Malami Justifies Judges’ Arrest, Insists No One’s Above the Law

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· NJC ‎extends emergency meeting, to take decision today

· Senate asks Buhari to call his men to order, declines to summon DSS DG

· Undeterred, president elevates two judges to S’Court

· House to probe activities of DSS

Tobi Soniyi, Omololu Ogunmade, Damilola Oyedele and Alexander Enumah in Abuja

The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), has justified the arrest of seven judges by the Department of State Services (DSS) at the weekend.

The minister spoke in Abuja yesterday at the inauguration of the Country Expert Review Committee for the second cycle of the review of the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).

Malami’s reaction came against the backdrop of mixed reactions that have trailed the arrest of the seven judges and the threat by the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) to declare a state of emergency.

The judges — Justices John Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta of the Supreme Court; Justice Muhammad Ladan Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano High Court; Justice Mu’azu Pindiga of the Gombe High Court; Justice Ibrahim Auta, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria; and Justice Adeniyi Ademola — were arrested between Friday and Saturday by operatives of the DSS on allegations of corruption.

All seven judges were released on bail on Sunday night, owing to what the DSS said was the lack of co-operation of the National Judicial Council (NJC).

THISDAY yesterday had exclusively revealed the correspondence between the DSS and NJC over the last 10 months, showing the attempts by Nigeria’s secret police to investigate the judges and the refusal by NJC to co-operate with the DSS.

It was the lack of co-operation that prompted the DSS to obtain search warrants from a magistrate’s court in Abuja on October 5, and subsequently effected their arrest two days later.

According to Malami, what happened in relation to the affected judges was a mere investigation of criminal allegations, contending that no one was immune to investigation under the Nigerian law.

He pointed out that once an allegation of criminality was raised, it was the duty of the relevant investigating agencies to carry out the investigation.

When asked by journalists to provide more insight into the judges’ arrest and release on bail two days later, he said nobody is exempted from being investigated, not even the president, vice-president, governors and their deputies who are covered by the immunity clause under Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution.

“The fundamental consideration is whether there is an allegation of the commission of a crime, whether there is the need for investigation, and whether the relevant provisions of the law and indeed, all circumstances, as provided in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) are put into consideration in our conduct as regards the fight against corruption.

“The bottom line is that we have a responsibility to fight corruption. Corruption is a crime and nobody, regardless of how highly placed is exempted as far as issues that border on crimes and criminalities are concerned.

“The limited exceptions as we know constitutionally are the exceptions of immunity. And to the best of my knowledge, those exceptions do not apply to investigation.

“For those that are conferred with the immunity, the right to investigate has not been taken away constitutionally.

“So I think the framework and the circumstances within which we are operating are clearly whether there exists the right to investigate or not, and whether the action borders on criminality.

“Once crimes and criminality are concerned, nobody is an exception. I think the undertone should be exclusively the consideration of the existence of a prima facie case; existence of reasonable grounds for suspicion of commission of a crime.

“And if there are, no member of the legislature, judiciary and executive can definitely be exempted from investigation. I think where we are now is the point of investigation and that is what is taking place,” he said.

The minister expressed confidence in the ability of members of the review committee to execute their responsibilities.

He said: “The extant review focusing on Chapter II and V of UNCAC, relating to preventive measures against corruption in public and private sectors and assets recovery, is both necessary and timely at this time in the annals of our country, when endemic cum systemic corruption has created a great disconnect between our nation’s wealth and the quality of life of ordinary citizens.”

Malami said that the objectives of UNCAC were in harmony with the conviction of the current federal government to curb corruption.

He said it was necessary for members of the committee to understand the important task of nation building which was being committed to their hands.

“Let me emphasise that the guiding principles of the review is non-adversarial, non-punitive and not aimed at ranking state parties.

“Nevertheless, members of the expert committee should understand that those selected, appointed or nominated by my office or your various agencies are chosen based on skills, expertise and commitment.

“It is therefore important to note that your performance in this assignment will be a step in the direction for us as a country and people to achieve the goals that we have set for ourselves – prevent corruption, recover, return and manage stolen assets,” he explained.

Members of the committee are drawn from 22 federal agencies including the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Special Control Unit Against Money Laundering (SCUML), and the Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-corruption Reforms (TUGAR).

Malami, therefore, charged the committee to be transparent and efficient as much as possible in carrying out its mandate.

NJC ‎to Take Decision Today

But as Malami justified the arrest and investigation of the judges, the NJC held its emergency meeting yesterday on the weekend’s raids and arrests.

However, the meeting was inconclusive and would continue today after which the council may make its decision public on the fate of the judges being investigated.

But as the public awaits the outcome of the meeting, a source in the presidency told THISDAY that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman of the NJC, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, has written a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on the situation, but did not protest the arrest of his colleagues.

However, this claim could not be confirmed as the office of the CJN declined to comment.

Another source at the NJC meeting informed THISDAY that the meeting could not be concluded yesterday, forcing the council to adjourn further discussions to today.

Apart from the arrest of the judges, the council took the decision to present Justice Walter Onnoghen for appointment as‎ the next CJN.

“Tomorrow, we will make a definite statement on the issue,” the source said.

Justice Mohammed on Monday had appealed for calm over the unprecedented arrest of two of his colleagues and other judges of lower cadre.

He described the arrests as regrettable, adding that he was saddened by the event.

‘Call Your Men to Order’

Wading into the issue yesterday, the Senate deplored last weekend’s invasion of the homes of the seven judges by the men of the DSS and asked Buhari to call the rampaging security operatives to order.

The upper legislative chamber, which expressed grave irritation over the action of the DSS, also instructed Buhari to henceforth direct the security agencies to ensure full compliance with the rule of law in the discharge of their functions.

The Senate also mandated its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to commence the review of all extant laws on the powers of security agencies with a view to ensuring that they are consistent with the dictates of democracy.

The committee has four weeks to complete its assignment.

The Senate also condemned in strong terms the action of the DSS, insisting that the security agency abused its powers, flouted constitutional provisions and simultaneously usurped the powers of the NJC.

However, the Senate rejected a prayer that the Director-General of the DSS, Lawal Daura, should be summoned to explain why his agency opted to launch a “ferocious attack” on judges without paying cognisance to the provisions of the law.

Moving a motion on the action of the DSS, Senator Joshua Lidani (Gombe South) said while the Senate was in full support of the fight against corruption by the government of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the war must be fought with strict observance of the principles of the rule of law and democracy.

Lidani described the action of the DSS as unconstitutional, noting that the fight against the rule of law would be counter-productive if it is not fought within the laid down principles and procedures.

“I am alarmed that the extra-constitutional approach to sanitise the judiciary in line with the war against corruption is bound to prove counter-productive because it erodes the role of the judiciary and undermines the importance of the judiciary, as well as demoralises the morale of many patriotic and upright judges who have determined to support the crusade against corruption,” he said.

Supporting the motion, Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West), who said it was incontrovertible that the Nigerian judiciary, as currently constituted, was very corrupt, adding however that the shameful corrupt acts of this arm of government, notwithstanding, the DSS exceeded its professional competence and must be called to order before it puts Nigeria’s hard earned democracy in jeopardy.

“I rise this morning to state unequivocally that it is true that there is corruption in the judiciary and this truth was established last week by the expulsion of three judges by the NJC.

“It is also a celestial truth that judges have been dishing out what I call commercial rulings. It is also a fundamental truth that judges need to face the full wrath of the law, especially where the issues of corruption are concerned.

“This Senate, therefore, will continue to celebrate the war against corruption either in the judiciary, the legislature or the executive.

“I support the fight against corruption irrespective of who is involved, either a Supreme court judge, judge of the Court Appeal or of the High Court or even Magistrate’s Court.

“But while I support the fight against corruption, it is a misnomer, it is absurd for the Department of State Security Services to operate outside its mandate.

“The responsibility of the State Security Services is clearly defined in the National Security Agencies Act 2010, Cap 350, which states clearly that the State Security Services shall be charged with the responsibility of the prevention and detection within Nigeria of any crime against the internal security of Nigeria.

“The second responsibility, as enshrined in the law setting up the DSS, states that it is responsible for the protection and preservation of non-military classified matters concerning again the internal security of Nigeria.

“The third and the last responsibility, as enshrined by law, is such other responsibility affecting internal security within Nigeria as the National Assembly or the president, as the case maybe, may deem necessary.

“Mr. President, my respected colleagues, how does bribery and corruption become an issue of internal security? How does bribing judges or official misconduct in their official capacity become a threat to internal security?

“The point here is that the DSS, in her fight against corruption, overstepped its boundaries and abused its mandate,” he insisted.

Also speaking, Deputy Senate Leader, Ibn Bala Na’Allah, recalled that the massive support that APC secured during the electioneering period was spurred by the commitment of Nigerians towards a corrupt-free nation and cautioned the government of President Buhari against betraying the people’s trust.

According to him, the initiators of the 1999 Constitution were not out of their minds when they empowered the NJC to discipline any erring judge, observing that last weekend’s move was particularly in bad faith because the NJC had in recent times been committed towards cleaning the Augean stables.

He said: “The framers of our constitution, in their wisdom, decided that a body called the National Judicial Council should be established as a constitutional body to deal with the issue of appointments, promotions and discipline of judicial officers.

“In the discharge of that sacred duty, the NJC acted on petitions that were validly submitted to it, recommended the dismissal of some judges; recommended the retirement of some, and even went further to say that a particular judge went beyond his bounds and therefor, must be referred to the police for proper investigation and prosecution.”

Senate President Bukola Saraki, who presided over the session, emphasised that the fight against corruption must be fought within the ambit of the law.

“We must eradicate corruption in all spheres of our society and this is a matter that we must continue. I think the National Assembly has been playing its role to continue to support government in its fight against corruption.

“However, we must ensure that this fight against corruption is within the rule of law; any act of anti-corruption that goes against the rule of law does not help the corruption fight.

“That is why this action, as has been seen in this manner, is condemned by the Senate and all agencies of government must ensure that they act within the confines of the law,” he said.

But as the reactions over the action of the DSS continued pouring in, Buhari yesterday forwarded the names of two Appeal Court justices to the Senate for confirmation as justices of the Supreme Court.

The judges are Sidi Dauda Bage (North-central) and Paul Adamu (North-east).

Buhari, in a letter dated October 6, 2016 and read on the floor of the Senate by Saraki, said their appointments were in compliance with Section 231(2) of the Constitution.

House to Investigate DSS

The reaction in the House of Representatives yesterday was not dissimilar to that of the Senate, with the lower chamber stating that the DSS was acting outside the duties assigned to it by the National Securities Act, and resolved to constitute an ad hoc committee to investigate the activities of the agency since the inception of the present administration.

The committee’s terms of reference would include the investigation of all cases of invasion of property and arrest of persons for reasons outside the general duties of the DSS since May 29, 2015.

The resolution was as a result of the adoption of a motion of urgent public importance sponsored by Hon. Kingsley Chinda (Rivers, PDP).

Chinda said the powers of the DSS as enumerated in Sections (2), (3) and (6) of the NSA Act do not include the investigation and prosecution of corruption, and abuse of office.

“Recall past incidents of similar invasions and arrests by the DSS including the Akwa Ibom State Government House, and the Ekiti and Zamfara States Houses of Assembly for matters unrelated to its lawfully prescribed duties,” he said.

Chinda added that if the trend is left unchecked, it was capable of truncating the nation’s democracy or could result in the introduction of self-help by concerned citizens, which could lead to anarchy.

The motion, however, caused some rumbling among the lawmakers, prompting Speaker Yakubu Dogara to shelve the debate on the matter.

Hon. Mojeed Alabi (Osun, APC) had cited Sections 4, 5 and 6 of the constitution as guaranteeing the separation of powers among the arms of government.

This matter is not something that concerns us, Alabi said.

However, the murmuring by several lawmakers showed that they were not in agreement with him.

The speaker then ruled on the motion urging members to allow the investigation to be conducted.

Meanwhile, in line with the opinion held by several of his colleagues, Hon. Dennis Agbo (Enugu, PDP) condemned the actions of the DSS, adding that it should be condemned by all Nigerians.

He said that the present government does not seem to be interested in governing by the rule of law.

“We are fast descending into anarchy and the law of the jungle, where might is right,” the lawmaker told THISDAY while reacting to the development.

“Why the militarisation of the whole process for unarmed judges that had not resisted or evaded arrest? Why all the orchestrations? Had these judges ever been invited for interrogation and did they refuse to honour the invitation?” Agbo queried.

The lawmaker said the “the brazen act of lawlessness” was first visited on the National Assembly leadership, and has now been extended to the judiciary.

“Who knows who or what is next?” the lawmaker said.