Falana, NGOs push for suspension
CJN sets up Ethics Committee
Should the judges under investigation for alleged corruption be suspended?
This is the question which has sparked a huge row among lawyers and members of Civil Society Organisations.
Under investigation by the Department of State Services (DSS) are two Supreme Court Justices -Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro – the suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya, Justice Adeniyi Ademola (Federal High Court); the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike; Justice Kabiru Auta of Kano State High Court; Justice Muazu Pindiga (Gombe State High Court); Justice Bashir Sukola and Justice Ladan Manir from the Kaduna State High Court.
Of the nine judges, the NJC has recommended sanctions for Justice Tsamiya; Justice. Umezulike and Justice Kabiru Auta.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) is investigating six other judges of the Federal High Court. They are: Justices Mohammed Nasir Yunusa; Hyeladzira Ajiya Nganjiwa; Musa Haruna Kurya; Agbadu James Fishim; Uwani Abba Aji and Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia.
The government is insisting that the judges should be suspended from office by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to pave the way for their trial but the NJC claims the “sting operation” conducted in the judges’ homes and their arrest signal an attack on the Judiciary by the Executive.
Yesterday, a coalition of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) under the aegis of the Forum of Non-Governmental Organisations of Nigeria (FONGON) accused the NJC of shielding corrupt judges from prosecution.
The Forum said none of the judges sanctioned by the NJC since year 2000 had been prosecuted. It said the NJC failed to investigate several petitions against judges.
The chairman of the Forum, Mr. Wole Badmus, told reporters in Abuja that it was ironic that some of the judges indicted by the DSS waited until they were arrested before alleging that some public officers wanted to bribe them.
Chief Justice Mahmud Muhammed, who has said the judges would not be suspended through the NJC, however, identified corruption as the major problem of the Judiciary.
He spoke at the launch of the National Judicial Policy in Abuja. The CJN also set up an Ethics Committee headed by retired CJN Idris Kutigi to battle corruption on the Bench.
Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun warned against forcing judges under investigation for alleged corruption on compulsory leave when they have not been convicted.
Olanipekun said the move could precipitate anarchy in the Judiciary maintaining that the judges, despite the accusations against them, must be accorded dignity and respect by virtue of the office they hold.
“I support the idea that the judiciary must be rid of corruption, but I disagree with the NBA on this issue that judges accused of corruption should stop handling cases.”
Activist-lawyer Femi Falana (SAN), also yesterday, urged NJC to suspend the judges.
He said the council did so 10 years ago when it suspended judges accused of corruption in an election petition tribunal, pending investigation.
Falana said: “If the NJC had treated this national crisis with the urgency required, it should have investigated the matter based on the avalanche of materials placed before it.
“Interestingly, the NJC had handled a similar complaint of judicial corruption about a decade ago. That was in 2006 when it was alleged that the members of the Akwa Ibom Governorship Election Petition Tribunal had received bribes to pervert Justice.
“Without prejudice to the innocence of the judges, the NJC suspended them and requested the Director-General of the SSS to conduct a discreet investigation into the allegation.
“Upon the receipt of the report of the investigation, it was found that each of the members of the tribunal had received a bribe of N10 million while a judge of the Federal High Court had acted as a conduit pipe in the scandal.
“At that stage the judges were confronted with the allegations. As their defence was found unsatisfactory, the NJC recommended their removal from the bench.
“Furthermore, the NJC referred the matter to the Independent and Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission (ICPC). One of the indicted judges collapsed and died when the ICPC operatives wanted to arrest him in his house in Makurdi, Benue State.”
Falana said the NBA, after reviewing the circumstances surrounding the arrests and the large sums of money recovered from the homes of some of the jurists, asked the judges to recuse themselves until they have been absolved of the allegations of judicial corruption levelled against them.
According to him, rather than allow the judges react to NBA’s advice, the NJC said the judges would not step aside.
“Meanwhile, notwithstanding the gravity of the allegation of judicial corruption and the far reaching implication for the image of the nation’s judiciary, the NJC has not deemed it fit to institute any inquiry into the matter on the grounds that the DSS had not submitted any report to it.
“Thus, the NJC has allowed the allegation of judicial corruption to continue to hang menacingly on the heads of the judges like a sword of Damocles,” Falana said.
The Senior Advocate added that in the communiqué issued after its emergency meeting, NJC condemned the manner of the arrests without denying the allegations of judicial corruption levelled against the judges.
Falana said: “The NJC ought to commence an investigation into the serious allegation of judicial corruption levelled against the embattled judges without any further delay.
“Having regard to the embarrassing disclosures in the letters addressed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria by the judges, the NJC should follow the advice of the NBA by placing them on suspension pending the conclusion of full scale investigation in line with Section 2.2.3 of the National Judicial Policy of the National Judicial Council which stipulates that the Council shall have the ‘powers of interim suspension.”
Falana said the NJC and the NBA should demand a public apology for Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja, whose house was raided, as the DSS has not linked him with any corrupt practice or misconduct whatsoever.