• Insists it won’t hand over judges to EFCC
By Adetutu Folasade-Koyi and Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mahmud Mohammed has blamed President Muhammadu Buhari and state governors for not acting when the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended punishment of corrupt judges in the past.
The CJN also insisted the NJC, which he chairs, will not hand over arrested Judges accused of corruption by the Department of State Services (DSS) to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for investigation and prosecution.
The CJN said this in an October 26 letter to the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), with reference No.CJN/Gen/MISC/A37/Vol.XXI/8, signed by his Senior Special Assistant , H. S. Sa’eed.
Besides, the CJN said the NJC does not have the power to prosecute corrupt judges and reminded SERAP that the NJC, which he chairs, cannot hand over corrupt judges to the Department of State Services (DSS) or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for prosecution.
He, however, restated his commitment to purging the judiciary of rot with the support of citizens by treating all petitions against judges appropriately.
Said Sa’eed: “Certainly, you will agree with me that where there are clear constitutional provisions relating to the power of any individual, institution or arm of government, then, it cannot deviate nor exceed such powers as this will be unlawful.
“While restating the willingness of the NJC to act upon any petition as well as commitment of the Nigerian judiciary to the fight against corruption, his Lordship opines that any significant involvement in the fight against corruption will be upon a similar commitment of the Prosecutorial Agencies to actively prosecute their cases expeditiously when information about same is received
“It is necessary to restate that the NJC is a creation of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), being established under Section 153 with its mandate clearly set out in Paragraph 21, Part One of the Third Schedule to the Constitution.
“This provision clearly stipulates at Paragraph 21(b) and (d) that the council may only ‘recommend’ to the president and governors, the removal from office of judicial officers and to exercise disciplinary control over such judicial officers, which in effect, is the extent of its power to discipline.
“Hence, the council cannot, suo moto dismiss any judicial officer.
“The NJC can also neither hand over corrupt judges to law enforcement agencies for prosecution nor recover proceeds of corruption, as you have suggested. It can merely recommend to act upon its findings, as it has always done.
“However, in exercise of its constitutional mandate, the NJC has enacted the Judicial Discipline Regulations, 2014, in order to ensure that petitions are received, investigated and addressed as appropriate.
“As SERAP’s own report attests, 64 judicial officers have been disciplined within five years, even preceding the institution of the new guidelines.
“Any failure on the part of the executive arm of government to act upon such recommendations cannot, therefore, be blamed upon the NJC.
“With due consideration to the contents of your letter, I am directed to acknowledge and address the concerns which SERAP have raised, which may reflect the wider opinion held by some Nigerians.
“While his Lordship doubtless appreciate SERAP’s concern for the incidence of corruption in the judiciary, it is, indeed, erroneous to conclude that the NJC has ‘felt satisfied with applying only civil sanctions and have not deemed it fit to hand over corrupt judges to law enforcement agencies for prosecution nor recover proceeds of corruption’, as insinuated in your letter under reference.
“To be sure, every citizen of Nigeria, inclusive of judicial officers, are entitled to the protection of the law and a key provision of the Constitution is the presumption of innocence, as enshrined in Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“I must also remind us that the seven judges, like all other persons, are entitled to fair hearing, as stipulated in Section 36 of the Constitution. As such, it would be presumptive and, indeed, preemptive to sanction the said judges without exhausting the proper procedure for their removal.”
On October 11, SERAP, in a letter signed by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, expressed serious concern that “the NJC has, for many years, failed to appropriately deal with several cases of corrupt judges by failing to refer those cases to the EFCC and ICPC for prosecution. Many of these suspected corrupt judges are still alive and their cases should be promptly referred to the anticorruption agencies.
“The NJC under your leadership should seize the opportunity of the just released 7 judges to comprehensively address corruption in the judiciary.”
SERAP said it believed that “the NJC is in the best position to tackle corruption within the Judiciary, and to ensure the application of appropriate disciplinary and legal measures in the cases of the released 7 judges and other judges suspected of engaging in corruption.”
Between October 7 and 8, the DSS, in a sting operation, stormed the homes of judges in Abuja, Gombe, Port Harcourt, Rivers State and arrested them for alleged corruption and falsification of assets.
The arrested judges include Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court as well as Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The residence of Nnamdi Dimgba was also searched but he was not arrested. The judges were released on Sunday, October 9 by the DSS and were granted them bail on self-recognition. Thereafter, Ngwuta and Okoro were mandated to report to the DSS’ office, daily.