Judges in the Dock?

Mahmud Mohammed, chief justice of Nigeria


Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding their arrests, there is no doubt the affected judges will soon have their day before their fellow judges when they are tried for their alleged offences

By Olu Ojewale  |  Oct 24, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT  |

THE dust raised by the overnight raids of houses and arrests of some judges across the country on Friday and Saturday, October 7 and 8, is not likely to settle soon. Since the incident, Nigerians have been divided over the methodology the Department of State Services, DSS, adopted in arresting the lordships.

Irked by the development, Mahmud Mohammed, outgoing chief justice of Nigeria, who looked sad and uncomfortable, described the situation as unfortunate. Speaking at a valedictory session for Justice Suleiman Galadima of the Supreme Court in Abuja, on Monday, October 10, said: “It is, indeed, very saddening and deeply regrettable, the distressing and unfortunate incident which occurred on Friday 7 October, and Saturday 8 October, 2016.”

As chairman of the National Judicial Commission, NJC, Mohammed called for emergency meeting which held on Tuesday, October 11.

While the NJC meeting was still in progress, Abubakar Malami, SAN, attorney general of the federation and minister of Justice, broke his initial silence on the arrest, saying “no one is or should be above the law.” Shortly after he had inaugurated an Expert Review Committee on implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, UNCAC, Malami was asked about his view on the raid and subsequent arrest of seven superior court judges, including two justices of the Supreme Court. He said: “Was there an allegation of crime? Was there relevant provision of criminal procedure responsible for investigation? “Is there an allegation of corruption? If there is, no body, no matter how highly placed will be spared.

“The right to investigate has not been taken away from the constitution. The allegation boarders on criminality and no one is or should be above the law. Neither the judiciary or the executive will be exempted from investigation.”

Inyang Okoro

The DSS had, in what it called a sting operation, within the weekend, clamped down on seven judges accused of complicity in acts of corruption. Aside Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta, both justices of the Supreme Court, other judges arrested and detained by the DSS were 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 in Ilorin, and I. A. Umezulike, erstwhile chief judge of Enugu State. They seven judges were subsequently granted administrative bail on Sunday, October 9, on self recognition, preparatory to their formal arraignment in court.

Prior to the arrest of the judges, the NJC recommended the compulsory retirement of two of the embattled judges, Umezulike and Tsamiya as well as the dismissal and trial of Auta for criminal acts bordering on 419.

However, the DSS said in a statement: “As we speak now, we have incontrovertible evidence of brazen corruption against the seven judges in our custody and we are ready to charge them to court, even tomorrow. By our own analysis, the rot in the political scene, election rigging, inter and intra-party crises and election petition trials from tribunal to Supreme Court, gave rise to the deep corruption in the judiciary.

“In the economic sphere, Nigeria lost cases to foreign investors due to the collusion of judges with foreigners, leading to the loss of hundreds of billions of Naira by the country, among them, the Malabo Oil deal, where the country lost over $2 billion. “We have the mandate not only to pre-empt and prevent but to also take necessary actions to bring the culprits of economic and financial crimes to book. That is why we are challenging those who think that our action is unconstitutional to take us to court since we cannot allow Nigeria’s security interest to be jeopardised.

“Let it be known that anybody whose action can create hardship for the rest of Nigerians must be stopped by us before the crime is committed and there is no other agency that is as capable of doing that as the DSS.”

In any case, the DSS was said to have been on the heels of arrested judges for more than one year, painstakingly examining their account lodgements and acquired properties, among others. In the case of Justice Okoro of the Supreme Court, it was learnt there was a petition linking him to some properties in Akwa Ibom, his home state. The AGF dully forwarded the petition to the DSS in August.

Sylvester Ngwuta

A letter from the AGF’s office to the DSS said in part: “Investigation privately carried out by Akwa Ibom activist and legal practitioner, and which he generously availed me, shows that Honourable Justice Okoro has suddenly acquired stupendous wealth, which he has used to develop massive estates in Calabar, Cross River State, and Uyo in Akwa Ibom State, which is inconsistent with his status as a Justice of the Supreme Court.

“These estates, which Honourable Justice Okoro recently acquired are as follows:

“A maisonette at Plot 6, Unit S-G, Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

“Block of flats at Fanama Street, Off Ategong Drive, Calabar, Cross River State, built by Marilyn and Costa, and ‎a maisonette at Shelter Afrique, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, to mention but a few.”

Apart from Okoro, one of the arrested judges was said to have begged Lawan Daura, director general, when confronted with evidence that he got more than N500million bribe. The judge was said to have refused to unlock the safe in his house for the DSS operatives to have access to its contents.

According to the DSS, it is planning to take possession of the safe in order to uncover its contents. The source said: “Corruption in the Judiciary was based on our intelligence gathering and alerts from informants and petitions. It is not based on the perception of Nigerians. We have been on the trail of some of these judges in the last few months.

“For instance, we started probing one of the seven judges in detention since the Ramadan period of 2015. When we got sufficient intelligence on him, bordering on over N500million bribe, we invited him.

“The judge was given a copy of our report on him. By the time he read it halfway, he prostrated, held the legs of the security chief and begged for forgiveness. We captured the way he was reeling on the floor.

“We later sent a security brief on him to the National Judicial Council, NJC, with enough evidence. But he was cleared by the NJC as having committed no wrong. Since the NJC could not do the needful, we have decided to subject him to a judicial process.

“We also have a case of one of the judges who refused to unlock a safe in his house when our operatives went to his house. We may actually secure the leave of the court to relocate the safe to Abuja.

“Another detained judge got a contract from Bauchi State government and obtained a loan from a bank. But when he defaulted in paying back the facility, the bank filed an action against him before the Federal High Court in Bauchi. What is the business of a judge with contract?”

“We are digging more and getting fresh revelations from these judges. For instance, a federal high court judge in detention actually spread the N54million and $171,779 recovered from his residence in different rooms. He kept them in different parts of the rooms like a thief,” an operative of the DSS said.

Adeniyi Ademola

Besides, the DSS has equally said to have started questioning bank directors over links with some of the judges. “We have started looking into allegations against some banks; we have torn all banks apart. Some bank chiefs have been coming to the DSS office in Abuja for clarifications on some transactions we are investigating,” he said.

In furtherance of its investigations, the DSS had similarly placed requests for the asset declaration forms submitted by the judges to the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, in order to evaluate what they must have acquired with slush money. According to a DSS operative, apart from cash, documents relating to assets linked to some of the judges were also recovered.

However, one of the judges pencilled down for arrest is Justice Mohammed Liman of the federal high court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Liman disclosed that the DSS operatives missed their way and went to his neighbour’s address instead of his house.

The DSS claimed that Governor  Nyesom Wike of Rivers State rescued the judge with thugs and helped him to disappear with $2 million in his possession, but the judge, in the reaction reported by TheNigeriaLawyer, said the invaded apartment was not his and threatened to resign from his job.

Liman said: “I feel distressed that the DSS indirectly claimed they have evidence I stashed $2m, and when contacted I employed thugs and with Governor Wike to obstruct them from carrying out the search and that I later transferred the money to an unknown place. I do not think I need to refute this allegation because it would only make sense if they had actually targeted my house for the search. The truth is that due to their incompetence they bungled the operation and are desperately searching for alibi to save their heads. Unfortunately, I have found myself in the middle of a dirty politics between Wike and the federal government and perhaps my notoriety for delivering controversial judgements; because the cases are also controversial and the stakes probably very high.

“I’m not asking anybody to believe or disbelieve whether I stashed $2m, an amount that is equivalent to about N1b. Perhaps you might think the DSS probably exaggerated the amount, but all these would have been relevant considerations if they had actually searched my house. If I had $2m or even a quarter of it I would have abandoned this horrible profession that has lost its dignity. In fact I have already lost interest in it and have made up my mind to say bye bye to it.I believe there is a life beyond every other thing.”

Whatever be the truth of the matter in Liman;s case, other judges have reasons to believe that they are being persecuted for the way they have handled cases involving the present administration.

Kabir Auta

For instance, the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, has alleged that Justice Ademola is in trouble because of the unconditional bail he had earlier granted Nnamdi Kanu, leader of group, which the federal government rejected.  Ademola had  granted Kanu unconditional release on December 16 and 17, 2015. The group in a statement by Emma Powerful, its spokesperson, flayed the federal government for keeping Kanu in detention for over a year in violation of a court order that granted him unconditional release.

Ademola, an eldest grandson of Adetokunbo Ademola, a former CJN, also ordered the release of Sambo Dasuki, a retired colonel and a former national security adviser, three times and thrice, Dasuki was re-arrested. It is believed that this did not go down well with the President Muhammadu Buhari government, hence his predicament.

Besides, Ademola is viewed to have offended the power that be when he on May 26, 2016, dismissed Buhari’s preliminary objection in a suit filed by Nnamdi Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe, an Abuja-based lawyer, concerning the president’s West African School Certificate issue.

In the same vein, it is being alleged that Justice Dimgba must have unconsciously put himself in trouble when he warned the DSS to stop disobeying orders of court and told it not to come to his court again if the service would not obey court orders.

Offence of justices Ngwuta and Okoro, according to some observers, is that they sat on appeals that gave decisions against the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, interests in some cases that came before them.

A similar school of thought reasoned that Liman got in trouble by giving judgment against Modu Sheriff and thereby hurting the APC.

Justice Liman also restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from announcing any results or figures howsoever generated or compiled purporting to be result of the re-run election for any or all of Khana, Bonny, Gokana, Andoni, Eleme and Tai local government areas of Rivers State or any part of the re-run election scheduled for March 19, 2016, which election was subsequently suspended or postponed.

All these have prompted conclusions that government officials close to the president have not been arrested or charged to court, if, indeed,  Buhari is interested in fighting corruption.

Indeed, some of the key members of the administration being accused of corrupt practises are Abba Kyari, chief of Staff; Rotimi Amaechi, minister of Transport and Abdurhaman Dambazzau, Interior minister.

Mohammed Tsamiya

In the National Assembly, apart from Bukola Saraki, Senate president, who is facing trial for alleged false asset declaration; there are Joshua Dariye, Danjuma Goje and Godswill Akpabio, all former governors and now senators and Buruji Kashamu, a senator from Ogun State. Also, being fingered for corrupt practices is Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the House of Representatives, who was accused of corruption and abuse of office in the 2016 budget process by Abdulmumin Jibrin, a former appropriations committee chairman.

That notwithstanding, Shehu Sani, a senator from Kaduna, must have been amused by the unfolding events as he said the three arms of government are now enmeshed in corruption and corrupt elements. He said in an interview: “With mountains of allegations of corruption in the kitchen cabinet of Mr. President; with mountains of allegations of corruption in the Parliament; with mountains of allegations of corruption in the Judiciary, now we are having a three Arms of corruption.”

While supporting the fight against corruption, Sani wondered if the DSS raids were carried out in accordance with the law of the land. “The raid on the residences of the Supreme Court judges if done with a proper court order is justified but if done without a proper court order is nothing but sadism.

“Support for search or arrest without warrant irrespective of the gravity of suspicion is a tacit endorsement of tendencies of a totalitarian state,” the senator said.

But Kenneth Gbagi, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and a former minister of State for Education, lauded the DSS for its clampdown on some judges over allegations of corruption. He believed that the invasion of the judges’ homes and their arrests were lawful.

Gbagi, who criticised the PDP for condemning the action, stated that corruption had become a national plague which nobody should politicise. “Once we can deal with the judiciary, 40 per cent of our national problems is gone; once we can cleanse the judiciary, Nigeria will be out of the current conundrum,” he said.

Similarly, Idris Wada, a former governor of Kogi State, said the raid had vindicated him. He, however, said it would be wrong to use the same brush to tar all the members of the nation’s bench, emphasising that his condemnation of some judges was not a blanket judgment on the judiciary, which he said paraded the best brains in the country.

Wada, in a statement by Phrank Shaibu, his chief communications manager, declared that the episode reminded Nigerians of his earlier call on Buhari to initiate a probe into the conduct of the affairs of the judiciary. “From what we have seen in recent times, it would appear that the greatest obstacle to the Buhari administration is the corruption in the judiciary,’’ he said.

Itse Sagay, SAN, a professor of Law and chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, said: “It is a major development in our legal history, it is unusual. Where do you think such money (N360m) came from? And if such huge sum of money can illegitimately be in the house of judges, then what is this system we are operating? Can one get justice in such a situation? This is what is troubling my mind. I have always said that judges deserve dignity and to be treated with utmost respect; that is what I will call reverence and it has always been so.

Innocent Umezulike

“In a situation where there is such degeneration in a society, that has now spread to the judiciary that is normally treated with sanctity and reverence, what is to be done? When you have a god that you are worshipping and the god brings himself down to your level, then what it is saying is that you should stop worshipping him and you should treat him like any other person. That is the phenomenon we are dealing with. “Respect for judges is based on their conduct, record and attitude. When that conduct fails, then they have exposed themselves to the situation, which they are treated. Judges, according to the law, enjoy immunity against searches and arrests. In regard to how judges are treated, as people who are above god, people of the greatest moral authority, when that is gone and they are like you and me in conduct, scrambling for money and taking money from parties before their courts, in order to abuse their position, then the law applies to them as it applies to every other person. NJC should not be condemned over the said money found in judges homes. NJC was not established to deal with the epidemic that is seen in the judiciary, in terms of judicial corruption. We are facing an epidemic. It means if you don’t have money you can never get justice. So I think there is a need to really introduce drastic measures to purify the system.’’

Ben Nwabueze, SAN, a professor of Law, also deplored the manner the arrests were made and cautioned that the government must not do things that could bring the judiciary to disrepute. In a statement on Monday, October 10, Nwabueze said: “Whilst judges are not granted immunity from criminal process, the vital and sacrosanct role of the judiciary in governance entitles them to great respect over and above that accorded to the ordinary citizens. To disgrace a judge, as by a degrading treatment, is not just the disgraceful treatment of an individual; it brings the entire judiciary, as the third organ of government, the Third Estate of the Realm, into disrepute and undermines its credibility in the eyes of the public. It diminishes our country, and all of us. The matter therefore counsels and demands cautious handling.

“We are in a constitutional democracy, not a military dictatorship, and the law must be respected and obeyed in the way the affairs of the country are handled, including the handling of the fight against corruption which we all wholeheartedly support.’’

While controversies have continued to trail the raids and the arrests of the judges, a letter from President Buhari announcing two new appointments of judges to the Supreme Court was read to the Senate on Tuesday, October 11.

The nominated judges are Sidi Bage, Nasarawa State and Paul Jauro, Taraba State. In the letter read by Saraki, the president said his request followed Section 231(2) of the Constitution of Nigeria, as amended.

Jauro, who was born on June 26, 1954, became judge of the High Court in 1998. Ten years after, he was appointed justice of the Court Appeal.

Bage, born on June 22, 1956, became federal high court judge in 1992, before his appointment as justice of the Court of Appeal in 2000.

The two judges had been recommended for appointment as justices of the Supreme Court by the NJC.

Also on Tuesday, the House of Representatives summoned Lawan Daura, director-general of the DSS to appear before it over the recent invasion of the residences of the seven judges.

Also, an adhoc committee was constituted in the House to look into the clampdown on judges and report back in some weeks as instituted in the Senate too.

A similar proposal to invite Daura to appear before the Senate failed.

In any case, what is important to Nigerians now is whether the government would be able to convict the judges who are practically in the dock. Court!


Click Banner for Details