By By Henry Umoru, Wahab Abdullah, Emmanuel Ovuakpore, Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Joseph Erunke & Agbakwuru Johnbosco
ABUJA—THE Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, yesterday, justified the arrest and detention of judges by operatives of the Department of State Service, DSS, saying “no one is or should be above the law.”
Meanwhile, both chambers of the National Assembly, declined to summon the Director General of the DSS, Lawal Daura, over the issue. Rather, after condemning the crackdown, they raised separate committees to investigate the matter.
This came as members of the National Judicial Council, NJC, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, failed to reach a consensus on the matter at their emergency meeting, yesterday, and will continue deliberation today.
Malami, who had on Monday, shunned a valedictory court session the Supreme Court held in honour of one of its retired Justices, Suleiman Galadima, broke his silence on the matter after he inaugurated an Expert Review Committee on implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, UNCAC.
Asked his view on the DSS arrest of two Supreme Court justices and five High Court judges, Malami said: “Was there an allegation of crime? Was there relevant provision of criminal procedure responsible for investigation? Is there an allegation of corruption? If there is, nobody, no matter how highly placed, will be spared.
“The right to investigate has not been taken away from the constitution. The allegation borders on criminality and no one is or should be above the law. Neither the judiciary nor the executive will be exempted from investigation.”
It will be recalled that operatives of the DSS, last weekend, clamped down on seven judges accused of complicity in acts of corruption.
Aside Justices Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta, both of the Supreme Court, other judges arrested and detained by the DSS were Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja; Kabir Auta of the Kano High Court; Muazu Pindiga of Gombe High Court; Mohammed Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal Ilorin, and the Chief Judge of Enugu State, I. A. Umezulike.
The seven judges were, on Monday, granted administrative bail, preparatory to their formal arraignment in court.
NJC fails to reach consensus, continues meeting today
A source at the NJC emergency meeting, told Vanguard that though the action of the DSS was roundly condemned, “some members, however, expressed divergent views on the issue.”
Said the source: “Though opinion varied on the matter, members were, however, in agreement that the method the DSS operatives adopted against the Judges was bad and ought to be condemned in strong possible terms.
“Most of the members concurred that the Executive Arm of government acted in breach of the principle of separation of powers by not allowing the NJC to properly investigate the accused judges and take appropriate measures in line with its statutory mandate. I don’t want to enter into details about what transpired at the meeting but all I can tell you for now is that the meeting will continue on Wednesday (today).”
Further investigation by Vanguard revealed that none of the affected judges was allowed to attend the meeting.
It was also learned that aside of the judges, the Council equally wanted to use the opportunity to discuss the nomination of Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen as the next Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN.
The Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC, had earlier submitted a list of two apex court justices it nominated to take over from the outgoing CJN, to the NJC.
The list contained names of Justices Onnoghen, who is from Cross-River State and Tanko Muhammad from Bauchi State.
However, in the absence of the incumbent CJN, Justice Onnoghen is the most senior Justice of the apex court.
Though section 231(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, conferred on President Muhammadu Buhari the power to appoint a CJN on the recommendation of the NJC, it, however, stressed that such appointment must be subject to confirmation by the Senate.
If President Buhari approves Onnoghen as the 17th CJN, he will become the first Southern jurist to head the judiciary in about 29 years. Onnoghen will clock 70 on December 20, 2020.
Remarkably, Justice Ayo Gabriel Irikefe who retired in 1987 was the last Southern CJN.
FG orders suspension of 7 suspected judges
Barring any last minute change in plan, the seven suspected corrupt judges, who were arrested last Friday, are to be arraigned tomorrow.
The judges, who were admitted to administrative bail on self recognition by the DSS on Sunday night, reported to the DSS, yesterday, but returned home after meeting with some officers under the terms of their freedom.
Vanguard learned from sources close to the matter that the trial is to be handled by a team of federal government agencies, including the DSS, Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, and the EFCC
The Federal Government, it was learned, had ordered the immediate suspension of the seven judges from office to enable them face trial.
The source said: “The Federal Government has ordered that none of the seven judges should preside over any case until further notice.
“As a matter of fact, the government has asked the National Judicial Council, NJC, to suspend them from their duty posts until the conclusion of their trial.”
Recovered loot to be well managed – AGF
Meanwhile, the AGF, in a keynote address he presented at the inauguration of the UNCAC, said the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari would put adequate facilities in place to ensure that recovered loots were profitably managed.
He said: “No doubt, the extant review focusing on Chapter II and V of UNCAC relating to preventive measures against corruption in public and private sectors and assets recovery, is both necessary and timely at this time in the annals of the country, when endemic and systemic corruption has created a great disconnect between our nation’s wealth and the quality of life of ordinary citizens.
“As we are all aware, Nigeria is a state-party to UNCAC which is the first global legally binding international anti-corruption instrument.
“Fortunately, the objectives of UNCAC is in absolute synergy and harmony with one of the cardinal objectives of the current administration of President Buhari, which is to fight corruption in all its ramified manifestations including adopting effective preventive measures against corruption, recovery of stolen assets and putting in place systems and processes to profitably manage the stolen but recovered assets.”
Senate asks Buhari to call security agents to order
A motion in the Senate, yesterday, aimed at summoning Director General of the DSS, Lawal Daura, over the crackdown on some judges failed to sail through, as majority of the senators opposed it.
The motion, sponsored by Senator Joshua Lidani, PDP, Gombe South, under matters of “urgent national importance” was to summon the DSS boss to appear before the Senate to explain why his men invaded the residences of the judges.
However, the senators condemned the DSS action against the judges and asked President Buhari to take urgent steps towards cutting down what it described as unconstitutional powers of the nation’s security agents.
Though the senators supported other clauses in the prayers of the motion, lawmakers, drawn from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, rejected the planned invitation of Daura.
The Senate condemned the DSS invasion, maintaining that the secret police lacked the powers to arrest judges, since the NJC was already in place to handle that.
The Senate resolved after a 45-minute debate that its committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters should investigate the incident and report to the chamber within four weeks.
The Senate also urged DSS and all anti-corruption agencies to always comply with the provisions of the law in the exercise of their duties, particularly while prosecuting the anti-graft war.
Chairman of its Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, in a statement, expressed its support for the war against corruption which is one of the cardinal programmes of the Buhari administration but warned that all actions taken outside the provision of the law in pursuit of the war would be a contradiction.
“We cannot in any circumstance accept a situation where extra-judicial and illegal means are employed to pursue any state objective. Any strategy employed in pursuit of the anti-corruption war that offends or is contrary to rule of law or seek, appear or is perceived to compromise the independence of the judiciary is unacceptable to the Senate.
“Once again, we need to remind all agencies of government not to operate outside the mandate provided for them by the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Any action contrary to the law will give a bad impression of our country to the international community,” the Senate stated.
SERAP gives NJC 7 days to act
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has urged the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed to immediately take over the case of the arrested Justices and refer them for proper investigation and prosecution within seven days.
In an open letter by the Executive Director of SERAP, Tokunbo Mumuni, the body vowed to commence a legal action against the CJN-led NJC unless it jumps into action, by referring the cases of the indicted Judges and Justices to the EFCC and ICPC for investigation and prosecution.
It also asked the NJC to publish the assets of the CJN and all other judges including the annual reports of all activities of the judiciary, such as its spending, governance and organisation, including the number of judges found to be corrupt.
In the letter dated October 11, 2016, the organization expressed serious concern that “the NJC has, for many years, failed to appropriately deal with several cases of corrupt judges by failing to refer those cases to the EFCC and ICPC for prosecution, which gave room for the DSS to carry out its recent onslaught.”
It stated: “SERAP believes that the NJC is in the best position to tackle corruption within the judiciary, and to ensure the application of appropriate disciplinary and legal measures in the cases of the released 7 judges and other judges suspected of engaging in corruption. Corrupt judges must not also be allowed to keep their ill-gotten wealth, or receive their pension and retirement benefits, as if they have done no wrong while the victims of their corrupt acts are left without an effective remedy.”
Contributing to the debate, Senator Dino Melaye, APC, Kogi West, while supporting the motion, alleged that judges in Nigerian courts give commercial rulings. He said, like other lawmakers, he was firmly in support of Federal Government’s efforts to tackle corruption.
He said: “I rise to state that it is true there is corruption in the judiciary. This was confirmed, last week, by the expulsion of three judges. It is a fundamental truth that judges give commercial rulings. The Senate will continue to support the fight against corruption, irrespective of who is involved.”
Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, APC, Kaduna Central, supported Melaye’s position, insisting that every agency of government created by law must operate within the ambit of the law.
“Every agency should operate within the ambit of the law. This misnomer that has now emanated provides the National Assembly the opportunity to stress that corruption has assumed a new dimension. However, nobody will justify the procedure or method used in prosecuting corruption. We must not forget the fact that the country is run under the principle of separation of powers. The judiciary needs to be independent in order to safeguard the sanctity of the country’s democracy.”
Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Chukwuka Utazi, PDP, Enugu North, said the invasion had painted Nigeria bad before the international community as a country that had no respect for the rule of law.
Senator Bala Na’Allah, from Kebbi State called for caution. He urged his colleagues to investigate the alleged invasion before taking a final position on the issue.
Senate Minority Leader and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, PDP, Akwa Ibom North West, regretted that the ongoing anti-corruption war in the country, has painted former governors as corrupt people, warning that judicial officers must not be painted in like manner.
“We have to advise the government on what it must do. I am very worried about the method. We must speak out. If we do not speak up and we think it is okay, one day, the rain will fall on another roof.”
Anti-graft war must be fought within the law – Saraki
Saraki, in his concluding remarks, said the fight against corruption must be done within the ambit of the law. “We must eradicate corruption in all spheres of our society and this is a matter that we must continue,” he said and added, “I think the National Assembly has been playing its role to continue to support government in its fight against corruption.”
Reps to investigate DSS
Members of the House of Representatives, yesterday, set up a committee to investigate the DSS invasion of Judges’ residences. This was after the prayer that the AGF and DG DSS be summoned to appear before the House was deleted from the motion by Rep Kingsley Chinda, PDP, Obio/Akpor Federal Constituency of Rivers State.
But immediately the motion was seconded by Rep Gabriel Onyereri, APGA, Anambra, Rep Mojeed Olujimi, APC, Osun moved for an Order of Privilege to counter Chinda’s motion.
Dogara did not allow contributions, saying the House would have to investigate the matter first before arriving at a conclusion.
Chinda in his submission told his colleagues that the essence of his motion is to ensure that an adhoc committee is set up to probe into why the DSS invaded the residences of judges.
“The committee is expected to report to Nigerians whether the DSS had the statutory powers to carry out such an invasion…We are aware of the provisions of Section 153(1) (I) and part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 (as amended), establishing the NJC with powers to regulate and discipline judicial officers in the country.
The powers of the SSS as enumerated in sections (2) (3) and (6) of the national security agencies act 1986; which does not include the investigation and prosecution of corruption and abuse of office,” he said.
He expressed dismay that neither the attorney-general nor the National Judicial Commission ,NJC, was contacted before the raids were carried out.
The house adopted the motion after it was put to a voice vote by Dogara, the presiding officer.