By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—Scores of protesters yesterday besieged the Three Arms Zone, where the Supreme Court is situated, demanding that all judges facing corruption allegations must step down, pending their trial.
The protesters, under the aegis of Forum of Non-Governmental Organisations in Nigeria, FONGON, insisted that all the seven superior court judges arrested by the Department of State Services, DSS, between October 7 and 8, must vacate the Bench.
They said the protest became necessary “since the conniving National Judicial Council, NJC, is not willing to suspend them.”
Meanwhile, heavily armed security operatives comprising soldiers, DSS and mobile police men, blocked the protesters from gaining entrance into the Supreme Court complex.
Immediately the crowd which brandished several placards and banners were sighted, security men who said they acted upon instruction “from above”, quickly closed the Supreme Court gate.
People going inside the court premises were thoroughly searched and those without valid identity card were turned back.
Following the development, the apex court which originally fixed six cases for hearing, decided to conduct proceedings inside chamber.
Addressing journalists at the Aso Villa gate, leader of the group, Mr. Wole Badmus, said they would mobilise Nigerians to besiege courts presided over by the accused judges, should they fail to step down.
“Even though the arrested judges/justices have not been declared guilty by any court of law, they have been tainted in the court of public opinion and their positions are no longer tenable until they have been able to clear themselves of all allegations against them”, Badmus added.
He said the group no longer have confidence in the ability of the NJC, which is headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, to surrender the affected judges for trial to establish their guilt or innocence.
Besides, FONGON, which consists of 50 organisations, listed 10 different petitions against the judges, which it said were not properly handled by the NJC.
“Our research shows that NJC has been engaged only in a cosmetic fight against the bad eggs in the judiciary.
“Between 2000 and 2016, not one of the 73 judges sanctioned by the NJC for various acts of corruption was prosecuted!
“The NJC has also refused to release the records of its proceedings in recommending sanctions against those judges. Not even the Freedom of Information Act has compelled the NJC to release the records. If this is no cover-up, what is?
“We want to state unequivocally that based on our interactions with Nigerians across the length and breadth of this country, majority of Nigerians are fully in support of the Federal Government’s efforts to address the issue of corruption in the judiciary.
“This has strengthened our resolve to come out boldly in support of the efforts to make our judiciary corruption free”, Badmus stated.
Some of the placards brandished by the protesters read: “Stop corruption before it stops us”, “Sanitisation of the judiciary is a task that must be accomplished”, “When a judge stuffs illicit cash in his shoes, water don pass garri”, “No judge under investigation is morally justified to sit on cases”.
Others read: “Say no to judicial rascality, no body is above the law”, “Enough is Enough, say no to ‘Oluwole’ judgment & ‘Kabu-Kabu’ rulings- stop corrupt Judicial officials now”, “Justices are to interpret the law, they are not empowered to interpret hard currencies”, “Don’t get it twisted, judiciary is not on trial only corrupt Judicial officials are”.
Among those the group asked to step down are two Supreme Court Justices, Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta.
Others are 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.