The National Judicial Council, NJC, on Thursday night, October 13, released its official position on therecent invasion of residences and arrest of judges by the Department of State Services, DSS.
The position is coming after the emergency meeting which commenced on Tuesday, October 11, ended in a deadlock for two days in a row.
In a statement issued by its Acting Director, Information, Soji Oye, the NJC debunked the DSS claims that it carried out what many have described as gestapo style operations because the Council had ignored petitions against the affected judges.
It condemned the action of the DSS in its entirety, saying that it viewed the action as a “threat to the Independence of the Judiciary, which portends great danger to our democracy; and also considered the action as a clear attempt by the DSS to humiliate, intimidate, denigrate and cow the Judiciary.”
Clarifying what it termed as some misconception and misinformation in the media, the NJC insisted that it never received any petitions against the two Supreme Court justices, Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro from DSS or any other person.
“The Public is aware that Hon. Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, was arrested after his House was invaded by heavily armed and masked operatives of the Department of States Security on Friday 7th October, 2016. The operatives did not leave his house until 12.00 noon of the following day, when he was whisked away to the (“DSS”) office.
“The Residence of Hon. Justice Inyang Okoro, a Justice of Supreme Court of Nigeria, was raided in the same manner and was arrested by the same operatives of the DSS.
“Contrary to the claim by the DSS and as published in the electronic and print media, Council has never received any petition against the aforesaid Judicial Officers:Hon. Justices Ngwuta and Okoro of theSupreme Court of Nigeria, by the DSS,” it said.
The NJC however admitted that it received petitions against Justice Muhammed Ladan Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal; Chief Judge, Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, OFR; Justices Adeniyi Ademola and Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court; and Justice Mu’azu Pindiga of the High Court, Gombe State.
It said after investigations it had recommended the compulsory retirement of Justice Tsamiya by the President as it was discovered that he demanded for a bribe of N200m but never actually collected it. The President acted on the recommendation on October 12.
It also said it recommended Justice Umezulike for “compulsory retirement from office to Enugu State Governor for gross misconduct, pursuant to the petition written against him by Peter Eze.
“In the meantime, National Judicial Council has suspended His Lordship from office pending when the Governor of Enugu State will act on its recommendation.”
In the cases of Justices Ademola and Dimgba, the NJC said that it had received sole petitions against each of them, and had constituted committees that were currently investigating the allegations prior to the operation of the DSS.
The statement also disclosed that the NJC had investigated Justice Auta and was “recommended to the Governor of Kano State for removal from office by dismissal.
“Council wrote separately to the AIG Kano Zone 1, for Police to prosecute Hon. Justice Auta.
“Council has suspended His Lordship from office pending when the Governor will act on its recommendation.”
In the case of Justice Pindiga, who was accused amongst other things of plans to influence the outcome of the Election Tribunal in the governorship polls in favour of Nyesom Wike, the NJC said after thorough investigations, the DSS could not “substantiate any of the allegations of corrupt practices either by documentary or oral evidence against the Justice Pindiga.”
“Consequently, at its Meeting of 15th July, 2016, Council decided to exonerate Hon. Justice Pindiga of the allegations of corrupt practices levelled against him by DSS.
“The Council’s decision was conveyed to Hon. Justice Pindiga in a letter Ref. No. NJC/HC.GM/5/1/132 of 9th August, 2016 and copied the DSS,” the NJC said.
The NJC stressed that it was only against Justices Pindiga and Dimgba that the DSS submitted petitions against and decried the attempt to portray the Council as a shield to corrupt judicial officers.
It called on the DSS to set the records straight.
“Council noted particularly, that from the available records, the DSS forwarded only two (2 no.) separate complaints containing allegations of Corrupt Practices against Hon. Justice Pindiga; and corrupt practices and professional misconduct against Hon. Justice Dimgba.
“The impression created and widely circulated before the public; that the DSS forwarded a number of petitions containing various allegations of corrupt practices and professional misconduct against some Judicial Officers to the Council, and they were not investigated, is not correct. The Council urges the DSS to make public the particulars of such petitions to put the records straight,” the NJC said.
It maintained that the “action of the DSS is a denigration of the entire Judiciary, as an institution.”
The statement concluded by saying that “Council unanimously agreed to recommend Hon. Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, CFR, as the most senior, suitable and competent Justice of the Supreme Court to President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, for appointment as the next Chief Justice of Nigeria to succeed Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed GCON who retires from office on 10thNovember, 2016.”