According to reports, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, has described the invasion of the official residences of some judges in the country and their subsequent arrest and detention by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) as an affront on the independence of the judiciary as an arm of government.
In a statement issued yesterday by his Senior Special Assistant, H. S. Sa’eed in Abuja, Justice Mohammed decried the antagonism that had trailed the plight of the judicial officers by members of the public.
The DSS had on October 7 and 8, swooped on seven judicial officers comprising two justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the Appeal and High Courts across the country over alleged corruption.
The CJN who also doubles as the Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), equally condemned the call by the Nigerian Bar Association for the suspension of the embattled judges from the Bench.
He appealed to all Nigerians to continue to have faith and confidence in the judiciary, adding that the dispute is only between the NJC and the DSS.
The statement reads in part: “The Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria wishes to state in clear terms that the ‘sting’ operation carried out by the DSS on October 7 and 8, 2016 was certainly an assault on the independence of the Nigerian judiciary. Nonetheless, the judiciary fully supports the anti-corruption drive of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“The Nigerian judiciary has never and will never shield any judicial officer who is found to be guilty of corruption, however, the Hon. CJN believes that due process and the rule of law must be followed.
“The Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria is indeed deeply concerned by the rising antagonism over the recent arrest of our judicial officers and other issues pertaining thereto.
“Furthermore, it must be reiterated that the current misunderstanding is only between the National Judicial Council (NJC), which was established by the Constitution and the Department of State Services (DSS), in the Presidency. Hence, we must emphasise that the judiciary continues to maintain cordial relations with the other arms of government, that is, the Executive and the legislature.
“The CJN reiterates that the Nigerian judiciary as an arm of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is not a party in this matter, nor is the Nigerian judiciary on trial.
“On the call by the President of the Nigerian Bar, Association, A. B. Mahmoud, SAN, to suspend judicial officers whose residences were invaded and who were subsequently arrested and detained by the DSS, we believe that the call was unnecessary and hasty as the said Judicial Officers are still being investigated by the DSS.”
The CJN further noted that the DSS had not yet forwarded any complaint or official communication regarding the seven judicial officers to the National Judicial Council.
He added that indeed, some of the affected judicial officers had already been investigated by the NJC, which found some culpable and recommended their removal from office by dismissal or retirement to the president and respective governors as provided under the Constitution. While some are still being investigated by the NJC, he said that no complaint had been made against others. He stressed the powers of the NJC to suspend must be exercised only in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution that established it.