Eight more judges and two court registrars are now under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over corruption-related cases.
Those who have been implicated in the investigations are to be arrested and charged to court in due course, an official disclosed yesterday.
The commission, which denied any rift with the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said that only one of the judges recently arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS) featured in its investigations.
EFCC described as untrue a story in a national daily which suggested that the AGF was uncomfortable with how the commission handled petitions sent to it, as such, the resort to the DSS.
“In this regard, EFCC is currently investigating eight judges and two court registrars. Some of the suspects who have been invited have made statements that have been of great assistance to the investigations. In due course, those who have cases to answer would be arrested and charged to court,” the commission said.
The Head, Media and Publicity of EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, said: “EFCC wishes to put on record that there is no friction with the office of the AGF and the Commission is not involved in inter-agency squabbles with the DSS.”
And as the controversy over the arrest of judges continues, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Samson Uwaifo yesterday called for the strengthening of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to redeem the image of the third arm of government.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has affirmed its earlier position that the arrests and detention of the judges was unlawful and unconstitutional.
The Bar cautioned that the judiciary should not be exposed to ridicule, shame and intimidation by security operatives under the guise of fighting corruption.
President of the Association, Abubakar Mahmud (SAN), who spoke yesterday evening, insisted that the invasion of the houses of justices and judges in the middle of the night by masked security operatives was improper and uncivilised.
According to Mahmud, the NBA is engaging stakeholders on how to win the war against corruption in the judiciary. The reason, he said, a task force, which would be announced today was set up to come up with details on how to deal with erring judges.
The task force is headed by former presidents of the association, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and Olisa Agbakoba (SAN).
It also comprises former attorneys general of the federation and other former presidents of NBA, including Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, Joseph Daudu, Chief Kanu Agabi and Chief Akin Olujimi.
The committee is expected to make recommendations for stronger disciplinary action against erring judicial officers, which will be passed on to the NJC for strengthening.
And after three days of silence, the National Judicial Council (NJC) yesterday came out openly to condemn the clampdown on some judicial officers.
In a statement issued late yesterday, the body expressed grave concern about the invasion of the residences and arrest of some serving and suspended judicial officers by the Department of State Services (DSS) and condemned the action in its entirety.
The Council also unanimously agreed to recommend Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, as the most senior, suitable and competent Justice of the Supreme Court to President Muhammadu Buhari, for appointment as the next Chief Justice of Nigeria to succeed Justice Mahmud Mohammed GCON who retires from office on November 10.
NJC said 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”.
The judicial council said that 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 the Supreme Court of Nigeria, by the DSS.”
In the statement, the NJC states: “That the National Judicial Council is a creation, by virtue of Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, with its powers specified in Paragraph 21 of Part One of the Third Schedule whereof;
“That by virtue of Section 160 of the 1999 Constitution, council fashioned out judicial discipline regulations; revised NJC guidelines and procedural rules for the appointment of judicial officers of all superior courts of record; code of conduct for judicial officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and national judicial policy to inter-alia, regulate its own procedure while exercising its constitutional Powers; and
”That Section 158 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, has unequivocally provided for the independence of the National Judicial Council vis-à-vis directing or controlling it by any authority or person while exercising its powers.”
The council “reiterated its absolute confidence in President Muhammadu Buhari administration and its unwavering determination to uphold the principles of democracy, separation of powers and the rule of law enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, as amended and the United Nations Charter, which Nigeria is a member.”
NJC pledged to continue to support the President Buhari administration in its fight against corruption in all its ramifications in the federation; and in cleansing the judiciary of corrupt judicial officers.