Tension in NJC as court okays trial of Judges
Commission set to decide on Justices Ngwuta, Okoro, others
There is serious tension in the National Judicial Council, NJC, as a court refuses to stop the federal government, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Department of State Services, DSS, and other security agencies from going ahead with the arraignment of seven judges that were recently arrested by the DSS.
A highly placed judiciary source during the weekend told Nigerian Pilot that the decision by the court had caused a lot of tension in the NJC, adding that it would frustrate the council’s decision to follow due process in taking disciplinary action against the judges if found wanting.
A Federal High Court in Abuja at the weekend refused to grant an application filed by a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Olukoya Ogungbeje, seeking an order restraining President Muhammadu Buhari, the DSS and others from re-arresting or taking any “untoward action” against five of the eight judges whose houses were recently raided by DSS operatives.
Delivering a bench ruling after Ogungbeje’s counsel, Mr. Ayo Ogundele, moved the ex parte application, Justice Gabriel Kolawole held that he needed to resolve a number of issues, including the locus standi of the plaintiff in an inter-party hearing, before he could make a pronouncement on the prayer.
The plaintiff had sought “an order of interim injunction restraining the respondents, their agents, servants, privies, men, officers or anybody deriving authority from them by whatever name called from further arresting, intimidating, arresting, inviting, seizing or taking any untoward action against the arrested and affected honourable judges and judicial officers pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.”
Ogungbeje filed the ex parte application following his apprehension that the judges arrested in various parts of the country between October 7 and 8 could be charged and arraigned in court any time soon.
But rather than grant the prayer sought by the plaintiff, the judge directed that the motion on notice seeking similar prayer be served on the respondents.
He ordered that five of the six respondents, comprising President Buhari, director-general of the DSS, Mr. Lawal Daura, the DSS, Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and the Inspector-General of Police, Abubakar Idris, to appear in court on November 15 to show cause why the interim restraining order against further arrest of the judges should not be granted.
The sixth respondent to the suit is the National Judicial Council.
The judge ordered that the plaintiff’s motion on notice be served on the respondents and they were entitled to respond within seven days of being served.
Ogungbeje had on October 14 filed the substantive suit seeking 10 prayers, among which is an order awarding N50billion against the defendants as “general and exemplary damages.”
He also sought an award of N2million as the cost of the suit, and another order compelling the DSS to return to the judges the sums of money recovered from them.
He also sought perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from arresting, inviting, intimidating, or harassing the judges with respect to the case.
He alleged that the arrest of the judges without recourse to the NJC was unlawful and amounted to humiliating them.
He said the DSS operations violated the rights of judges under sections 33, 34, 35, 36, and 41 of the Constitution.
The DSS had between October 7 and 8 arrested Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court, Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, and Justice Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division.
Justice Nnnamdi Dimgba’s residence was also searched but he was not arrested.
Others who were arrested had been placed on suspension by the NJC pending the approval of its recommendation for their sack by President Buhari and their various state governors.
They are former chief judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, the presiding justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya, and judge of the Kano State High Court, Justice Kabiru Auta.
The DSS said it recovered large sums of money in Nigerian and foreign currencies from three of the judges during the raid on their houses.
All the seven judges had since been released on self recognition by the DSS.
However, Ogungbeje’s suit is restricted to five of the arrested judges who are still in active service, namely Justices Ngwuta, Okoro, Ademola, Pindiga and Dimgba.
The plaintiff contended in his suit that the raid on the residences of the judges and their arrest was unconstitutional.
He maintained that the arrest of the judges did not follow the law and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Commission set to decide on Justices Ngwuta, Okoro, others
National Judicial Council, NJC, has convened an emergency meeting to decide the fate of the seven judges currently under investigation over their alleged involvement in acts of corruption.
The meeting, to be presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, will hold between Wednesday, November 2 and Thursday, November 3 at the NJC Secretariat situated inside the Supreme Court complex in Abuja.
Nigerian pilot gathered that issues to be considered at the meeting include the request by some of the judges, whose homes were raided between October 7 and 8 by the Department of State Service, DSS, for leave of the Council to institute legal action against the DSS.
A highly placed source at the NJC, disclosed that the meeting would afford the legal body the opportunity to further deliberate on whether or not the embattled judges should step down from the Bench as requested by the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA.
“Besides, the Council will also consider, at the meeting, the request by a non-governmental organisation, Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights, CASER, for live broadcast of sensitive court cases”, the source added.
The group had, in a letter it forwarded to the CJN on February 26, sought the NJC approval for court proceedings to be relayed live to Nigerians.
It argued that such measure would enhance greater transparency in the justice delivery system in Nigeria, saying the request was necessitated by “rising public consciousness of the role of the courts in ensuring justice, public order and stability of Nigeria.”
As a follow up, the group also wrote the CJN on October 20, insisting that the clampdown on judges over allegations of corruption further underscored the importance and urgency of its request.
“CASER is convinced that live media broadcast of court proceedings will debunk corruption and help in sustaining the integrity of the judiciary in Nigeria,”the group said.
“Live broadcast of court proceedings in Nigeria has its foundation in the constitutional provision of Section 36 (3) and (4)”.
Among the judges seeking the NJC leave to drag the DSS and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, to court over the “sting operation” that was carried out against them, are two justices of the Supreme Court- Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta.
Others include two judges at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, Justices Ademola Adeniyi and Nnamdi Dimgba.
The judges, in separate letters to the NJC, maintained that the DSS, by its action, violated their
All the judges were arrested and subsequently granted administrative bail except Justice Dimgba who was not arrested though his home was thoroughly ransacked by the DSS.
NJC had earlier sacked Justice Mohammed Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin, and the Chief Judge of Enugu State, I. A. Umezulike, after it found merit in the petitions against them.
The Council equally okayed the prosecution of Kabir Auta of the Kano High Court, even as it dismissed the petition DSS lodged against Justice Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division.
Although about 21 judges are currently under theradar of the DSS, so far, only 15 of them have been taken in for interrogation.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, is equally investigating some judges involved in alleged dubious transactions.
Dimgba and Ademola had, in different letters, dated October 10 and 11, applied for the permission of the NJC to file actions against the DSS for the enforcement of their fundamental human rights.
Dimgba, in his letter, told the NJC that his court had been under the radar of the DSS since September 16 when his registrar was detained after the agency invited her to its office for a chat.
He said the registrar was released but re-invited on September 26, after which her phones were seized by the DSS.
Similarly, Okoro and Ngwuta, while accusing the DSS of violating their rights, said their ordeal arose from their refusal to help the Minister of Transport, Mr.Rotimi Amaechi, to pervert justice in election disputes involving the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.