The probe of some judiciary officials which began last week with the arrests of some judges across the country is set to expand as the Department of State Security Services (DSS) yesterday disclosed that it was in receipt of petitions from Nigerians concerning several other judges.
The DSS also said it is putting finishing touches to investigations into the alleged bribery scandal currently rocking the judiciary and that the judges would be arraigned next week.
DSS sources who revealed this to LEADERSHIP, yesterday, stated that the findings from the investigations were mind blowing.
According to one of the sources, the findings were becoming interesting as the Service, in one instance, discovered that a judge had filled three different assets declaration forms with the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the three forms contained different information.
“We are almost through with investigation. The ongoing investigation is not supposed to go beyond this week. We have written the National Judicial Council (NJC) about what has happened and we expect the NJC to take some decisions about the affected judges this week. Once that is done, hopefully by next week or thereabouts, we should arraign them in court.
“For now, more facts in the form of petitions are trickling in about the judges. It is like everyone who has had cause to go to court for one reason or the other has been a victim. More facts are trickling in and we cannot ignore them. It is our statutory responsibility to investigate painstakingly, every complaint. Some victims have even indicated their readiness to testify in court. We assure the public that we will do a thorough job.
“We are investigating all the property linked to them. The kind of things we observed as regards the forms they submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau is another kettle of fish. We discovered that a judge filling three different forms with different information either in terms of assets declared or even personal information like age. Imagine one judge filling three different forms with different information just to deceive. Just as I said, we will do a thorough job,” the DSS source said.
However, after a two-day emergency meeting held in Abuja, the NJC refused to speak on the arrest of the judges by over alleged corruption.
The chairman of the NJC and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed chaired the emergency meeting which began on Tuesday.
A source close to the council said members allegedly expressed divergent views over last weekend’s raid on the houses of some judges including two justices of the Supreme Court.
The source further stated that the two day meeting was the stormiest in recent times.
The NJC is a creation of section 153 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) with constitutional powers to hire and discipline erring judicial officers.
According to the source, some members of the council apportioned blames to themselves over the development even as some would not want to hear such position.
“What I can tell you for now is that all the members agreed that the commando-style used by operatives of the DSS was not only barbaric especially in the 21st century but also condemnable.
“There was no dissension on that. But it was a heated argument when the issue of arrest was raised,” he added.
The ongoing investigation is focused on the seven judges arrested last Saturday and the Service had promised that it will arrest more eight judges in the coming days, in its bid to rid the judiciary of corruption.
The Service also said it had enough evidence to pursue the cases in the court of law and prove that the judges were actually involved in some bribe allegation.
Arrest not fight against judiciary, FG insists
The federal government has insisted that the recent arrest of some Supreme Court judges by the DSS is a fight against corruption and not the judiciary.
Speaking to State House correspondents after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, said the government will step on sensitive toes in its effort to rid the country of corruption.
According to him, the government believes very much in separation of powers and the present administration has a lot of respect for the judiciary and has no intention of humiliating the judiciary.
Mohammed, however, pointed out that in the process of fighting corruption, it’s not unusual that some very sensitive toes would be stepped on but “the question to ask and I think this has been adequately answered by the Attorney-general is that let’s remove emotion from facts.”
“One, do judges have immunity? The answer is no. Can judges be arrested? The answer is yes. Have judges that are serving been arrested in Nigeria? The answer is yes. Justice Okoli had been arrested and tried. Now the next question to ask is, what is the proper procedure for arresting anybody including judges? There must be properly executing search warrant. Was such presented? The answer again is yes.
“People have tried to muddle the facts about when do you search the person’s house, the truth of the matter is that under the new Criminal Justice Law, you can search anybody, anywhere, anytime.
“Again they have tried to muddle issues by trying to say that the NJC is the only authority that can attend to complaints and discipline, the answer once again is no,” the minister stated.
He argued that there is a difference between when a judge is accused of professional misconduct and what is happening now.
“If you suspect anybody including governors who have immunity, they are still subject to investigations. So I want to make it clear, this government has the highest respect for the judiciary and two, we are not in any way trying to ridicule the judiciary. Three, we are not painting the whole of the judges with the same brush but we also have a duty to fight corruption at whatever level and in doing so, we will do so within the ambit of the law,” Mohammed emphasised.
The minister lamented that rather unfortunately; people had even brought issues that were completely irrelevant to the matter. He cited the instance of some people who had said the reason why the DSS went after some particular judges was because the president wanted somebody from one part of the country to be chief justice of the federation.
“I think that is preposterous. I want to assure you that this government has no intention to humiliate the judiciary and for those who are talking about separation of power, I think you are stretching it too far. I and members of the executive can be invited by any arm of the government and I will go, so I think we should situate this thing in the right perspective.
“You were all witnesses in 2015 in Ghana here, 32 judges were caught on tape by journalists asking for bribe, 22 of them were dismissed in one day in Ghana.
“Yes it’s true that what is happening today has probably never happened at this level before but frankly speaking and with all due respect, we do not intend to humiliate any judges, we have no intention to humiliate the judiciary but believe me what we have done we have done within the ambit of the law,” he stated.