The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, in Abuja on Tuesday justified the weekend raid on the homes and arrest of some judges over allegations of corruption.
He said the judges were not above the law or under any constitutional immunity shielding them from arrest or investigation.
The minister spoke after inaugurating the “country expert review committee for the second cycle of the review of implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.”
The DSS had, between Friday and Saturday, arrested justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro; 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.
Fielding questions from journalists, Malami said the judges were arrested on the grounds of reasonable suspicion.
He said there was prima facie case against the judges who are still being expected to be arraigned in court.
He said, “The fundamental consideration is whether there is an allegation of the commission of a crime; whether there is the need for investigation, and whether the relevant provisions of the law and, indeed, all circumstances, as provided in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act are put into consideration in our conduct as regard 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, as we know constitutionally, are the exceptions of immunity. And to the best of my knowledge, those exceptions do not apply to investigation.
“For those that are conferred with the immunity, the right to investigate has not been taken away constitutionally.
“So, I think the framework and the circumstances within which we are operating are clearly whether there exists the right to investigate or not, 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 the existence of a prima facie case; existence of reasonable grounds for suspicion of commission of a crime.
“And if there are, no member of the Legislature, Judiciary and 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.”
While inaugurating the committee, Malami expressed confidence in the ability of members to execute their responsibilities.
He said, “The extant review focusing on Chapter II and V of the UNCAC, relating to preventive measures against corruption in public and private sectors and asset recovery, is both necessary and timely at this time in the annals of our country, when endemic cum systemic corruption has created a great discontent between our nation’s wealth and the quality of life of ordinary citizens.”
Malami, who noted that the objectives of UNCAC were in harmony with the conviction of the Federal Government to curb corruption, said it was necessary for members of the committee to understand the important task of nation-building which is being committed to their hands.
He said, “Let me emphasise that the guiding principles of the review is non-adversarial, non-punitive and not aimed at ranking state parties.
“Nevertheless, members of the expert committee should understand that those selected, appointed or nominated by my office or the various agencies are chosen based on skills, expertise and commitment.
“It is therefore important to note that your performance in this assignment will be a step in the direction for us as a country and people to achieve the goals that we have set for ourselves — prevent corruption, recover, return and manage stolen assets.”
Members of the committee are drawn from 22 agencies of the Federal Government, including the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Special Control Unit against Money Laundering, Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-corruption Reforms.