The PUNCH learnt on Tuesday that the names sent by the AGF to the security agency were those of judges whose cases of allegations of misconduct, contained in petitions earlier sent by civil society groups to the National Judicial Council, were allegedly not investigated.
It was learnt that the weekend’s arrest of some judges in different parts of the country followed complaints received by the office of the AGF and thereafter transmitted to law enforcement agencies, including the DSS.
Operatives of the DSS had between Friday and Saturday raided the houses of some judicial officers, including two justices of the Supreme Court, and arrested them on suspicion of corruption in Enugu, Gombe, Sokoto and Kano states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The DSS had, during the simultaneous operations, arrested Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court; 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.
Besides the seven judges, the DSS said it was investigating eight other judges, bringing the total number to 15.
With the six names submitted to the DSS, the service is now investigating a total of 21 judges.
Large sums of money in local and foreign currencies were reportedly recovered from three of the arrested judges during the operations that lasted between Friday night and the early hours of Saturday.
One of our correspondents confirmed from a source in the Federal Ministry of Justice on Tuesday that the names of a fresh set of judges, marked for investigation, were sent to the SSS on Monday.
It was learnt that the letter by the minister was personally delivered at the DSS headquarters in Abuja by a senior aide.
The new names on the minister’s list, it was learnt, included two Chief Judges of High Courts, three judges of different divisions of the Federal High Court, and a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
The letter, containing the names, was accompanied by the summary of allegations levelled against the judges in the petitions earlier sent by individuals to the NJC by the Chairman of Civil Society Network Against Corruption as well as Human and Environmental Development Agenda Resource Centre between 2014 and May, 2016.
One of the petitions sent to the NJC against one of the Chief Judges, dated February 26, 2016, and signed by the Chairman of CSNAC, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, was titled ‘‘Request for investigation of contravention of the Code of Conduct by Judicial Officers.’’
Another petition by CSNAC against a Federal High Court judge was dated May 12, 2016.
Suraju also signed a petition (its date not stated) against a Federal High Court for allegedly granting a perpetual injunction, restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from investigating criminal allegations against a businessman.
Another petition, dated January 11, 2016, by CSNAC, also accused a Chief Judge of judicial misconduct, an allegation which its details were not stated.
CSNAC, also in another petition, dated April 20, 2016, sent to the NJC against a Justice of the Court of Appeal and others, who served on an election petitions appeal panel this year, accused the panel of receiving N8m from a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Yet, another petition accused the SAN of paying N500,000 into the account of a Chief Judge.
In another petition, CSNAC alleged that N7m was paid to a Chief Judge for a book presentation.
It was also alleged in another petition by CSNAC that a Federal High Court judge received N5m bribe from a SAN.
The AGF’s letter, forwarding the names to the DSS, described as unconscionable the alleged failure of the NJC to investigate the petitions.
The letter read in part, “It is unconscionable that all these petitions that border on the unremitting and impeachment of the integrity of these judicial officers have not been investigated by the National Judicial Council, the constitutional and statutory body vested with the power by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) to so do.
“Undoubtedly, if this type of deliberate inattentiveness; lethargy and benign neglect and dereliction of responsibility by the NJC is allowed to persist in an administration that came to power under the mantle of change, it will surely lead to the death knell of the judicial branch of government, which centrality the maintenance of law, order, rule of law and social harmony cannot be overemphasised.
“It is unfortunate that despite the preachment of the administration on the need for the judicial officers to be above board, we still have some of them that have stubbornly refused to change from their old ways.”
When contacted on Tuesday, Suraju confirmed that he forwarded to the AGF office summaries of the petitions, which he earlier sent to the NJC but that he was not aware of the actions so taken on them by the minister.
“It is a welcome development. I actually forwarded to the AGF office the various allegations which I earlier sent to the NJC against some judges. But the AGF office has yet to contact me,” he stated.
CJN writes Buhari over allegations of corruption against judges
Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Muhammed, has formally written to President Muhammadu Buhari on the decision of the NJC on the cases of misconduct established against some judges, The PUNCH has learnt.
A top source in the Presidency told one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity on Tuesday that Buhari received the communication on Monday.
Although the communication came at a time of outrage on the arrests of some judges by officials of the DSS, the source said the arrests and the raids on the judges’ homes were not part of the letter.
The source added, “As a matter of fact, two issues were included in the communication. The first was the issue of the judge, who was said to have collected a N200m bribe.
“The other was a comprehensive report of the National Judicial Council on some judges that were sanctioned for misconduct.
“The issue of the raids on the homes of some judges and their arrests were not contained in the communication.”
The source suspected that since the letter was received on Monday, it could have been prepared before the weekend incident.
Meanwhile, the Director-General of the DSS, Lawal Daura, met briefly with Buhari on Tuesday.
The agenda of the meeting, described as a routine one, was not made public.
Daura was also sighted joining worshippers for prayer at a mosque located beside the President’s office before leaving the Presidential Villa.
Senate knocks DSS, reviews powers of security agencies
On Tuesday, the Senate condemned the DSS for its clampdown on some judges across the country over the weekend.
It has therefore ordered a review of the laws establishing all security agencies while mandating its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, to review the aspects dealing with the powers of security agencies and put them in line with the tenets of democracy.
The committee is to submit its report in four weeks.
The Senate also called on Buhari to caution all security agencies and direct them to observe the rule of law in the discharge of their statutory duties.
The lawmakers condemned the action of the DSS, stressing that the security agency went outside the confines of its constitutional powers, which amounted to the usurpation of the powers of the NJC.
The Senate, however, rejected a recommendation that the Director-General of the DSS be summoned to explain to the Chamber what informed the action of the agency against the judicial officers.
The resolutions were made by the lawmakers, sequel to the motion of urgent public importance, brought to the floor of the Senate by Joshua Lidani (PDP, Gombe South), who raised questions on the action of the DSS, praying the Senate to intervene.
While leading the debate on the motion, Lidani said he was alarmed that such unconstitutional action could be adopted by the DSS to sanitise the Judiciary.
He said, “I am alarmed that the extra-constitutional approach to sanitise the judiciary in line with the war against corruption is bound to be counterproductive because it erodes the role of the judiciary and undermines the importance of the judiciary as well as demoralises many patriotic and upright judges who have determined to support the crusade against corruption”.
Lidani, who is a lawyer, said the DSS had no constitutional right to arrest or molest judiciary officers, arguing that the action of the agency was ultravires, unconstitutional, illegal, null and avoid.
Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West), opined that even though it was true that the judiciary was currently very corrupt with empirical evidences, and despite his total support for the ongoing fight against corruption, the DSS went outside its constitutional mandate, and must be cautioned in the interest of democracy.
He said, “It is also a celestial truth that judges have been dishing out what I call commercial rulings; it is also a fundamental truth that judges need to face the full wrath of the law, especially where the issue of corruption is concerned. This Senate, therefore, will continue to celebrate the war against corruption either in the judiciary, the legislature or the executive.
“The responsibility of the DSS is clearly defined in the National Security Agencies Act 2010, Cap 350, which states clearly that the State Security Services shall be charged with the responsibility for the prevention and detection within Nigeria of any crime against internal security of Nigeria. I emphasise the ‘Internal security of Nigeria’.
“The second responsibility as enshrined by the law setting up the DSS states that the protection and preservation of non-military classified matters concerning again, the internal security of Nigeria.
“The third and the last responsibility, as enshrined by law, is such other responsibilities affecting again internal security within Nigeria, as the National Assembly or the President as the case may be, may deem necessary.
“Mr. President, my respected colleagues, how does bribery and corruption become the issue of internal security? How does bribing judges or official misconduct in their official capacity become a threat to internal security? The point here is that the DSS in her fight against corruption overstepped its boundaries and abused its mandate.”
Also, Deputy Leader of the Senate, Senator Bala Na’Allah, recalled that the massive support and commitment of Nigerians to the government was because they were all unanimous in the fight against corruption, warning that the government should not do anything to betray it.
In his remarks, the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, cautioned that the anti-graft fight must conform with constitutional process.
“We must ensure that this fight against corruption is within the rule of law; any act of anti-corruption that goes against the rule of law does not help the corruption fight.
“That is why this action, as has been seen in this manner, is condemned by the Senate, and all agencies of government must ensure that they act within the rule of law,” he said.