By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA — The Federal Government has said it would step on more big toes in its anti-corruption war.
The government said the fight against corruption must be whole and thorough and, therefore, would not spare anyone found culpable.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, accompanied by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing and Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, stated this, yesterday, while fielding questions from State House correspondents after a meeting of the Federal Executive Council, FEC at the Presidential Villa in Abuja yesterday.
Recalling the arrest of judges, Mohammed said the DSS duly obtained search warrants before embarking on the mission last weekend.
He, however, emphasized that the Federal Government had no deliberate intention to ridicule the judiciary, stressing that the present government had huge respect for the judiciary.
He said: “I think the Federal Government is being very careful with the handling of this particular issue. I want to state clearly that this government believes very much in seperation of powers.
‘’This government has a lot of respect for the judiciary and for obvious reasons. Not just because the constitution says so but I think probably this is one cabinet that has the highest number of lawyers as ministers.
“As at the last count, about eleven or twelve council members are lawyers and we have female lawyers also in cabinet. Until death robbed us of late Ocholi, we had five SANs in our cabinet and I think this is unique, therefore you can understand the kind of respect we have for the judiciary.
“Also look at Mr President himself. Three times, he sought to be President. Three times it was thwarted and all the three times he took his case to the judiciary.
‘’So, I can say clearly that this administration has a lot of respect for the judiciary and I think I stand by what Mallam Garba Shehu said that please do not mistake the fight against corruption for a fight against judiciary, what the government is concerned and passionate about is to fight corruption.
“In the process of fighting corruption, it’s not unusual that you step on some very sensitive toes but the question to ask and I think this has been adequately answered by the Attorney General is let’s remove emotion from facts.
“One, do judges have immunity? The answer is no. Can judges be arrested? The answer is yes. Can judges that are serving be arrested in Nigeria? The answer is yes. Justice Okoli had been arrested and tried.
‘’Now the next question to ask is, what is the proper procedure for arresting anybody, including judges? There must be proper search warrant. Was such presented? The answer, again is yes.
“People have tried to muddle the facts about when do you search the person’s house. The truth of the matter is that under the new criminal justice law, you can search anybody, anywhere, anytime.
“Again they have tried to muddle issues by trying to say that the NJC is the only authority that can attend to complaint and discipline, the answer once again is no.”
Mohammed dismissed the intervention of the National Judicial Council, NJC in the matter, underscoring a difference between professional misdemeanour and corruption.
“There is a difference, when a judge is accused of professional misconduct is quite different from what is happening now.
‘’If you suspect anybody, including governors who have immunity, they are still subject to investigations.
“So, I want to make it clear, this government has the highest respect for judiciary and two, we are not in anyway trying to ridicule the judiciary. Three, we are not painting the whole of the judges with the same brush but we also have a duty to fight corruption at whatever level and in doing so, we will do so within the ambit of the law.
“Unfortunately, people have even brought issues that are completely irrelevant to the matter. Some people are saying oh, the reason they went to some particular judges’ house is because the President wants somebody from one part of the country to be Chief Justice of the Federation. I think that is preposterous.
“I want to assure you that this government has no intention to humiliate the judiciary and for those who are talking about separation of power, I think you are stretching it too far. I and members of the Executive, I can be invited by any arm of the government and I will go, so I think we should situate this thing in the right perspective.
“You were all witnesses in 2015 in Ghana here, 32 judges were caught on tape by journalists asking for bribe, 22 of them were dismissed in one day in Ghana. Yes, it’s true that what is happening today has probably never happened at this level before but frankly speaking and with all due respect, we do not intend to humiliate any judges.
‘’We have no intention to humiliate the judiciary but believe me, what we have done, we have done within the ambits of the law,’’ Mohammed stressed.