The sting operations carried out by the Department of State Services (DSS) against some judges across the country are not over yet, as more judges will be arrested and likely prosecuted for bribe taking in the next few days or weeks, a senior intelligence officer told THISDAY in Abuja last night.
The DSS had on Friday night carried out sting operations in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Gombe and Kano, hauling in two justices of the Supreme Court, one justice of the Court of Appeal and four other judges of the Federal High Court, suspected to have engaged in bribery and large scale corruption.
The operations, however, attracted angry reactions from the public, particularly the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), which declared a state of emergency in the judicial sector, saying the rule of law was under siege even as the National Judicial Council (NJC) meets today to deliberate on the development.
THISDAY checks close to the NJC, the body responsible for the appointment and discipline of judicial officers, suggested that the suspected judicial officers under investigation might be suspended pending the determination of the accusations against them.
Yesterday, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) joined the fray on the side of the embattled judicial officers, accusing President Muhammadu Buhari of preparing the ground for fascism by ordering the arrests of the judges.
But the Presidency in its reaction gave assurances that President Buhari reserved his highest respect for the judiciary as the third arm of government.
A statement yesterday by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, said the president would not do anything to undermine its independence.
Shehu said: “Buhari remains a committed democrat, in words and in his actions, and will not take any action in violation of the constitution.
“The recent surgical operation against some judicial officers is specifically targeted at corruption and not at the judiciary as an institution.
“In a robust democracy such as ours, there is bound to be a plurality of opinions on any given issue, but there is a convergence of views that the country has a corruption problem that needs to be corrected.”
The Presidency regretted that reports by a section of the media were giving it cause for concern.
According to it, “In undertaking the task of reporting, the media should be careful about the fault lines they open. It is wrong to present this incident as a confrontation between the executive and judicial arms of government.
“The presidency has received assurances from the DSS that all due processes of the law, including the possession of search and arrest warrants were obtained before the searches.
“To suggest that the government is acting outside the law in a dictatorial manner is to breach the interest of the state.”
THISDAY intelligence source, however, said apart from those being detained and interrogated, another eight judges, including two justices of the Supreme Court, are also being investigated for mind-boggling corruption cases.
He said a total of seven judges, including two justices of the Supreme Court — Justice John Inyang Okoro and Justice Sylvanus Ngwunta — are still being interrogated by the security services at its headquarters in Abuja and might be charged to court anytime from today.
“A total of 15 judges are being investigated by the Department of State Services and other security agencies. Seven of them are currently being interrogated at the DSS headquarters in Abuja and may be charged to court as from Monday,’’ the source stated, adding: “While another eight including one or two from the Supreme Court are still being investigated and more of the judges will be arrested in the next few days or weeks.’’
The judges being detained include: Justice Muhammad Ladan Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal; Justice Kabiru Auta in Kano; Justice Muazu Pindiga who was arrested in Gombe; the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Auta, and Justice Adeniyi Ademola.
The intelligence source said that none of the judges arrested during the DSS’ sting operations between Friday and the early hours of Saturdayhad been released.
“The seven judges being detained and interrogated have not been released; their statements are still being taken; they are cooperating with the interrogators. The interrogation is taking more time than expected because of the many questions the arrested judges need to answer,’’ the source said.
THISDAY gathered that the sting operations carried out against the suspects were the accumulation of many events, linked to “mind-boggling corrupt practices and the willingness, determination and desire by the security agents to fight corruption head-on”.
Justifying the operations of the DSS, the source said: “If not DSS who else? There is nothing unusual about the DSS’ actions; it is normal. The security institution acted within the law guarding its operations.
“The actions of the suspected judges border on national security. We are talking about huge corrupt practices and national security that are beyond the mandate of the EFCC and the ICPC.
“If we talk about democracy — from the conduct of election to election rigging; issues of foreign investments; economy and other issues that have to do with our national security, they all end up in courts. So anybody or institution that tries to undermine that institution is toying with the national security of our dear nation.’’
In the eyes of the law, the intelligence officer said, the suspects were not above the law and didn’t have immunity from being investigated or prosecuted, explaining that they were ordinary people like every other citizen.
He said the DSS acted based on petitions it received against the judges. “We have a situation where one of the judges was so foolish that he entered a departmental store to collect a bribe from a litigant. We have the evidence including video recording,’’ the source stated.
Reacting to several criticisms against the DSS’ action, the intelligence source added that the agency was ready to defend its action in competent court of law, challenging whoever felt aggrieved to take the DSS to court.
“During the sting operations, huge amount of monies, some in foreign currencies, were collected from some of the judges and they all signed the exhibits recovered in their houses.
The DSS has strong evidence to charge them to court and that will be done as soon as the interrogation is concluded,’’ the source added.
Responding to the press statement by the leadership of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), which some observers said might create tension in the country, the senior intelligence officer said:
“There is no tension at all. Whoever threatens national security of the nation will be dealt with.
“Gone are the days where those on the wrong side will turn around to intimidate us. That will never happen again in this country.’’
Apparently responding to the acclaimed illegality of the action of the DSS, the source said that a search warrant was obtained before the sting operations were carried out in the affected places, adding that “a warrant signed by a magistrate court can be executed even in the villa”.