By Our Reporters
Department of State Service, DSS, yesterday, said it recovered over N360 million from the residences of three judges following raids, on Friday night, of the residences of seven judges of the Supreme, Federal and High Courts across the country.
A breakdown of the monies allegedly recovered from the residences of the three judges is N93,558,000; $530,087; £25,970 and €5,680.
The three judges were identified as Justices Adeniyi F.A. Ademola, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta and John Inyang Okoro.
The DSS claimed Governor Nyeson Wike of Rivers State frustrated the raid of the house of one of the seven judges in which it alleged about two million dollars was being kept, a charge Wike rejected.
Wike explained that he acted based on what he described as the suspicious nature of the raid, especially as he is the chief security officer of Rivers State.
He said that the DSS action showed the nation was under siege.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, in separate statements, criticised the raids.
NBA demanded the release of the affected judges who, according to it, were being detained.
Sunday Vanguard learnt, last night, that the crackdown would be extended to more judges across the country suspected to be corrupt.
The DSS, explaining why it carried out the raids, said it was aimed at restoring “sanity and sanctity to the esteemed third arm of government”.
Mallam Garba, an official of the DSS, who spoke to journalists at the headquarters of the law enforcement agency in Abuja, said a planned raid on the residence of a judge in Rivers where, he said, there was an intelligence that he had $2million cash at home was frustrated by Governor Nyesom Wike who allegedly brought in “thugs” to prevent operatives from carrying out their mission, in connivance with an unnamed sister security agency.
He explained that the operations were based on allegations of corruption and other acts of professional misconduct leveled against the suspected justices.
The DSS official defended the action of the DSS, saying it was in line with its core mandate, adding that the affected judges’ “expensive and luxurious” lifestyle had been monitored by the agency for some time.
The DSS statement read: “The Department of State Services (DSS), in the past few days, has embarked on series of special sting operations involving some judges of the Supreme, Appeal and High Courts. These operations were based on allegations of corruptions and other acts of professional misconduct by a few of the suspected judges. The Service action is in line with its core mandate, as we have been monitoring the expensive and luxurious lifestyle of some of the judges as well as complaints from the concerned public over judgments obtained fraudulently and on the basis of amounts of money paid.
“The judges involved were invited, upon which due diligence was exhibited and their premises searched. The searches have uncovered huge raw cash of various denominations, local and foreign currencies, with real estate worth several millions of Naira and documents affirming unholy acts by these judges. Meanwhile, some of them have made useful statements while a few have declined even with the glaring evidences that were found against them in terms of material cash, documents and property recovered pointing to their compromise.
“In one of the states where the Service operations were conducted, credible intelligence revealed that a judge had Two Million United States Dollars ($2,000,000 USD) stashed in his house. When he was approached for due search to be conducted, he, in concert with the state governor, mobilized thugs against the Service team. The team restrained itself in the face of unbridled provocative activities by those brought in by the governor. Unfortunately, the judge and governor also engaged the tacit support of a sister security agency.
“The Service surveillance team noticed that upon frustrating the operation, the judge, with the active support of the governor, craftily moved the money to an unknown location which the Service is currently making effort to unravel.
“Meanwhile, large amount including foreign/local currencies have been recovered. Summaries of these include:
- NAIRA – N93,558,000
- DOLLARS – $530,087
- POUNDS – £25,970
- EURO – €5,680
“Other foreign currencies were also recovered. These were recovered from just three (3) of the judges.
“These, in addition to other banking documents, including real estate documents have been recovered. Meanwhile, preparations are ongoing to arraign them in a competent court of jurisdiction in line with the laws of the nation.
“The Service would want to clearly state that it has never invited Justice Walter NKANU ONNOGHEN (CJN designate) for investigation, neither is he being investigated by this Service. In addition, the Service would like to put it on record that it has tremendous respect for the judiciary and would not do anything to undermine it or its activities. The Service will also join hands with this noble institution in its fight to rid it of few corrupt judges whose actions are undermining not only the judiciary but the common bond of our national life.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this current operation will be sustained and followed till sanity and sanctity is restored to the esteemed third arm of government and public confidence is regained.
“Members of the public are also encouraged to avail the Service of any information which could assist in this drive to rid our nation of corrupt practices and tendencies”.
Nigeria under siege – Wike
*Says operatives manhandled him
Governor Wike clarified his role in the drama that unfolded as the DSS team tried to raid the home of one of the judges located at 35/84B, Forces Avenue, old GRA, Port-Harcourt.
He alleged that the operatives manhandled and threatened to shoot him if he did not allow them to take the judge away.
The governor, however, said he acted based on the fact that he is the chief security officer of Rivers, describing the action of the DSS as a threat to the nation’s democracy.
Wike explained that some of the policemen and men of the DSS immediately cocked their rifles when they saw him at about 2am, threatening to shoot if he did not allow them to whisk the judge away.
Raising a blood stained finger on his right hand for journalists to see, the governor said it was unfortunate that security operatives would act “in a demeaning manner as this in a democracy”.
“You can see my hand with blood. For the first time a governor was manhandled by security men , it had never happened before in this country”, he said
Wike wondered why the security operatives would choose to visit a judge by 1 am instead of inviting him to answer for whatever issue.
“The DSS and police men cocked their guns and said they will shoot me. And I told them I had never heard this type of thing before. Again, this is to show that more of this will come. We will resist it. Leadership comes with sacrifice. This is why we are here(at the judge’s premises that morning). We are not trying to stop any arrest,”he stated.
His words, “I don’t know which judge. All I was told was that he is a judge. And I don’t want to know which judge. My interest is strictly that the judge is not a criminal, not an armed robber. It is only when the person fails to honour your invitation….
“We can do things in a more civilised way. This is democracy, not military government . If they cannot invite the judge, then something is wrong . This portends danger for our democracy. Under a democratic government, the law must always take its place.
“My state is under siege in a way. What I have seen today , I have never witnessed all my life.
“The (state) Commissioner of Police says he has privileged information, that he only came to make peace. With all due respect, they are always having privileged information. If they can’t share the privileged information with the chief security officer of the state, then there is a problem. You remember when they came to seal the convention venue of the PDP, it was the same thing they said which is not correct.”
The governor, who said President Muhammadu Buhari may not be aware of the action of the DSS, said he was going to inform him. “Obviously I will let Mr President know that this is not acceptable. I don’t believe Mr President is aware.
“Probably, they (security men) wanted to do something funny. I did not want to mobilise anybody to react to this. All I need is peace. We are talking of change, change is to do things in an acceptable way. It is odd to come to a judge’s house at 1 am.”
When contacted, Rivers State Police Commissioner, Mr Odesanya, said he raced to the scene to maintain peace when he heard of the development.
Spokesman for the Police Command, DSP Omoni Nnamdi, who also commented said the police was not part of the DSS team that went for the judge, adding that the police only came in to maintain peace when the face-off between the DSS and those around was almost getting out of hand.
But the Director, DSS in Rivers State, Mr Ajayi Tosin, ignored all calls and text messages from Sunday Vanguard to his mobile phone for comment on the issue.
In a related development, All Progressive Congress, APC, in Rivers State has accused Wike of obsructing the course of justice in stopping the raid of the judge’s house.
Spokesman for the party, Mr Chris Finebone, also dismissed as untrue the claim by the governor that he did not know the judge residing in the affected residence.
Democracy under threat – Fayose
Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State also criticised the DSS raids. Fayose described the judges reported arrest as a direct assault on the judiciary and an attempt to harass and intimidate that arm of government to do the bidding of the APC government.
“It should now be obvious to all Nigerians and the international community that democracy is under threat in Nigeria and Nigerians must rise to save democracy from being truncated”, he told journalists in Ado-Ekiti.
“For all intent and purposes, there is no how the federal government can justify the gestapo and crude action of the DSS against our judiciary, the last hope of the common man and I believe they just want to hide under anti-corruption fight to blackmail and intimidate the judiciary. If not, have the affected judges been reported to the National Judicial Council (NJC), the body saddled with the responsibilities of investigating and sanctioning erring judges?
Were the affected judges ever invited by the DSS and they refused to honour the invitation?
“Nigerians should be reminded that I raised similar alarm when this regime of impunity started with the invasion of the Akwa-Ibom State Government House and later the Ekiti State House of Assembly.”
NBA demands release of judges
…Says there will be consequences if demand not met
Reacting to the raids, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, yesterday, called on the DSS to immediately and unconditionally release the judges whose homes were raided.
NBA President, Mr Abubakar Mamoud, SAN, told journalists, in Lagos, alongside three past Presidents of the association, namely Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN and Mr Joseph Daudu, SAN, that: “DSS has been carrying out raids in the houses of Justices of the Supreme Court and those of judges of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Gombe and Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
“Some family members of the judges were manhandled. We gathered that the raids were carried out at 2a.m.
“We condemn the raids in the strongest possible terms. We are in a democratic society and we cannot accept a situation where armed masked DSS operatives invade the homes of the Justices the Supreme Court and judges of our high courts.
“This is a ploy by the executive to intimidate the judiciary and we will not accept it. The NBA will not accept it.
“I want to emphasise again that we’re not under military rule and we cannot accept this Gestapo style of operations.
“First, the NBA demands the immediate and unconditional release of the Justices the Supreme Court still being held by the DSS without further delay.
“The DSS should limit itself to its constitutional duties and responsibilities.
“We demand that President Muhammadu Buhari should call his security agencies to order as this kind of practice is not acceptable under a democratic rule.
“It there are issues affecting judicial officers, there are established processes and procedures for handling them and we demand that these constitutional processes must be obeyed.
“I have declared a state of emergency on the legal profession over the matter and I have invited past Presidents and Secretary Generals of the association.
“I have also set up a crisis committee team which shall consist of past Presidents and Secretary Generals of the association to follow up on the matter.”
Asked whether the association will immediately embark on court boycott over the arrest and detention of judicial officers by the executive arm of government, he said members should allow the leaders handle the matter, while awaiting any further directive as maybe necessary.
He also discountenanced suggestions that there might be ethnic and religious colouration to the arrest, detention and harassment of the judicial officers.
“I have been in touch with the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, on phone over the development. We will go to any extent to ensure that the rule of law is followed in the way things are done in the country,” the NBA President added.
Action is executive lawlessness–Afenifere
In its own reaction, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, expressed shock over the raids which it called an attempt to intimidate the judges of the Supreme Court and Federal High Court.
Afenifere, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin, described the DSS action as ‘executive lawlessness and usurpation of investigative functions.’
Odumakin said: “Afenifere is shocked by the reported intimidation of both Supreme Court and Federal High Court judges. It is executive lawlessness and usurpation of investigative functions of the judicial arm of government is not done with the authority of the National Judicial Commission, NJC, as stipulated in our Constitution.”
NBA should order boycott of courts – Adegboruwa
Lagos lawyer and activist, Mr Ebun Olu Adegboruwa, also asked the NBA to call out lawyers in the country to boycott court sittings over the raids. Adegboruwa in a statement, yesterday, said:
“This is full blown dictatorship now in action. It is now a case of anarchists in power. The clampdown on judges has been on for a long time, through agents of government in the various institutions of oppression. We are now back to the 1984 jackboot system of intolerance, where all dissenting views and opinions must be silenced.
“It is condemnable for the DSS, which is an arm of the executive, to be breathing down on the judicial arm of government, under the guise of fighting corruption. It is now clear without any shadow of doubt that the so called anti corruption war, is a hidden agenda to perpetuate the Gen Buhari regime in office beyond 2019. It is meant to silence the opposition and to cover the inefficiency and cluelessness of this administration.
“The 1999 Constitution in sections 4, 5 and 6 prescribes the system of separation of powers between the three arms of government. But since 2015 when this government was sworn in, the executive arm under Gen Buhari has dominated and brutalized the other two arms of government. The leadership of the National Assembly is under trial and it is now the turn of the judiciary”.
Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network, CRRAN, condemned the DSS raids, saying it represented the darkest period for the judiciary in the country.
President of CRRAN, Olu Omotayo, in a statement, yesterday, expressed surprise at the crackdown.
The statement entitled, “Crackdown on the Judiciary. This is not democracy as Nigeria heads towards Anarch, said: “In the over 200 years of democratic experience of the United States of America only 15 federal judges have been impeached. Of those 15; eight were convicted by the Senate, four acquitted by the Senate, and three resigned before the outcome of trial.
“We demand an immediate end to the crackdown on the Nigeria Judiciary and immediate release of the arrested judges.”
More judges to be taken into custody – FG
Meanwhile, the Federal Government served notice last night that it would take more suspected tainted judiciary officials into custody.
A top Federal Ministry of Justice official involved in the ongoing process to take out suspected corrupt jurists and other officials, confirmed to Sunday Vanguard that the onslaught had just begun.
The officer made it clear that the resort to forceful arrest of judges was informed by the refusal of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to release the affected men to answer to corruption charges against them.
The top official said, “In line with the determination of the present administration to weed the judiciary of bad eggs, we have decided to continue to investigate all allegations of bribery and corruption leveled against the judiciary and take out those implicated.
“Indeed, the exercise has just begun and we will continue to go after those implicated either by corruption or security-related breaches.
“Although we would have put them to trial immediately, emerging incriminating evidence against those already in detention, have created a new dimension of evidence against them and we intend to take time to work on the new facts”.
The development came as the NJC meets tomorrow to decide on the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN.
The council, according to a competent source, would also deliberate on the selection of a new Executive Secretary (ES) for the body, as its ES prepares to exit office next month, like CJN Mohammed Mahmoud.