The “actusreus,” or alleged deeds of crime of some judges that were recently arrested by operatives of the Department of State Services included: Wiring of $900,000 abroad in just two years; buying properties abroad, and at choice Nigerian estates like Ikoyi’s Park View, the Lagos equivalent of New York’s Westchester; and recovery of $38,000 in the home of one, and N200,000 million in that of another judge.
Two of the lordships gave the horse manure about unspent monthly allowances, and estacode from official trips and conferences. Only legal experts can determine if the lordship who alleged that some current public officers sought his help to compromise judgment in some governorship election petitions was making a confessional statement.
The judge who claimed to have signed a statement detailing items found in his house at the DSS gunpoint deserves some sympathy. But he then added that the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, whose arrest for professional misconduct he claimed to have once issued a warrant in the past, is visiting vendetta on him. Maybe.
The residence of Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja, was searched by bumbling DSS operatives with search warrants bearing the names of other judges. He was not arrested, but the DSS allegedly took away a bag containing his draft judgments.
Federal High Court Justices Muazu Pindigi, of Gombe Division, and Adeniyi Ademola, of Abuja Division, were arrested after their residences were raided. The images of broken doors to the houses of some judges are swirling on the social media.
While Supreme Court Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Inyang Okoro were also arrested, Justice Walter Onnoghen, speculated to be the next Chief Justice of Nigeria, was not arrested as previously suggested. Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State reportedly foiled the arrest of an unnamed judge in Port Harcourt.
Wike, a lawyer, allegedly swore: “Not under my watch will… this kind of impunity take place… I don’t know which judge they are detailed to abduct (sic)… All I am interested in is that… it is not allowed… If a person has committed an offence, invite him. It is only when he refuses to honour the invitation that you can adopt this kind of commando style.”
Yinka Odumakin, of Yoruba Afenifere, describes the pre-dawn raids as “a deceptive, but carefully researched operation designed to catch a person (while also) committing a crime.” The DSS claims to have duly obtained search warrants, and Justice Dimgba reportedly sighted warrants issued in the names of Justices Okoro and Ademola.
Director Abdulahi Garba of the DSS, who described the raids and arrests as a “sting operation,” must know that you have a sting when a law enforcement officer or a cooperative citizen plays along as a partner in a wrongdoing with an unsuspecting criminal. That wasn’t the case.
The recently inaugurated National Prosecution Coordination Committee is set to prosecute seven of the busted judges. But the National Judicial Council, headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Muhammed, claims to have an omnibus power over both criminal and administrative matters relating to judges.
The NJC rests its claim on Section 160(1) of the constitution: “Any (Federal Executive Body) may, with the approval of the President, by rules or otherwise, regulate its own procedure, or confer powers and impose duties on any officer or authority for the purpose of discharging its functions.”
Section 153 (1)(i) establishes the NJC as a Federal Executive body. This does not add up to immunity, waiver, or right of exemption from arrest, prosecution, court appearance, or imprisonment, for judges, which Section 308 of the constitution grants the President, governors, and their deputies.
Lawyer Femi Falana, who recalls that a former Chief Justice discouraged the head of the National Judicial Institute from responding to the invitation of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, may not trust the NJC to dutifully discipline erring judges.
He remembers that judges known to have issued interim, interlocutory, and perpetual injunctions to restrain anti-graft agencies from arresting, investigating, and prosecuting suspects were never disciplined.
However, before the DSS “sting,” the NJC had suspended, and recommended the retirement of Justices Olamide Oloyede, Osun State High Court; Mohammed Yinusa, Federal High Court, Lagos Division; Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya, Federal Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division; and Innocent Umezulike, Enugu State Chief Judge, among others. Justice Kabir Auta, Kano State High Court, was recommended for dismissal, and prosecution.
Law professor Akin Oyebode, agrees that corrupt judges should have their day in court, but argues: “You cannot violate the law in order to prosecute a legitimate war against corruption. I am not favourably disposed to the way and manner the DSS went about carrying out its mission.”The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has now taken over the investigations.
The Nigerian Bar Association that hitherto disagreed with the Gestapo raid of the judges, repented, and urged the NJC to ask the affected justices “to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence or complicity is fully and completely established “or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings.”
Some think that the interrogation of four Senior Advocates of Nigeria for allegedly transferring money into the bank accounts of some serving judges compromises the moral competence of the NBA to approach the court of public opinion with clean hands, to ask the judges to step down.
Despite the disagreement of groups like “Lawyers in Defence of Democracy,” and “Citizens for Governance,” that the judges could be arrested or suspended, Justices Ngwuta and Okoro reportedly withdrew voluntarily from Supreme Court sittings. Justice Ademola withdrew as trial judge over the Federal Government’s case against former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (retd.).
Justice Samson Uwaifo, formerly of the Supreme Court, explicitly declares: “A corrupt judge is more harmful to the society than a man who runs amuck with a dagger in a crowded street. If a judge is corrupt, he is no longer a judge. He’s a thief, and therefore, he should be treated as such according to law, and sent to jail. The substantive issue is corruption.”
Except for Justice Dimgba, who was mistakenly accosted, all the arrested justices presided or sat on election tribunals. A need for their lordships to atone for possible omissions or commissions on the Bench will depend on the question of law and the question of fact that will be raised to establish a case against them.
But President Muhammadu Buahri, who made unsuccessful attempts to convince the Supreme Court to declare him winner of three presidential elections, had declared: “On the fight against corruption, Nigerians will be right to say that is my main headache for now.” He also promised to improve on the justice administration system. Maybe, you catch the drift.
Greek mythology has this interesting story of the stable of 3,000 oxen, owned by King Augeas of Elis, which had not been cleaned for 30 years. Hercules brought the waters of Rivers Alpheus and Peneus to clean them in one day.
The cleaning of the Augean Stable is probably a metaphor for the moves by the Ministry of Justice, the DSS, and the EFCC, in the temple of justice. Any way you look at it, justice delayed for the arrested justices will indeed be justice denied for Nigeria.