The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, has forwarded the names of more judges to the Department of State Services for investigation.
The PUNCH learnt on Tuesday that the names sent by the AGF to the security agency were those of judges whose cases of allegations of misconduct, contained in petitions earlier sent by civil society groups to the National Judicial Council, were allegedly not investigated.
It was learnt that the weekend’s arrest of some judges in different parts of the country followed complaints received by the office of the AGF and thereafter transmitted to law enforcement agencies, including the DSS.
Operatives of the DSS had between Friday and Saturday raided the houses of some judicial officers, including two justices of the Supreme Court, and arrested them on suspicion of corruption in Enugu, Gombe, Sokoto and Kano states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The DSS had, during the simultaneous operations, arrested Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court; the suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Others arrested were a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, and Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division.
Besides the seven judges, the DSS said it was investigating eight other judges, bringing the total number to 15.
With the six names submitted to the DSS, the service is now investigating a total of 21 judges.
Large sums of money in local and foreign currencies were reportedly recovered from three of the arrested judges during the operations that lasted between Friday night and the early hours of Saturday.
One of our correspondents confirmed from a source in the Federal Ministry of Justice on Tuesday that the names of a fresh set of judges, marked for investigation, were sent to the SSS on Monday.
It was learnt that the letter by the minister was personally delivered at the DSS headquarters in Abuja by a senior aide.
The new names on the minister’s list, it was learnt, included two Chief Judges of High Courts, three judges of different divisions of the Federal High Court, and a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
The letter, containing the names, was accompanied by the summary of allegations levelled against the judges in the petitions earlier sent by individuals to the NJC by the Chairman of Civil Society Network Against Corruption as well as Human and Environmental Development Agenda Resource Centre between 2014 and May, 2016.
One of the petitions sent to the NJC against one of the Chief Judges, dated February 26, 2016, and signed by the Chairman of CSNAC, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, was titled ‘‘Request for investigation of contravention of the Code of Conduct by Judicial Officers.’’
Another petition by CSNAC against a Federal High Court judge was dated May 12, 2016.
Suraju also signed a petition (its date not stated) against a Federal High Court for allegedly granting a perpetual injunction, restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from investigating criminal allegations against a businessman.
Another petition, dated January 11, 2016, by CSNAC, also accused a Chief Judge of judicial misconduct, an allegation which its details were not stated.
CSNAC, also in another petition, dated April 20, 2016, sent to the NJC against a Justice of the Court of Appeal and others, who served on an election petitions appeal panel this year, accused the panel of receiving N8m from a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Yet, another petition accused the SAN of paying N500,000 into the account of a Chief Judge.
In another petition, CSNAC alleged that N7m was paid to a Chief Judge for a book presentation.
It was also alleged in another petition by CSNAC that a Federal High Court judge received N5m bribe from a SAN.
The AGF’s letter, forwarding the names to the DSS, described as unconscionable the alleged failure of the NJC to investigate the petitions.
The letter read in part, “It is unconscionable that all these petitions that border on the unremitting and impeachment of the integrity of these judicial officers have not been investigated by the National Judicial Council, the constitutional and statutory body vested with the power by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) to so do.
“Undoubtedly, if this type of deliberate inattentiveness; lethargy and benign neglect and dereliction of responsibility by the NJC is allowed to persist in an administration that came to power under the mantle of change, it will surely lead to the death knell of the judicial branch of government, which centrality the maintenance of law, order, rule of law and social harmony cannot be overemphasised.
“It is unfortunate that despite the preachment of the administration on the need for the judicial officers to be above board, we still have some of them that have stubbornly refused to change from their old ways.”
When contacted on Tuesday, Suraju confirmed that he forwarded to the AGF office summaries of the petitions, which he earlier sent to the NJC but that he was not aware of the actions so taken on them by the minister.
“It is a welcome development. I actually forwarded to the AGF office the various allegations which I earlier sent to the NJC against some judges. But the AGF office has yet to contact me,” he stated.
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