NJC Summons Emergency Meeting As DSS Arrests Two Supreme Court Justices
The National Judicial Council (NJC) has summoned an emergency meeting for Monday, October 10, 2016.
The meeting, will consider the recommendation of Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, by the Federal Federal Judicial Service Commission, for appointment as the next Chief Justice of Nigeria.
It will also discuss the arrest of two Supreme Court Justices, Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro and two judges of the Federal High Court, Adeniyi Ademola (Abuja Division) and Justice Muazu Pindiga (Gombe Division) by the Department of State Services (DSS).
The house of another judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba was also raided. He was however not arrested.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, summoned the emergency meeting in view of the development in the judiciary.
DSS operatives had simultaneously raided the houses of the named justices and after several hours whisked them away.
The operatives were said to have surrounded the houses for several hours before they eventually broke in.
Unofficial accounts stated that SSS operatives initially mistook the house of Justice Onnoghen for the house of Justice Nwguta. The source said that they however left Onnoghen's house immediately they were told that it was not Ngwuta's house.
Justice Onnoghen is the most senior justice of the Supreme Court after the CJN. Barring any unforeseen circumstance and in accordance with precedent, he is billed to take over from Justice Mohammed who will retire on November 10 at the mandatory retirement age of 70.
The operatives also raided houses of judges already sent packing by the NJC. The house of the former Chief Judge of Enugu, I.A. Umezulike was raided in Enugu while the house of a former judge of Kano State High Court, Kabiru Auta, who was dismissed last week was equally raided in Kano.
At Justice Nnamdi Dimgba's residence, family members alleged that they were beaten up although Dimgba was said have been out of the house when the security operatives arrived his home.
Why We Arrested Judges - DSS
The Department of State Services (DSS), on Saturday, gave its own account on why its men raided the residences of the judges and arrested some of them.
The DSS, who addressed a press conference through Abdullahi GARBA, revealed that it had "embarked on series of special sting operations involving some Judges of the Supreme, Appeal and High Courts. These operations were based on allegations of corruptions and other acts of professional misconduct by a few of the suspected Judges.
"The Service action is in line with its core mandate, as 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 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.
"Meanwhile, some of them have made useful statements while a few have declined even with the glaring evidences that were found against them in terms of material cash, documents and property recovered pointing to their compromise.
In one of the States where the Service operations were conducted, credible intelligence revealed that the Judge had Two Million United States Dollars ($2,000,000 USD) stashed in his house. When he was approached for due search to be conducted, he in concert with the State Governor, mobilized thugs against the Service team.
"The team restrained itself in the face of unbridled provocative activities by those brought in by the Governor. Unfortunately, the Judge and Governor also engaged the tacit support of a sister security agency. The Service surveillance team noticed that upon frustrating the operation, the Judge with the active support of the Governor craftily moved the money to an unknown location which the Service is currently making effort to unravel.
"Meanwhile, large amount including foreign/local currencies have been recovered. Summaries of these include: SUMMARY OF RECOVERED MONEY 1. NAIRA – N93,558,000.00 2. DOLLARS – $530,087 3. POUNDS – £25,970 4. EURO – €5,680
"Other foreign currencies were also recovered. This were recovered from just three of the judges. These in addition to other banking documents, including real estate documents have been recovered. Meanwhile preparations are ongoing to arraign them in a competent court of jurisdiction in line with the laws of the nation.
"The Service would want to clearly state that it has never invited Justice Walter NKANU ONNOGHEN for investigation, neither is he being investigated by this Service. In addition the Service would like to put it on record, that it has tremendous respect for the Judiciary and would not do anything to undermine it or its activities.
"The Service will also join hands with this noble institution in its fight to rid it of few corrupt Judges whose actions is undermining not only the Judiciary but the common bond of our national life. Ladies and gentlemen, this current operation will be sustained and followed till sanity and sanctity is restored to the esteemed third arm of government and public confidence is regained.
"Members of the public are also encouraged to avail the Service of any information which could assist in this drive to rid our nation of corrupt practices and tendencies," GARBA further stated.
NBA: Gestapo Style of Operation Is Unacceptable
President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), AB Mahmoud, in a swift reaction to the arrest of the judges emphasised that the nation is not under a military rule we "and we cannot accept this unholy event and Gestapo-style operation.
“We, therefore, call on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately caution all the state security agencies and to respect the rule of law and to respect due process.
“Any issues affecting the judicial officers, there are established procedures for handling them and we demand that this constitutional process must be obeyed.
“Given the unfolding nature of the event and the seriousness of the situation, the NBA hereby declares a state of emergency as it affects the affairs of the judiciary and I hereby constitute a crisis management team, comprising all past presidents of the association.
“I want to, on behalf of the association, make the very following clear and unequivocal demands: we demand the immediate and unconditional release of all the judges abducted from about 9pm yesterday (Friday).
“The release must be done immediately and without any conditions.
"We demand that the Department of State Services should limit itself to its statutory and constitutional responsibilities.
“I’ll be meeting with the CJN later tonight or tomorrow. There will be consequences should these demands are not met,” Mahmoud further said at a press conference attended Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN; Olisa Agbakoba SAN; JB Daudu, SAN; Dele Adesina, SAN; Kemi Pinheiro, SAN; Kanyinsola Ajayi, SAN; Yusuf Ali, SAN, among others.
Fayose, Others Condemn Arrest
Ekiti State governor, Mr Ayo Fayose, on Saturday described the invasion of residences of five judges, including those of two Justices of the Supreme Court – Justice Walter Onnoghen (who is in line to succeed the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria) and Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, by armed men of the Department of State Service (DSS) and reported arrest as a direct assault on the judiciary.
Fayose, who addressed the press in Ado-Ekiti on Saturday, said; “It should now be obvious to all Nigerians and the international community that democracy is under threat in Nigeria and Nigerians must rise to save democracy from being truncated.”
According to the governor, “For all intent and purposes, there is no how the federal government can justify the gestapo and crude action of the DSS against our judiciary, the last hope of the common man and I believe they just want to hide under anti-corruption fight to blackmail and intimidate the judiciary. If not, have the affected judges been reported to the National Judicial Council (NJC), the body saddled with the responsibilities of investigating and sanctioning erring judges? Were the affected judges ever invited by the DSS and they refused to honour the invitation?
“I am particularly worried over the involvement of Justice Walter Onnoghen in the invasion, and I hope this is not a plot to prevent his appointment as the next CJN just because he is from the South South region.
“Nigerians should be reminded that I raised similar alarm when this regime of impunity started with the invasion of the Akwa-Ibom State government house and later the Ekiti State House of Assembly.
“I did say then that democracy in Nigeria was becoming unsafe in the hands of this APC government and that those keeping silent because of politics might also end up in the belly of the roaring lion that is threatening to consume our democracy. Then, those who ought to have joined in condemning the DSS impunity at that time kept silent for fear of the unknown.
"Now we have gotten to the height of it and Nigeria faces full-blown military dictatorship! This is sad!
“It is more worrisome that two of the judges involved, Justice Adeniyi Ademola and Justice Nnamdi Dimgba ruled against the DSS and condemned its impunity on the cases of former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and retired Air Commodore, Umar Mohammed and one wonders if upholding the rule of law by refusing to help the DSS to sustain its reign of impunity has now become a criminal offence for which judges must be harassed, intimidated and arrested.
“The question to ask is that, will the DSS be a judge in its own case? Even if there are evidence(s) of corruption against the judges as they will want Nigerians to believe, the law is clear as to what to do. The NJC must be informed and the council will in turn investigate the allegation and take appropriate actions. It is after this that the affected judges can be invited for questioning and possibly prosecuted.
“It should be noted that few days ago, the NJC sacked three judges for breaching the Codes of Conduct for Judicial Officers and went further to recommend that one of them, Justice Kabiru M. Auta be handed over to the Inspector General of Police for prosecution for alleged corruption.
“If NJC could do this less than one week ago, has the same NJC been informed of any allegation of corruption against the judges whose residences were invaded?
“I therefore call on all Nigerians and the international community to rise in defense of democracy and the rule of law in our country because as it is, no one will be spared by this rampaging dictatorship.
“Particularly, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and other stakeholders in the judiciary must not allow this to go unchallenged.
“Obviously, the DSS has become a threat to democracy in Nigeria, having abandoned its core mandate of providing intelligence for the protection of the internal security of Nigeria as provided in the Security Agencies Act Cap. N74 LFN, 2004.
“It has therefore become necessary that President Buhari put a stop to the actions and activities of these overzealous security agencies that can endanger democracy," Fayose further said.
Also reacting, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome said he was not amazed by the arrest of the judges.
"Are you surprised? I am not. I am rather surprised that some Nigerians are still surprised. Some of us warned, wrote, preached, talked, but, we were maximally ignored due to political partisanship.
"A leopard cannot change its spots. Welcome, full blown dictatorship and fascism that are now here with us. It started with political opponents and opposition. Some of us cried out. Many gloated with a sense of victory at opponents' horiffic travails.
"Then, they moved against some very senior and well respected lawyers being rubbished. Some clapped.They said it was anti-corruption. We cried out. It extended quickly to the National Assembly, another different arm of government. Many hailed the government's as tough, no-nonsense and anti-corruption- inclined.
"Some of us warned. Now, the judiciary, up to the very apex court of the land, the Supreme Court, has been targeted and is now being intimidated, humiliated and annexed. The incoming Chief Justice of Nigeria is said to be profiled.Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
"Virtually all the judges are southerners. My prediction? The media, the 4th Estate of the realm,will be next. Read my lips. It reminds me of the immortal words of Martin Niemoller, a great German ant-Nazi theologian and Lutheran,who was convicted and fined 2000 marks for "abusing" the pulpit.
"He had witnessed the Jewish holocaust and atrocities during the second world war when they horifically murdered, in their thousands, in gas chambers, Jews. He said something to the following effect:first they came for the Jews, I did nothing because I was not a Jew.Then they came for the Trade Unionists, I did nothing because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, I did nothing because I was not a Catholic. Then they came for the Socialists, I did nothing because I was not a Socialist.Then they came for the Marxists, I did nothing because I was not a Marxist. Then they came for me and it was too late as there was nobody left to speak for me.The earlier Nigerians rise up and speak against this latest onslaught on the judiciary, the better for all of us and democracy. I am greatly troubled for my dear country. God bless Nigeria," he admonished.