Tobi Soniyi and Alexander Enumah in Abuja
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, stopped including the two arrested justices of the Supreme Court – Justice John Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta – on panels to adjudicate on cases before the court because they are often not available, as they are still required to report to the Department of State Services (DSS) everyday, THISDAY has learnt.
A source at the CJN’s office told THISDAY that as part of the bail conditions of the justices, they are meant to keep reporting to the DSS office on a daily basis.
“The court cannot be waiting for them since no one knows when they will return. When they return, the justices too are not keen on sitting,” the source said.
The source explained that this was why the CJN had not included them on new panels.
He said it is the responsibility of the CJN to empanel justices to adjudicate on cases, but the affected judges had not been sitting because of the daily visits to the DSS.
Justices Ngwuta and Okoro were among the eight judges whose houses were raided and arrested last month for alleged corruption.
But in separate letters to the CJN, the two justices denied any wrongdoing, blaming their woes on attempts by chieftains of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), especially the Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi, to influence the appeals challenging the outcomes of the Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi and Ekiti State governorship elections.
Since their arrest by the DSS, there have been repeated calls by a section of the public for the justices to step aside while investigations against them continue.
The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud (SAN), who initially condemned the action of the DSS, was later to ask all the affected judges to recuse themselves from further judicial functions or proceed on compulsory leave, until their innocence was fully and completely established.
But the National Judicial Council (NJC), which the CJN also chairs, rejected the call, saying that the DSS was yet to inform the council of its findings against the justices.
However, with the uncertainty over the fate of the judges yet to be resolved, a group of lawyers under the aegis of Lawyers in Defence of Democracy and Citizen for Good Governance yesterday took to the streets of Abuja protesting against the calls for their suspension.
The legal practitioners, who claimed that the unconstitutional way and manner the judges were arrested was a threat to democracy, also appealed to the United Nations, United Kingdom, United States of America and Amnesty International to call the federal government to order and stop disobedience to the rule of law.
They also called on the NJC and the CJN to direct courts in the country not to hear any applications from the DSS and other agencies of government until they obey all pending court orders against them.
During rallies staged at the Federal High Court headquarters, Federal Ministry of Justice, and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the lawyers noted with regret that Nigeria was drifting to a dictatorship that might derail democracy and the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerian citizens.
The spokesperson for the aggrieved lawyers, Mr. Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, said that the executive arm, under the guise of fighting corruption, had debased the 1999 Constitution and violated the provisions of the supreme law with impunity.
He appealed to the international community to take interest in the ugly trend and call those in authority to order.
The lawyers, who carried placards with various inscriptions, condemned the method adopted in arresting the judges, insisting that the ploy was aimed at intimidating and harassing judicial officers to do the bidding of the executive arm of government.
They claimed that the government that had become notorious for disregarding court orders and judgments, could not be taken seriously, and could not be believed to be acting in good faith with its claim of invading the judges’ houses to fight corruption.
Specifically, the lawyers noted with concern that several Nigerians accused of corruption, charged to court and granted bail by courts because they are entitled to bail, are still languishing in the custody of the DSS in utter disregard to lawful court orders.
Among Nigerians said to have been granted bail, but are still being held by the DSS, are the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu and Air Marshall Umar Mohammed, adding that with the antecedents of the government and the DSS, the future of Nigeria’s democracy could be jeopardised.
“The invasion of the judiciary is a threat to justice and democracy and anything that violates Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution must be resisted and defeated.
“We urge Nigerians not to allow any warped sting operation against marked judges who are not doing the bidding of the executive arm of government and the DSS to sail through.
“How come nobody has called for the DSS to step aside from judicial prosecution until they have obeyed all court judgments against the agency?
“We unanimously pass a vote of confidence on the National Judicial Council and the decision taken not to suspend the judges until due process of the law is followed and a prima facie case of corruption established against the affected judges,” the group declared.
It added: “While we commend the NJC for defending the independence of the judiciary, the sanctity of democracy and the rule of law, and sanctioning judges who abused their offices, we urge the NJC to compile the list of government and security agencies that are disobeying court orders and direct the courts not to hear cases from such bodies until all outstanding court orders are obeyed.
“Deciding to ignore judgments that are not in your favour and implementing ones that protects your interests are clear signs of an emerging dictatorship.”
Addressing the protesters, Executive Secretary of NHCR, Prof. Ben Angwe, assured them that the commission would not take sides or take orders in handling the arrests and alleged clampdown on some judges on allegations of corruption.