Undaunted by criticism trailing its clampdown on corrupt judges, the Department of State Services (DSS) has concluded plans to swoop on more judges and some identified Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) who allegedly aided and abetted corruption on the Bench, accoridng to report.
Also, DSS, according to an impeccable source, would go after some retired judges who allegedly worked in tandem with the judges arrested at the weekend over allegations of bribery and corruption.
Some of the judges recently sacked or retired by the National Judicial Council (NJC) for gross misconduct will also have their date in court.
The identified Senior Advocates and the retired judges, according to the source, were the channels through which judges were being compromised.
“The secret service would go after senior lawyers, retired judges and politicians who were believed to be links between judges and parties,” the source said.
According to the source, “The service knows that some people have been serving as courier of the bribe for the judges. But their days are numbered. The service has gotten their details and there is enough evidence against them. They shall be arrested and brought to book.
“We know that some retired judges are now serving as consultants to sitting judges. They meet with parties who are having cases before a judge and they negotiate. These retired judges also serve as courier of the bribe. The service is also aware that some of the senior lawyers which their list has been compiled already also serve as middlemen between parties and the judges. Also politicians are involved. None of them will go unpunished.”
Seven judges, including two Justices of the Supreme Court were arrested on Saturday by the DSS following their alleged involvement in corrupt practices.
Two Supreme Court Justices and two Federal High Court judges were alleged to have obtained bribe to perfect the course of justice. Besides the seven judges that were arrested at the weekend, the DSS is presently investigating about eight more judges over alleged corruption.
The secret service has tightened the noose around the judges and may pick them any moment from now. The eight judges are asides the seven that are presently in the custody of the DSS. The identities of the judges to be picked up are still unknown as at the time of filing this report.
However, it was learnt that another of Justice of the Supreme Court is involved, and two judges from the Federal High Court.
The service had been investigating the judges for some time now and had gotten enough evidence to go after them.
The seven judges arrested and currently in detention at the DSS office are Justices Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court; Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja; Kabir Auta of the Kano High Court; Muazu Pindiga of the Gombe High Court, Mohammed Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal in Ilorin, and the Chief Judge of Enugu State, I. A. Umezulike. Justices Umezulike, Auta, and Tsamiya had earlier been recommended for sack by the NJC for alleged corrupt activities.
The residence of Justice Mohammed Liman was raided. It was also discovered that apart from the judges, at least three members of the registry staff of relevant courts have also been invited for questioning by the DSS and have made relevant statements. Justices Okoro and Ngwuta were arrested over an alleged bribery by a governor.
A huge sum of money was recovered in both Justices Ngwuta and Okoro’s residents as documents of estates were recovered.
At the residence of Justice Ademola, the DSS said it recovered at least $171,779 and N54 million in cash, in addition to documents of landed property belonging to the judge.
In the course of the raid, the DSS said it recovered N35 million, $319,475 from Justice Ngwuta while N4.3 million and $38,833 were recovered from Justice Okoro.
While justifying the judges’ arrest, DSS said it monitored “the expensive and luxurious lifestyle of some of the judges as well as complaints from the concerned public over judgement obtained fraudulently and on the basis amounts of money paid,” adding that the judges involved were invited, upon which due diligence was exhibited and their premises searched.
It was learnt that the arrested judges would be arraigned today following a withholding charge already filed against them, a credible source hinted.
It was gathered that DSS, before it carried out the arrest of the judges, had placed a web on all the calls between some of the embattled judges and the senior lawyers who had acted as a conduit to facilitate hundreds of millions bribe for the arrested judges.
This, in no small measure spurred DSS into action having had all conversation involving the judges, senior lawyers and some politicians at different times.
Also, it was gathered that the Federal Government due to lack of confidence in the judiciary is working towards the establishment of a special court which will try the arrested judges and others that had been pencilled down for arrest.
The Presidential Advisory Committee on Anticorruption headed by Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) is to facilitate the setting up of the committee.
Meanwhile, the NJC had after the raid on judges has called for an emergency today where it is expected to discuss its next move.
Though the meeting was earlier scheduled to hold on Thursday with a single agenda of discussing which name will be forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari as the next Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). The CJN, Justice Mohammed Mahmud will retire on November 10 when he will clock the mandatory retirement age of 70.
A top source who spoke in confidence said that the NJC is unhappy over the arrest of some judges.
“DSS did not follow the constitutional laid down rules. Constitutionally, it is the NJC that has the power to employ and discipline judges. If there is any allegation, it is expected that it should be taken to the NJC. It would be investigated, and recommendation will be made and later the recommendation will be sent to the police.
“They said that they have search warrant and they are covered, that can only be true if the warrant was issued to them by a court of law. But if the warrant is not from court, they have just gone to invade. That means that they are doing the right thing, wrongly,” he stated.
Speaking on the intention of the secret service to file charge against the arrested judges, the source said that constitutionally, it is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) or police that has the power to file charge.
“Their own is just to investigate and after hand over to the appropriate authority. It is that prosecuting agency that will now go to court to file charges against any of the judge. What the DSS is doing is illegal because the Act that sets it up does not empower it to go to court. They are just for security,” he added.
In the event the judges will eventually have to be arraigned in the court, another top source in the judiciary said the NJC will have to suspend the affected judges or recommend their compulsory retirement.
“Now that the judges have been arrested with large sums of money recovered from them, the affected judges will have to be relieved of their duty in order to purge themselves of the alleged crime. I think, the DSS should instead of filing charges against them as it had said hand them over to constitutional recognised prosecuting agency,” the source stated.
Another DSS source said the operation on the judges’ residence was ordered after months of investigations, during which the DSS established credibly that the affected judges were involved in questionable financial dealings.
He added that the secret service had to swing into action after it submitted part of its findings to the NJC and it merely recommended two of the judges for retirement, and not prosecution.
The source added that the council had refused to cooperate with the service as the agency launched wider investigations into the cases for more evidence.
Already, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is prosecuting two members of the Bar, Mr. Rickey Tarfa (SAN) and Dr. Joseph Nwobike (SAN) over corruption related cases.
While Tarfa was arraigned before Justice A. A. Akintoye of the Lagos State High Court, Igbosere on a 27-count charge, Nwobike was arraigned before Justice R.I.B Adebiyi of the Lagos State High Court on a fivecount charge of allegedly offering gratification and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Tarfa is accused of bribing a judge when he allegedly gave N1.5 million to Justice Nganjiwa Hyeladzira Ajiya of the Federal High Court while Nwobike is facing criminal prosecution for allegedly bribing Justice Mohammed Nasir Yunusa with N750,000.