Nine days after an emergency meeting on the arrests of some of its judges nationwide, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has said although judges have no immunity from arrests, the judiciary is still an independent arm of government that should be accorded respect and Due Process.
On October 7, the Department of State Services (DSS) arrested some judges in a midnight ‘sting operation’ across the country, on alleged corruption and false declaration of assets. The council said the manner of arrests has exposed judges across the country to criminals and they may be afraid to discharge their responsibilities.
The NJC is an executive body established by the Federal Government in accordance with the provisions of Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), to protect the judiciary from the executive.
The council met on Monday, October 10 and in an advertorial titled: “Position of the NJC on the recent invasion of the residences and arrest of judicial officers by the DSS”, insisted the security agency did not comply with Due Process and the Rule of Law.
Besides, the NJC said it never shielded any corrupt judge from investigation and prosecution.
“NJC maintains its earlier decision that it is not amenable to judicial officers being invited by any institution, including the DSS, without complying with the Rule of Law and the Due Process. That explains why when the DSS wrote to the NJC, by letter Ref. No. LSC. 960/4 of September 14, 2016, to direct Hon. Justice Mu’azu Pindiga to appear before it.
“The CJN and Chairman of the NJC directed the Chief Judge of Gombe State to ask Pindiga to report to the DSS which he did.
“NJC has never shielded nor will it shield any judicial officer who has been investigated by it and found to be guilty of misconduct and or being investigated by the Police or EFCC or ICPC for criminal offence or financial crime; or by the DSS on a matter bordering on state security, so long as the process is in compliance with the Rule of Law and Due Process.
“If the misconduct is also criminal in nature, NJC has not and will not stop the judicial officer from being prosecuted by the Police or EFCC or ICPC, so long as the mechanism is in line with the Rule of Law and due process.
“In performing its constitutional functions and powers, by virtue of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), NJC shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person. NJC considered the action of the DSS as a denigration of the entire Judiciary, as an institution. By the action of the DSS, Judicial Officers now feel insecure, as criminals might take advantage of the recent incidents to invade their residences as security agents.
“NJC vehemently denounces a situation whereby the psyche of judicial officers in the federation will be subjected to a level that they will be afraid to discharge their Constitutional duties, without fear or favour, intimidation, victimisation or suppression. NJC will not compromise the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary.
“The judiciary is an arm of government, just as the executive and the legislature. Therefore, the war against corruption should be by all and encompassing. The public should appreciate the painstaking efforts being made to cleanse the Judiciary arm of government of judicial officers found to be involved in professional misconducts and corrupt practices. All the judges that have so far been removed from office and reprimanded in that regard by NJC have been made public through press releases by the Information Department of the Council.”
Earlier, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, had described the judges’ arrests as saddening.
Speaking on StandPoint, a political programme on Television Continental (TVC) at the weekend, Jiti Ogunye, a lawyer, said since the NJC is not a law-enforcement authority, the DSS stepped in by acting on several petitions against some of the arrested judges.
Meanwhile, the 2015 governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Akwa Ibom State, Okon Umana Umana, has denied Justice John Iyang Okoro’s bribery allegation.
On Tuesday, a letter written by Justice Okoro to the NJC went public where he narrated how former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi and Umana offered him bribe to get favourable judgment in the governorship election case before the apex court.
In his reaction, yesterday, Umana described the meeting described by Justice Ikon as “pure fiction. “No such meeting to discuss how to bribe judges took place between him, Okon Umana and Dr (Pastor) Ebebe Ukpong as alleged,” Mr. Umana said in a statement by his spokesperson, Iboro Otongaran.
Contrary to Justice Okoro’s claim, Mr. Otongaran said, Mr. Umana had no appeal before the Supreme Court from any court judgment on the governorship election, having won his case at the tribunal and Court of Appeal.
“Umana was, therefore, confident of victory at the Supreme Court because of the concurrent judgments of the lower courts. But, the Supreme Court judgment ignored the concurrent judgments at both the tribunal and the Court of Appeal.
“Mr. Umana had issued a statement expressing disappointment at the verdict, and has since moved on and left everything in the hands of God. Justice Okoro should therefore, leave Umana alone,” Mr. Otongaran said.