The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN has submitted the names of more judges ( who are suspected to be corrupt) to the Department of State Services for probe.
The affected judges 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.
Several allegations had been leveled against the judges in the petitions earlier sent 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 by CSNAC against a Federal High Court judge was dated May 12, 2016.
Another one 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.’’
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.
In yet 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.
According to sources, “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 overemphasized.
“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.”
The DSS had, during a simultaneous operations last weekend 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.
Apart from the seven judges, the DSS said it was investigating eight other judges, bringing the total number to 15.
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.
Malami, Tuesday warned that nobody, no matter highly placed would be spared in the current administration’s fight against corruption in the country.
He said that so long as there was allegation of crime against anybody, he or she can be invested, no matter how highly placed as no one is above the law.
Malami’s reaction was coming on the heels of mounting criticism over the manner in which seven senior judges were recently arrested by the Department of State Service (DSS) and the threat by the Nigerian Bar Association to declare a state of emergency.
Malami said nobody is exempted from investigation notwithstanding the immunity cause enjoyed by serving politicians in the land.
According to him, nobody is exempted from being investigated, not even the President, Vice President, Governors and their deputies who are covered by the immunity clause under section 308 of the 1999 constitution.
“The fundamental consideration is whether an allegation of a commission of a crime and whether the need for investigation is there and whether the relevant provisions and indeed all circumstances of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act are put into consideration in our conduct to the fight against corruption.
“The bottom line is that we have a responsibility to fight corruption. Corruption is a crime and nobody regardless of how highly placed is exempted as far as issues that border on crimes and criminalities are concerned.
“The limited exceptions we know constitutionally are the exceptions of immunity and to the best of my knowledge that applies are exempted”, he said.
Arguing further the minister stated that even those that are conferred with the immunity, the right to investigate has not been taken away by the constitution.
He said, “So I think the framework and the circumstances within which we are operating are clearly whether there exists the right to investigate or whether there is none and whether the action borders on criminality.
“Once crimes and criminality are concerned, nobody is an exception. I think the undertone should be exclusively the consideration of existence of a prima facie case, existence of reasonable grounds for suspicion of commission of a crime.
“And if there are, no legislatures, no judiciary and no executive can definitely be exempted from investigation. I think where we are now is the point of investigation and that is what is taking place”.
He reiterated the commitment of the President Buhari administration to the fight against corruption and urged the committee not to betray the confidence repose in them.
Already, a human rights advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP 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 yesterday, 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.
SERAP said 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.
“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.”
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