The National Judicial Council has described the invasion of homes and arest of some serving and suspended judges by agents of the Department of Security Services (DSS) as a threat to the independence of the judiciary…
In a statement released last night, the council said no judicial officer who is under any form of investigation should be invited by any institution in the country, including the DSS, without complying with the rule of law and due process.
DSS officials last Saturday, stormed the homes of some judges alleged to have been involved in corrupt practices and arrested them. The affected judges namely Justices Okoro and Ngwuta of the Supreme Court; Justice Muhammad Ladan Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano High Court; Justice Mu’azu Pindiga of the Gombe High Court; Justice Ibrahim Auta, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria; and Justice Adeniyi Ademola, were however released on grounds of self recognition on Monday October 10th.
According to Thisday, the NJC in its statement maintained it had never shielded any judge from investigation. Part of the NJC’s statement reads
“That it maintains its earlier decision that no judicial officer shall be invited by any institution, including the DSS, without complying with the rule of law and due process. That explains why when the DSS wrote to the council by letter Ref. No. LSC.960/4 dated 14th September 2016, to direct Hon. Justice Mu’azu Pindiga to appear before it, the Hon., the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council directed the Hon. Chief Judge of Gombe State to ask Hon. Justice Mu’azu Pindiga to report to DSS, which His Lordship did.
That the National Judicial Council has never shielded, nor will it shield any judicial officer who has committed any misconduct. That the Department of State Services is an agency in the presidency and its functions as specified in the statute establishing it, is primarily concerned with the internal security of the country. That the action of the DSS is a denigration of the entire judiciary, as an institution. That by the act of the DSS, judicial officers are now being subjected to insecurity, as criminals might take advantage of the recent incidents to invade their residences under the guise of being security agents. The council vehemently denounces a situation whereby the psyche of judicial officers in the federation is subjected to a level where they would be afraid to discharge their constitutional judicial functions, without fear or favour, intimidation, victimisation or suppression.
The council will not compromise the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. The council wishes to reassure the public that any person who has a genuine complaint against any judicial officer is at liberty to bring it up to the council for consideration, after following due process vide its Judicial Discipline Regulations.”
The NJC added that at the end of it two-day meeting, it unanimously agreed to recommend Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, as the most senior, suitable and competent justice of the Supreme Court to President Muhammadu Buhari for appointment as the next Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), to succeed Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed, who retires from office on the 10th November 2016.
The statement further read: “At its last emergency meeting, which was held on 11th October 2016, Council decided among other matters, as follows:
“That the council is a creation, by virtue of Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, with its powers specified in Paragraph 21 of Part One of the Third Schedule whereof.
“That by virtue of Section 160 of the 1999 Constitution, council fashioned out: i) Judicial Discipline Regulations; ii) Revised NJC Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the appointment of judicial officers of all superior courts of record; iii) Code of Conduct for judicial officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and iv) National Judicial Policy to inter-alia, regulate its own procedure while exercising its constitutional powers.
“That Section 158(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, has unequivocally provided for the independence of the National Judicial Council vis-à-vis directing or controlling it by any authority or person while exercising its powers.
“Reiterated its absolute confidence in the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and its unwavering determination to uphold the principles of democracy, separation of powers and the rule of law enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended and the United Nations Charter, of which Nigeria is a member.
“That it shall continue to support the President Buhari administration in its fight against corruption in all its ramifications in the federation; and in cleansing the judiciary of corrupt judicial officers.”
In the case of Justice Ngwuta, it stated that the public was aware that Ngwuta, a justice of the Supreme Court, was arrested after his house was invaded by heavily armed and masked operatives of the DSS on Friday, 7th October 2016.
“The operatives did not leave his house until noon of the following day, when he was whisked away to the (“DSS”) office,” it revealed.
In the case of Justice Okoro, the council stated that the residence of Justice Okoro, a justice of Supreme Court, was raided in the same manner and was arrested by the same operatives of the DSS.
It stated that “contrary to the claim by the DSS and as published in the electronic and print media, council has never received any petition against the aforesaid judicial officers: Hon. Justices Ngwuta and Okoro of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, by the DSS”.
The council said: “It is to be stressed that from the evidence before the it, Hon. Justice Ladan Tsamiya did not receive the N200 million bribe. The petitioner adduced evidence to support his allegation that Hon. Justice Tsamiya only demanded for the money.
With respect to Justice A.F. Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, the council said there was a petition written against him by Hon. Jenkins Duviegiane Gwebe on allegations bordering on corrupt practices.
It disclosed: “Currently, a committee of the council is investigating the allegation. There is no other petition against Hon. Justice Ademola from DSS pending at the National Judicial Council.”
NJC added that it had recommended the judge to the governor of Kano State for removal from office by dismissal.
On Justice Pindiga of the Gombe State High Court, the council said it received a petition from DSS against him alleging corrupt practices against him.
“It was also alleged that further ongoing discreet investigation, Justice Pindiga was observed to have illegally enriched himself through corrupt means.
The council further stated that DSS alleged that “Pindiga’s continuous stay as a justice in any capacity would likely embarrass the current administration and pervert the cause of justice.
The council said the complaint was not supported by a verifying affidavit deposed to by the DSS, as required by the National Judicial Council Discipline Regulations 2014.
“At the end of the investigation, the DSS could not substantiate any of the allegations of corrupt practices either by documentary or oral evidence against the Hon. Justice Pindiga.
“The Council’s decision was conveyed to Hon. Justice Pindiga in a letter Ref. No. NJC/HC.GM/5/1/132 of 9th August, 2016 and copied the DSS.”
“At its meeting of 29th September 2016, council constituted a fact finding committee comprising its members to investigate the allegation.
“The committee has commenced the process of investigating the allegations before the recent unfortunate raid and search of Hon. Justice Dimgba’s residence,” it said.
It noted particularly that from the available records, the DSS forwarded only two separate complaints containing allegations of corrupt practices against Justice Pindiga and corrupt practices and professional misconduct against Justice Dimgba.
Rendering an account of the disciplinary cases it has handled since 2000, it said: “Given the above background facts, on behalf of the judiciary, council is constrained to inform the general public that all petitions and complaints forwarded against judicial officers bordering on corrupt practices and professional misconduct, have been attended to and investigated, where applicable, by council since year 2000 to date, within the powers conferred on it by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.