Nothing wrong with manner of judges’ arrests — FG

Lai MohammedThe Federal Government yesterday declared that there is nothing wrong in stepping on judges’ toes in the fight against corruption.

The Department of State Services (DSS) last weekend stormed the homes of some judges, arrested them and recovered huge sum of money in different denominations during a ‘sting operation’.

Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed, gave the government’s position yesterday after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Mohammed was accompanied to the news conference by Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola and Minister of State (Aviation), Hadi Sirika.

The information minister said: “What the government is concerned and passionate about is to fight corruption. In the process of fighting corruption it’s not unusual that you step on some very sensitive toes but the question to ask and I think these has been adequately answered by the Attorney General is, 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 executed 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 complain and discipline, the answer once again is no.” He added

He pointed out that there is a difference between what is happening to the judges now and when a judge is accused of professional misconduct.

“If you suspect anybody including governors who have immunity they are still subject to investigations.” He said.

He said the government had the highest respect for judiciary and had no intention to ridicule the judiciary.

“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.” He said

The minister expressed displeasure that some people have started raising issues that are completely irrelevant to the matter.

He said: “Some people are saying oh, the reason why they went to some particular judge’s house is because the President wants somebody from one part of the country to be the Chief Justice of Nigeria. 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, I 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.” He added.

He recalled when 22 out of 32 judges in Ghana, who were caught on tape by journalists asking for bribe, were dismissed in 2015.

He added: “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 judge, we have no intention to humiliate the judiciary but believe me what we have done we have done within the ambits of the law.

“I think the Federal Government is being very careful with handling of this particular issue, I want to state clearly that this government believes very much in separation of powers, this government has a lot of respect for the judiciary and for obvious reasons, not just because the constitution says so but I think probably this is one cabinet that has the highest number of lawyers as ministers.

“As at the last count about eleven or twelve council members are lawyers and we have female lawyers also in cabinet until death robbed us of late Ocholi we had five SANs in our cabinet and I think this is unique, therefore you can understand the kind of respect we have for the judiciary.”

He also pointed out that the President himself, who sought to be President four times and had it thwarted three times, took his case to court on the three occasions.

“He took his case to the judiciary, so I can say clearly that this administration has a lot of respect for the judiciary and I think I stand by what Mallam Garba Shehu said that please do not confuse the fight against corruption as a fight against judiciary,” he added.

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