Nigerian judges are planning an unprecedented mass resignation to protest the alleged assault against the independence of the judiciary by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The mass discontent running through the system over the arrest of seven of their colleagues by the Department of State Services penultimate Friday, is now reaching a climax with an ongoing mass mobilisation nationwide to resign enmass.
In the plan being hatched, the Federal High Court could end up being the most affected if the protagonists went ahead with their plot.
Incidentally, suspended talks at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) on whether the Federal High Court should be phased out or retained, had not been concluded. Sunday Tribune was told by multiple senior sources that judicial officers who had been materially successful in legal practice before opting for the Bench as a form of service, aren’t finding it funny that even properties acquired before joining the Bench are now being tagged proceeds of alleged corruption by both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the DSS, probing alleged malfeasances in the justice system.
A particular DSS-interest was reportedly infuriated that after acquiring a Doctorate degree in Law at a prestigious university in the United Kingdom (names withheld) and making a fortune practising law abroad with multi-million naira worth of properties to show for it, he is now being smeared with corruption allegations all because he wanted to serve his country as a judge.
A total of 31 top judges of superior courts of record are being investigated by both agencies (DSS and EFCC), including two justices of the Supreme Court.
Three of the said judicial officers have recently been exited from service by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
While the DSS is handling cases of 23 judges, EFCC said it was probing eight judges and two court registrars.
Apart from the initial seven, busted in the midnight raid by the DSS, the service had disclosed that eight other judges were to be picked before a reported presidential directive halted all operations as public disavowal hit the exercise.
Another set of two judges were reportedly arrested days after the midnight raid, while the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, was said to have sent another six petitions against six judges to the DSS.
While reacting to a report of loss of confidence in EFCC, commission said eight judges are under its own belt, with one of them, also in DSS’s net.
The eight initially planned for the second round of arrest, are all said to be justices of the Supreme Court.
A top source confirmed that the apex court was aware of the project, allegedly targetted at giving the court a new beginning with new entrants who are not necessarily from the Court of Appeal as it is the tradition.
A cabinet minister during a private media briefing refused to confirm or deny the identities of the targetted judges.
The minister also refused to confirm if Justice Walter Onnoghen, the CJN-designate, is among those to be arrested. It was also revealed at the interface that the current administration had resolved to bust anyone with huge cash at home and such would be considered proceeds of crime if the owner could not convincingly explain how he or she came about the cash.
According to him “if your cash is clean, you will put it in the bank.”
Before embarking on the raids, they had written a series of memos to the NJC. On 26th February, 2016, the DSS sent a memo with Reference No DGSS.71/3161 to Justice Mahmud, accusing Justice Muazu Pindiga of Gombe judicial division of alleged corruption on his involvement in the Rivers State election petition tribunal as the former chairman before he was removed.
In another memo from the DSS dated 5th August, 2016 with Reference No LSD.158/2/31, the Service accused Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court who had earlier ruled against the DSS in its case against Umar Mohammed, of alleged corruption, recommending to the NJC “to urgently investigate the compromise and gross misconduct by the judicial officer as his conduct falls short of the expectations of the profession and defeats the culture of probity, transparency and equity which this current administration stands to entrench”. The memo was signed by Ahamed Ahmad for Daura.
Meanwhile, Onnoghen who was last week recommended to President Muhammadu Buhari as the next CJN, is reportedly primed to go through his security screening this week at the DSS headquarters in Abuja.
He is the sole nominee to the president.
The security screening is expected to establish his suitability for the job, before his name will be forwarded to the Senate for confirmation.
He is the first CJN-hopeful from the South in 29 years.