FG’S PROSECUTION TEAM MEETS OVER CHARGES TO BE FILED AGAINST JUDGES

… as SERAP, CACOL, lawyers demand Amaechi’s probe

Ade Adesomoju, Abuja, Dayo Oketola, Gbenro Adeoye and Tunde Ajaja

The Federal Government’s National Prosecution Coordination Committee is meeting over the draft charges already drawn against three among the seven judges arrested by the Department of State Services between October 8 and 9 this year.

Baring any unplanned situation, the charges were likely to be filed next week after the meeting of the committee members, a credible source who is familiar with the ongoing process confirmed to Saturday PUNCH on Friday.

The PUNCH had reported that the draft charges were originally meant to be filed last Thursday. But a source confirmed toSaturday PUNCH on Friday that the filing was delayed because of the absence of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, who was on an official trip to Turkey.

The source said, “The NPCC has actually finished the drafting of the charges.

“They would have been filed on Thursday if not for the absence of the Attorney-General of the Federation.

“The AGF said he wanted to see the charges before they were filed.”

It was learnt that the AGF arrived the country on Thursday but only resumed official duties on Friday.

A top source in the Federal Ministry of Justice said the AGF on Friday directed that further meeting be held on the draft charges before filing.

According to other sources and a member of the NPCC, the meeting of the NPCC might hold on Saturday.

Our correspondent learnt that the Federal Government had drafted charges against three of the seven arrested judges.

It was learnt earlier on Wednesday that the drafting of the charges would be concluded and ready for filing on Thursday.

It was gathered that drafting of the charges involved the input of members of the NPCC, legal and operational officers of the Department of State Service and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation.

One of those involved in the drafting had told our correspondent on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to make comments on the issue, that three of the arrested judges would likely be charged with money laundering on Thursday.

The source said the three judges already marked for prosecution would be charged separately.

He added, “Apart from money laundering, the three judges would also face other charges depending on the peculiarities of the individuals’ cases and outcome of investigation.”

When asked before which court the judges would be charged, the source said, “Going by the nature of the charges we want to file, the only court with the requisite jurisdiction is the Federal High Court.”

A member of the NPCC, as earlier reported by Saturday PUNCH, had confided in our correspondent that the Federal Government, through the NPCC had established prima facie cases against the judges.

The source explained that the government had through investigation obtained more evidence that was not envisaged at the outset.

The source said, “The truth of the matter is that the arrests carried out have led to more evidence and the Federal Government, through the NPCC, is drafting the charges to be filed against the judges.

“But I can assure you that we have got prima facie cases against the judges.

“Investigations, which are still ongoing, have revealed a lot of evidence that was not envisaged at the outset.

“The available evidence will determine the charges to be filed and in which court to file them.”

The source said despite the condemnation of the arrest of the judges by the National Judicial Council, the government would proceed with the prosecution of  the judges.

The DSS had between October 8 and 9 raided the houses of the seven judges and arrested them. They have since been released on bail.

When contacted, spokesperson for NPCC and for the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Salihu Isah, said he would not comment on the case due to its sensitivity.

The arrested judges were Justice Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro, both of the Supreme Court; Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, and Justice Muazu Pindiga of the Gombe State High Court.

Others who were arrested had been placed on suspension by the National Judicial Council pending the time President Buhari and their various state governors would approve its recommendation for their sacking.

They are a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; and the  judge of the Kano State High Court, Justice Kabiru Auta.

The DSS later said after the raid that it recovered large sums of money in both local and foreign currencies from the homes of three of the seven judges.

… as SERAP, CACOL, lawyers demand Amaechi’s probe

In view of the allegations made by two Supreme Court judges that the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, approached them to help influence the apex court’s decisions in some election cases, some civil society organisations and lawyers have called for the probe of the minister.

Justices Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta, who were among the seven judges recently arrested by operatives of the Department of State Services, in separate letters addressed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, have accused Amaechi of orchestrating their ordeals because of their refusal to accede to Amaechi’s requests.

In his letter, Justice Okoro said that Amaechi told him that he had been mandated by the President of Nigeria (Muhammadu Buhari) and the All Progressives Congress to inform him that “they must win their election appeals in Rivers State, Akwa Ibom and Abia states at all costs.”

Ngwuta alleged that Amaechi wanted to use him to influence the Supreme Court judgment with respect to election cases on the Rivers State governorship election and the Ekiti State governorship election.

He also claimed that Amaechi’s counterpart in the Ministry of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, contacted him to help sway the Court of Appeal’s decision on Ebonyi State governorship election matter.

The Nigerian Bar Association had on Thursday called for the immediate suspension of the judges recently arrested by the DSS “in order to protect the sanctity and integrity of judicial processes that may involve the judges concerned and safeguard the public image of the institution.”

In the same vein, some CSOs and lawyers told Saturday PUNCH that the allegations made by the two of the judges against Amaechi and Onu should not be dismissed.

For instance, the Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said as much as he considered the judges’ allegations as an after-thought, for not making the revelations earlier, there was need for a thorough investigation into the matter.

He said, “Amaechi is having too many baggage, but let the appropriate agency (ies) start investigating the two sides. They should investigate what the judges have said and examine what Amaechi has said in defence. The truth will be somewhere in-between. The investigation must be thorough and unbiased.”

Also, the Executive Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said there was need for the government and the relevant agencies to waste no time in investigating the claims of the judges, and that anyone found guilty should be made to stand trial, including the judges.

He also called on the judges to come up with evidences to substantiate their allegations.

He said, “The judges should not think they can embarrass anybody by making allegations without evidence and they should not think they can disrupt the free flow of trial. But if Amaechi is found guilty of the allegations, he should be made to stand trial, just like the judges.”

The Coalition for Transparency Accountability and Good Governance said it was high time Amaechi stepped down as a minister, given the number of allegations against him.

Its Coordinator, Mr. Mike Opia, said apart from the judges’ allegations against Amaechi, a report by UK-based Mail Online had also levelled some corruption allegations against the former governor.

Opia said if Amaechi was not investigated, it would appear that the fight against corruption by the present administration was a mere witch hunt.

“The allegations should be investigated and the minister should step down. This is not the first time he would be accused, and he’s not the only one in that cabinet. The President is not corrupt but it appears he harbours some corrupt persons. So, let Amaechi step aside because the anti-corruption fight seems like a witch hunt.”

Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), in an email sent to one of our correspondents, said all the allegations should be investigated irrespective of who is involved.

“What has been confirmed is that cases pending in the highest court of the land are discussed and negotiated with litigants who visit their (judges’) homes,” he said.

“I have also read the allegation of a retired judge who said that a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria asked her to pervert the course of justice. These very serious allegations ought to be thoroughly and speedily investigated by an independent panel.

“Offering a bribe to a public officer is a criminal offence while failure to report the offer is also a criminal offence. Whoever is implicated in the investigation should be prosecuted. This is a can of worms that cannot be covered up. The bankrupt ruling class has allowed the house of justice to be taken over by rats and cockroaches. It has to be fully fumigated in the interest of political stability.”

Another lawyer, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, asked Amaechi and Onu to leave their ministerial positions while the matter is being investigated, saying, “What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

“So while investigating the judges, we just cannot close our eyes to the allegations made by the judges,” he added.

“If we say the judges should step aside as a matter of confidence, is it not also a matter of confidence to ask the ministers that have been accused of trying to influence court decisions to also step aside pending a holistic investigation into all the matters?

“These are politicians and we cannot pretend that we don’t know the attitude of Nigerian politicians; if we pretend we don’t, we will be deceiving ourselves.”

Oshoma also dismissed the opinions of some people, who questioned the timing of the judges’ allegations, saying, “People should not say that it was belated; is there a statute of limitation to criminality? When Bukola Saraki (Senate President) was charged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for offences committed in 2003, did we also question the timing?”

Also in the view of Wahab Shittu, another lawyer, the allegations against Amaechi should be “thoroughly investigated.”

He said, “What the judges have said, notwithstanding the timing, must be thoroughly investigated.”

Copyright PUNCH.               

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