Outrage Over DSS Clampdown On Judges | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Outrage Over DSS Clampdown On Judges

Posted: Oct 10, 2016 at 1:17 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Temidayo Akinsuyi


During a Town Hall meeting he held with Nigerians living in Ethiopia early this year, President Muhammadu Buhari said as far his administration’s ongoing anti-corruption fight was concerned; the nation’s judiciary remained his major headache.

The president, who said far-reaching reforms of the judiciary remained a key priority for the present administration added that the fight against corruption in Nigeria could only be effectively tackled with the strong support of the judiciary.

Speaking further, the president said his travails in courts during his failed bid for the nation’s Presidency on three occasions, which took him to the Supreme Court three times, were clear indications that the judiciary needed urgent reforms.

He assured members of the Nigerian community that with the support of the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, he would continue to do his best to improve on the nation’s judicial administration system

“On the fight against corruption vis-à-vis the judiciary, Nigerians will be right to say that is my main headache for now. If you reflect on what I went through for 12 years, when I wanted to be the President, I attempted three times and on the fourth attempt, through God and the use of technology, it was possible for Nigerians to elect an APC candidate as President.
“In my first attempt in 2003, I ended up at the Supreme Court and for 13 months, I was in court. The second attempt in 2007, I was in court close to 20 months and in 2011, my third attempt, I was also in court for nine months.All these cases went up to the Supreme Court until the fourth time in 2015, when God agreed that I would be President of Nigeria.”
While many Nigerians agreed that there is an urgent need to reform the judicial system, the manner in which the Buhari administration went about it during the weekend has attracted widespread criticisms from within and outside the shores of the country.
It all began on Friday night when gun-wielding Department of State Services (DSS) agents swooped on the residences of senior judges in Abuja, Port Harcourt and Gombe, breaking doors and threatening to harm their family members and aides.
At the end of the operations which lasted more than 12 hours, the DSS arrested Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro, both of the Supreme Court bench, as well as Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court in Abuja.
The security operatives also searched the house of another judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, but he was not arrested. Justices Ademola and Dimgba’s duplexes are separated by a fence at the Apo Legislative Quarters, Abuja. Justice Dimgba occupies 30A, while Justice Ademola lives at 30B. Both houses are on S.O Ogbemudia Crescent, Zone E, Apo Legislative Quarters. The two judges, it was learnt, do not have their family members living with them in Abuja.

Why We Carried Out Operation – DSS

Briefing the media on why it carried out the raids, an official of the DSS, Mallam Garba who spoke to journalists at the headquarters of the law enforcement agency in Abuja, said  a planned raid on the residence of a judge in Rivers  was frustrated by the state governor, Nyesom Wike who allegedly brought in thugs to prevent security operatives from carrying out their duties. According to him, there was an  intelligence that the said judge  had $2million  cash at home.
While defending the actions of the DSS, he explained that the operations were based on allegations of corruption and other ?acts of professional misconduct leveled against  the suspected justices, saying it was in line with  its core mandate. He added that the affected judges’ “expensive and ?luxurious” lifestyle  had been monitored by the agency for some time.
“The Department of State Services (DSS), in the past few days, has embarked on series of special sting operations involving some judges of the Supreme, Appeal and High Courts. These operations were based on allegations of corruptions and other acts of professional misconduct by a few of the suspected judges. The Service action is in line with its core mandate, as we have been monitoring the expensive and luxurious lifestyle of some of the judges as well as complaints from the concerned public over judgments obtained fraudulently and on the basis of  amounts of money paid.

“The judges involved were invited, upon which due diligence was exhibited and their premises searched. The searches have uncovered huge raw cash of various denominations, local and foreign currencies, with real estate worth several millions of Naira and documents affirming unholy acts by these judges. Meanwhile, some of them have made useful statements while a few have declined even with the glaring evidences that were found against them in terms of material cash, documents and property recovered pointing to their compromise.

“In one of the states where the Service operations were conducted, credible intelligence revealed that a judge had Two Million United States Dollars ($2,000,000 USD) stashed in his house. When he was approached for due search to be conducted, he, in concert with the state governor, mobilized thugs against the Service team. The team restrained itself in the face of unbridled provocative activities by those brought in by the governor. Unfortunately, the judge and governor also engaged the tacit support of a sister security agency.

“The Service surveillance team noticed that upon frustrating the operation, the judge, with the active support of the governor, craftily moved the money to an unknown location which the Service is currently making effort to unravel. “Meanwhile, large amount including foreign/local currencies have been recovered. Summaries of these include: NAIRA    – N93,558,000 DOLLARS –   $530,087 POUNDS  –  £25,970 EURO  –  €5,680 “Other foreign currencies were also recovered. These were recovered from just three (3) of the judges. “These, in addition to other banking documents, including real estate documents have been recovered. Meanwhile, preparations are ongoing to arraign them in a competent court of jurisdiction in line with the laws of the nation. “The Service would want to clearly state that it has never invited Justice Walter NKANU ONNOGHEN  (CJN designate) for investigation, neither is he being investigated by this Service. In addition, the Service would like to put it on record that it has tremendous respect for the judiciary and would not do anything to undermine it or its activities. The Service will also join hands with this noble institution in its fight to rid it of few corrupt judges whose actions are  undermining not only the judiciary but the common bond of our national life. “Ladies and gentlemen, this current operation will be sustained and followed till sanity and sanctity is restored to the esteemed third arm of government and public confidence is regained. “Members of the public are also encouraged to avail the Service of any information which could assist in this drive to rid our nation of corrupt practices and tendencies”.

I  Acted As Rivers CSO – Wike

However, reacting to the DSS claim that he obstructed security agents from arresting an alleged corrupt judge, Governor Wike alleged that the operatives manhandled and threatened to shoot him if he did not allow them to take the judge away at his residence located at 35/84B, Forces Avenue, old GRA, Port-Harcourt.
While describing the actions of the DSS as a threat to democracy, Wike said he acted based on the fact that he is the chief security officer of Rivers. He said he is perplexed as to why the security operatives would choose to visit  a  judge by 1 am  instead of inviting him to answer for whatever issue.

Raising a blood stained finger on his right hand for journalists  to see, he explained that  some of the policemen and men of the DSS immediately cocked their rifles when they saw him at about 2am, threatening to shoot  if he did not allow them to whisk the judge away.
You can see my hand with blood.  For the first time a governor was manhandled by security men, it had never happened before in this country”

The governor, who said President Muhammadu Buhari may not be aware of the action of the DSS, said he was going to inform him.
“Obviously I will let Mr President know that this is not acceptable. I don’t believe Mr President is aware. “Probably, they (security men) wanted to do something funny. I did not want to mobilise anybody to react to this. All I need is peace. We are talking of change, change is to do things in an acceptable way. It is odd to come to a judge’s house at 1 am.”

FG Can’t Justify Invasion –  Fayose

Wike’s counterpart in Ekiti, Governor Ayo Fayose described the judges reported arrest as a direct assault on the judiciary and an attempt to harass and intimidate the judicial arm of government to do the bidding of the APC government.
It should now be obvious to all Nigerians and the international community that democracy is under threat in Nigeria and Nigerians must rise to save democracy from being truncated”, he told journalists in Ado-Ekiti”.
“For all intent and purposes, there is no how the federal government can justify the gestapo and crude action of the DSS against our judiciary, the last hope of the common man and I believe they just want to hide under anti-corruption fight to blackmail and intimidate the judiciary. If not, have the affected judges been reported to the National Judicial Council (NJC), the body saddled with the responsibilities of investigating and sanctioning erring judges?

NBA Issues Ultimatum

Addressing the press on the raid, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) also called on the DSS to immediately and unconditionally release the judges whose homes were raided. It said there will be grave consequences if the demands are not met.
NBA President, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN ) who addressed the press alongside four past presidents – Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Mr. J.B. Daudu (SAN), and Augustine Alegeh (SAN) said two Supreme Court justices, Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta, were “abducted” with their families, adding that he had yet to receive the full details of other judges who might have been arrested.

Others in attendance at the declaration, which held at Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos State were Prof. Konyinsola Ajayi (SAN), Mr. Yusuf Ali (SAN) and Mr. Dele Adesina (SAN).
Mahmoud, who said it was not the responsibility of the DSS to arrest judges, described the DSS’ action as an unconstitutional means of intimidating the judiciary and undermining its independence.
“We, therefore, call on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately caution all the  state security agencies and to respect the rule of law and follow due process.
“On any issue affecting the judicial officers, there are established procedures for handling them and we demand that this constitutional process be obeyed.
“Given the unfolding nature of the event and the seriousness of the situation, the NBA hereby declares a state of emergency as it affects the affairs of the judiciary and I hereby constitute a crisis management team, comprising all past presidents of the association.
“I want to, on behalf of the association, make the very following clear and unequivocal demands: we demand the immediate and unconditional release of all the judges abducted from about 9 pm yesterday (Friday).
“The release must be done immediately and without any conditions. Two, we demand that the Department of State Services limit itself to its statutory and constitutional responsibilities. I’ll be meeting with the CJN later tonight or tomorrow. There will be consequences if these demands are not met” the NBA said.