The recent clamp down on some judges of the High Court and justices of the Supreme Court over allegations of corruption has been linked to the humongous amounts of money allegedly couriered to some of the judges by some senior lawyers involved in the legal battle to confirm Alhaji Yahaya Bello as the duly elected Governor of Kogi State. The Supreme Court had on Tuesday, September 20, 2016, upheld the election of Alhaji Yahaya Bello as governor of Kogi State as it dismissed all five appeals lodged against his return at the apex court.
The seven-man Supreme Court panel was led by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, one of the two Justices of the Supreme Court arrested in the midnight raid coordinated by operatives of the Department of State Service ( DSS) across several cities in the country.
Others arrested in the raid included Justice Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court, suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya, who was picked up in Sokoto; Justice Adeniyi Ademola (Federal High Court); the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike; Justice Kabiru Auta of Kano State High Court; and Justice Muazu Pindiga (Gombe State High Court).
The arrest of these big wigs in the temple of justice has been hailed by the former Governor of Kogi State, Capt. Idris Wada, who had earlier alleged that money played a major role in deciding the outcome the 2015 Governorship Election Petition in the state.
Wada said that last week’s arrest of the seven by DSS operatives was a vindication of his earlier position that his successor in office procured his electoral victory. In a statement signed by his Chief Communications Manager, Mr. Phrank Shaibu, on the unprecedented arrest of the judges of the High Court through the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, the former governor declared that the episode was a vindication of his earlier call on President Muhammadu Buhari to initiate a probe into the conduct of affairs in the Judiciary.
“I have observed with keen interest the raid by men of the Department of State Services and the arrest of judges alleged to have compromised their oath of office and what attracted my attention more, though not surprising, is the fact that the Justices that we had accused of perverting the course of justice in the infamous case of inheritance of a dead candidate’s votes, were among those who will soon be having their day in court for alleged corruption,” Wada said.
Governor Yahaya Bello became the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress ( APC) in the Kogi governorship poll following the death of Prince Abubakar Audu, in an election that was declared inconclusive at the first ballot. Bello was later declared winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC) at the conclusion of the polls. However, he had to contend with a fierce post – election battle because the process of his emergence as candidate was unprecedented in the history of Nigeria.
He was dragged to court by Hon. James Abiodun Faleke of the same APC who claimed that Bello was not the rightful candidate but himself who stood in the earlier election with Audu and won majority of the votes cast before his principal died. On the other hand, Bello’s victory was also challenged by the former governor of the state, Captain Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who wanted to be declared governor based on the fact that he scored the second highest number of votes at the initial election before the death of Abubakar Audu, the then candidate of the APC.
While the legal tussle lasted, some civil society groups had alerted the anti-corruption agencies of alleged diversion of funds from the accounts of the Kogi State Government through frivolous contracts for the procurement of security vehicles and renovation of government buildings.
Sunday Telegraph gathered that from that point, security agencies had placed Bello’s legal team as well as the judges under watch to ascertain if the claims of the civil society groups had any modicum of truth.
A security source told one of our correspondents that there had always been suspicion that some judges who superintended over electoral cases in Nigeria were often offered huge sums of money to deliver predetermined judgements. “It is an open secret that many of these high profile judgements on elections are procured. They say the law is an ass, which means it can go either way depending on the highest bidder.
There has always been bribery and corruption in the judiciary but you know that these days of change, you cannot just do certain things and get away with it,” he said. Sunday Telegraph learnt that as soon as preliminary investigations showed that there was an unusual movement of funds, the anti-corruption agencies alerted the Presidency, who in turn, ordered that more investigations be conducted and culprits brought to book. Sunday Telegraph learnt that before the legal battle got to the Appeal and Supreme Courts, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State had been accused of freighting as much as N1.5billion bribe to the judges of the Kogi State Election Petition Tribunal to secure a favorable judgement.
The Kogi Patriotic Front (KPF), which made the allegation claimed that each of the three justices got N500 million to influence verdict, an allegation the state government has denied. Sunday Telegraph investigations revealed that the total sum recovered from the judges arrested by the Department of State Service (DSS) in last weekend’s raids has been put at N1.669, 941,182.10.
Out of the said sum, which is in different currencies, $2million (N960million) was said to be stashed in one of the judge’s house. Also, a judge of the Federal High Court was also said to have been in the possession of about N350 million. Further breakdown of monies recovered from the judges: Naira– N93,558,000.00; Dollars – $530,087; Pounds – £25,970; Euro – €5,680. The amount is said to be recovered only from three of the judges. Meanwhile, a top source in the service told Sunday Telegraph that it has frozen the account of some of the judges. “Some of the judges accounts have been frozen through an order of the court.
Though this does not affect all of them. It is only those that we found huge lodgements that are questionable in their accounts and in addition to that, we also observed the inflow of their salaries over a long period without them making any withdrawal at all. “The implication is that they don’t live on their salaries at all.
Those accounts have been frozen but as I said, not all of the judges are affected,” the source stated. The service had said that it embarked on the raids and arrest based on allegations of corruptions and other acts of professional misconduct by a few of the suspected Judges. It also noted that its action is in line with its core mandate.
“We have been monitoring the expensive and luxurious lifestyle of some of the judges as well as complaints from the concerned public over judgment obtained fraudulently and on the basis of amounts of money paid. “The judges involved were invited, upon which due diligence was exhibited and their premises searched.
The searches have uncovered huge raw cash of various denominations, local and foreign currencies, with real estate worth several millions of naira and documents affirming unholy acts by these Judges,” the secret service stated.