bench to account, for a drastic problem requires a desperate solution.”
Also, a former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Ebikekeme Ere, has carpeted members of the Nigerian Bar Association for protesting against the arrest of some judges by operatives of the DSS.
Ere described such a protest as “misplaced” and a “show of ignorance” against the backdrop that the judges were nabbed for alleged corrupt practices and professional misconduct.
He asked the NBA members and the critics of the DSS action against the accused judges to stop associating the constitutional action of the operatives to Buhari.
Ere, who represented the Southern Ijaw Federal Constituency at the National Assembly in 2003, said in Yenagoa on Tuesday that though the arrest of the “high profile judges” might have surprised many, including the NBA members, the arrest bordered on national security, which is the responsibility of the DSS.