■ NJC summons emergency meeting
From: GODWIN TSA, Abuja
There is palpable tension within the nation’s judiciary triggered by the arrest of some serving Judges including those on the bench of the Supreme Court by operatives of the Department of the State Security Service (DSS) over alleged acts of corruption.
Already, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has summoned an emergency meeting to discuss the appointment of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the next Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) as well as the arrest of judicial officers by the DSS.
This came as the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) declared a state of emergency in the judiciary over the incident.
President of the NBA, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) in a press briefing attended by four past presidents of the association – Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN); Mr. J.B. Daudu (SAN) and Augustine Alegeh (SAN) condemned what it described as the Gestapo-style of operation of the DSS.
This came as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the National Judicial Council (NJC), a body responsible for the appointment and discipline of judicial officers washed their hands off the gale of arrests carried out by the DSS on the affected jurists.
Media Aide to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mr. Ahuraka Isah, who confirmed the arrest of Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court, however clarified that Justice Walter Onnoghen, who is tipped to succeed the Chief Justice of Nigeria was not affected by the arrest, contrary to some media reports.
The CJN, his aide said, was shocked by the development as there was no single petition against the affected judicial officers before the NJC.
He disclosed that the NJC would hold an emergency meeting on Monday (tomorrow) over the appointment of Justice Onnoghen as the next CJN but could not confirm whether the matter of the arrest of the Judges would also be discussed.
The arrest, which started in Kano and Gombe on Friday swept to some senior judges in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja where Justices Sylvester Ngwuta, John Okoro (both of the Supreme Court) and Justice Adeniyi Ademola and his brother judge, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba were affected.
Also arrested in the raid was Justice Muazu Pindiga, who served on the ElectionPetition Tribunal in Rivers State. A competent source told Sunday Sun on condition of anonymity that large sums of money in various denominations, local and foreign cureencies, were recovered from the homes of the judges including banking documents.
For instance, the source mentioned that the sum of N1 billion cash was recovered in the house of Justice Adeniyi in both local and foreign denominations in addition to banking documents and real estate documents, during the exercise. Justice Dimgba, a newly appointed Judge of the Federal High Court, from Abia State has been having a running battle with the DSS over the trial of a retired Air Commodore, Mohammed Umar.
Umar was arraigned before his court over allegations of fraud, illegal possession of firearms and abuse of trust. Although he was granted bail with a bond of N100 million, he is still being held by the DSS.
Irked by the conduct of the DSS, Justice Dimgba had in his ruling ordered the SSS to release Umar or risk being committed by his court.
He further threatened to stop entertaining any case by the DSS unless they comply by orders of his court.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association has declared a state of emergency in the judiciary following the midnight arrest of some judges by the Department of State Services. The declaration of the state of emergency was made yesterday evening in Lagos by the NBA President, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN).
Mahmoud addressed the press alongside four past presidents of the association – Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN); Mr. J.B. Daudu (SAN) and Augustine Alegeh (SAN).
The body of lawyers which described the action of the DSS as unconstitutional called on President Muhammadu Buhari to order the immediate release of the judicial officers adding that it was not the duty of the DSS to arrest judges. Mahmud stated: “I want to emphasise again that we are not under military rule and we cannot accept this unholy event and Gestapo-style operation.
“We therefore, call on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately caution all the security agencies and to respect the rule of law and due process. Any issues affecting the judicial officers, there are established procedures for handling them and we demand that this constitutional process must be obeyed.
“Given the unfolding nature of the event and the seriousness of the situation, the NBA hereby declares a state of emergency as it affects the affairs of the judiciary and I hereby constitute a crisis management team, comprising all past presidents of the association.
“I want to, on behalf of the association, make the following clear and unequivocal demands: we demand the immediate and unconditional release of all the judges abducted from about 9 pm on Friday. The release must be done immediately and without any conditions. Two, we demand that the Department of State Services should limit itself to its statutory and constitutional responsibilities.”