*Body not answerable to DSS, says NBA
From: Godwin Tsa, Abuja
For the third day in a row, the the National Judicial Council (NJC) could not reach a consensus on arrests of some of its judges across the country.
Last weekend, the Department of State Security (DSS)arrested two Justices of the Supreme Court and five judges of the Federal High court.
The arrest, which started in Kano and Gombe states swept to some senior judges in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja where two Supreme Court Justices, Sylvester Ngwuta, John Okoro and Justice Adeniyi Ademola and Justice Nnamdi Dimgba were also affected.
Also arrested was Justice Muazu Pindiga, of the Federal High Court in Gombe.
Following the arrests, the Chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed summoned an emergency meeting, to deliberate on the matter and also, to iron out issues of his successor.
However, the meeting, which started since Tuesday has not been able to produce a common ground as members are divided on some of the contending issues on the agenda.
Daily Sun gathered that one of the hard nuts the meeting was unable to crack was the Presidency’s demand that the arrested judicial officers be suspended from the Bench.
A Supreme Court source told Daily Sun that “the judges are sharply divided over the demand especially as allegations of corruption has not been established against them.
“Conversely, some judges support the Presidency’s demand for the suspension of their arrested colleagues. Others are also of the view that doing so would breach the rights of those arrested to fair hearing.
“On one hand, the NJC does not want to be seen as trying to shield the judges, while, on the other, the issue of fair hearing comes into play. This is a big problem and that is why a decision has not been taken.
“The CJN is disturbed by the demand and wants the issue resolved quickly so that he can focus on his retirement programmes.”
Yesterday, the CJN met with select justices of the Supreme Court and their brothers from the Court of Appeal to find a way out of the logjam. Daily Sun gathered that the meeting, which was held in the CJN’s conference room began in the morning and ended at about 2: 30 pm without “a resolution on the issue.”
Apart from the issue of suspension, another issue confronting the NJC is calls by different organisations that “all judgments given by the arrested Justices be reviewed and reserved.”
Another source said the “the NJC is inundated with various petitions and protests letter from various groups and organisations calling for the reversal of all the judgments delivered by the arrested Justices.”
As at the time of filling this report, there was no official position from the NJC on the matter.
Although, NJC Acting Director of Information, Soji Oye had assured that a statement would be issued after the meeting, none was made available as at press time.
He could also not be reached as his GSM line was switched off.
Reagardless, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has, once again, kicked against the arrests and detention of the Supreme Court Justices and five other justices. The NBA maintained that the DSS action was “unlawful and unconstitutional” and described invasion of the homes of the Justices, in the middle of the night, as “improper and uncivilised.”
NBA President, Abubakar Mahmud, at a media briefing in Abuja, yesterday, said h the association would not condone any act of indiscipline and will not shield any judge found to have contravened the law.
The association tackled the Presidency for justifying the action of the DSS saying it was not tenable and called on the presidency to always act within the ambit of the law.
He said the rule of law was compromised, in the way and manner the house of the judges were invaded by the DSS operatives because under the constitution, the DSS have no power to dabble into economic matters as they did in the arrest.
On the claim that the NJC did not act on the intelligence report by the DSS against the judges, the NBA president said the NJC is not accountable or answerable to any organ of government, including the DSS.
In addition, Mahmud disclosed that the NBA has proof that there were correspondence between the DSS and NJC and noted that the dissatisfaction of the security agency was “immaterial as it does not suggest that the NJC did not do a through job.
“It is not our view that the DSS should ask for the NJC to make available the copies of disciplinary proceedings for vetting. The NJC is not answerable to the DSS or under its control and supervision.”
He maintained that the NBA is not against criminal investigation of judicial officers but that such action must “be conducted in line with the rule of law and any judge found wanting should be subjected to the laws of the land but, we do not feel that the strategies of the DSS was proper…”
He also revealed that from investigation the two judges I the Supreme Court where not invited neither were there any complaints against them.
Mahmud also said that from the findings of the NBA , cases against four of the judges of the federal high court had been handled by the NJC and recommendations made for their punishment to the appropriate authority, while the case against a fifth judge was pending before the council .
He however announced that a task force committee has Been set up by the NBA headed by former NBA presidents, Chief Wole Olanipekun and Olisa Agbakoba , to make recommendations for stronger disciplinary action for erring judicial officers which will be passed on to the NJC to strengthen it.