·Claims transport minister bandied Buhari’s name, ex-gov denies allegation
·President: Corrupt judiciary will render anti-graft war wasteful
Tobi Soniyi and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
In a major pushback by the judiciary to absolve itself of claims that some judges have been taking bribes, leading to their recent arrest by the Department of State Services (DSS) and further probe by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), one of the Supreme Court justices arrested by the DSS, Justice John Inyang Okoro, has alleged that he was targeted because he refused to help the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) deliver judgments in the Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Abia governorship election appeals that were favourable to the party.
In a letter he wrote to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed on Monday, October 17, 2016, detailing his ordeal in the hands of the DSS, Justice Okoro said that a former governor of Rivers State and now Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, came to his house to persuade him to give judgments in APC’s favour and also promised to offer him millions of naira if he delivered.
This is just as Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, who had also written to the CJN on the circumstances which he claimed led to his arrest by the DSS, yesterday withdrew from the trial of the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd). However, Justice Okoro’s allegations were strenuously denied by Amaechi’s media office yesterday, which said in a text: “The accusation from Justice Okoro against Amaechi is a figment of his imagination, concocted to obfuscate the real issues for his arrest and DSS’ investigation of allegations of corruption against him.
“The claims by Justice Okoro against Amaechi are blatant lies, bereft of any iota of truth or even logic. Amaechi did not, and has never approached Justice Okoro in respect of the cases Okoro mentioned or any other case.”
The media office described it as a “cheap attempt, albeit, political move to drag the name of Amaechi into something he knows nothing about”. It advised Justice Okoro to face his issues and leave Amaechi out of it, adding that the judge would be hearing from the minister’s lawyers soon. Justice Okoro, in his letter, asked the CJN to disregard all the lies and media campaign orchestrated by those who felt he purposely refused to help them win their election appeals at the Supreme Court.
“I’m confident that God will vindicate me at the end of this ordeal. I take it as a temporary setback. I remain loyal to my oath of office and the need to be just and fair in handling matters before me,” he added.
In the letter, Justice Okoro said: “My Lord, as at the time of writing this letter, the DSS has not confronted me with any petition or complaint from any quarters whatsoever.
“Rather, they have grilled me, asking questions on some none existing properties around the country. They have also doubted the age of my children, alleging that they are toddlers. This is sad and unbelievable.
“My Lord, I strongly believe that this my travail is not unconnected with the verbal report I made to you on the 1st of February, 2016 about the visit to my official residence by His Excellency, Rotimi Amaechi, former Governor of Rivers State and now Minister of Transportation. “In that report, I told you My Lord, that Mr. Amaechi said the President of Nigeria and the APC mandated him to inform me that they must win their election appeals in respect of Rivers State, Akwa Ibom State and Abia State at all cost.
“For Akwa Ibom, he alleged that he sponsored Mr. Umana Umana, candidate of APC, for that election and that if he lost the Akwa Ibom appeal, he would have lost a fortune.
“Mr. Amaechi also said that he had already visited you (the CJN) and that you had agreed to make me a member of the panel that would hear the appeals.
“He further told me that Mr. Umana would be paying me millions of naira monthly if I co-operated with them. My response, as I told you on that date, was that it does not lie within my power to grant his request and that I would do all within my power not to be in the panel for Akwa Ibom State.
“My Lord graciously left me out of the panel for Akwa Ibom State. That notwithstanding, the APC in Akwa Ibom State which lost the appeal at the Supreme Court believed that my presence in the Supreme Court made them to lose the appeal. Could I have resigned from the Supreme Court simply because the people of Akwa Ibom State had a matter before it?
“My Lord will recall that I also reported that Mr. Umana Umana visited my residence before Amaechi’s visit. He also made the same request of assistance to win his appeal at the Supreme Court.
“Mr. Umana talked about ‘seeing’ the justices who would hear the appeal. Pastor (Dr.) Ebele Ukpong who led Mr. Umana Umana to my house intercepted and said that the issue of ‘seeing’ the justices was not part of their visit and that as a pastor, he would not be part of such a discussion.
“Mr. Umana apologised. I advised them to go and pray about the matter and get a good lawyer. That was how they left my house.”
Justice Okoro claimed he did not know why he was being prosecuted, maintaining that he had always done his best to eschew all forms of corrupt practices.
“I have not received any bribe from anybody, My Lord is quite aware of my position as regards those that take bribe in the judiciary,” he added. Justice Okoro said that on October 7, at about 9.00 p.m., he received a phone call from an unfamiliar caller who introduced himself as an official of the presidency.
He said: “He told me he had a letter for me from Mr. President. I immediately left my study room and went to open the door. Upon the door being opened, I saw so many heavily armed men with an inscription ‘DSS’ on their uniform.
“One of them who was in mufti said to me they were to search my house. I requested that I be allowed to inform the CJN but they rebuffed, rather, they seized my phone from me.”
He revealed the operatives searched all the rooms in his house meticulously and also searched the boy’s quarters and his official vehicles. According to him, at the end of the search, which lasted till about 1.30 a.m. of October 8, 2016, they took away the following items: one Ipad, three phones, USD 38,800, N3.5 million and four cheque books.
Justice Okoro also said that the operatives told him that their director-general (DG) would like to see him that night. He said that his request to allow him visit the DG first thing the following morning was rejected. He said: “In view of the presence of the heavily armed men who accompanied them and who were pointing their gun at me from all angles, I had no choice than to follow them to their office that night.”
He added that he was detained till Sunday, October 9, 2016 when the CJN intervened.
Justice Okoro said before he was released, the operatives asked him to make a statement concerning the money found in in his house.
“I told them that having received the sum of USD 24,000 (twenty four thousand dollars) and £10,000 (ten thousand pounds) a year for the past three years of my sojourn in this court as annual medical/vacation allowances, and having not spent more than £5,000 (five thousand pounds) on each of the three trips, I have so far made abroad, I was entitled to have more than the amount recovered from me.
“Put differently, My Lord, the money was the balance of my estacode received from this court for the past three years. This is quite outside the estacode I have received for the international conferences I have so far attended since joining the bench of this court,” he stated.
Justice Ademola Steps Down
Justice Okoro’s mind-boggling allegations came just as Justice Ademola of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court withdrew from the trial of the former NSA.
Ademola was one of the eight arrested by operatives of the DSS for alleged corrupt practices. He is on administrative bail by the DSS.
Dasuki was arraigned on September 1, 2015 over charges that bordered on unlawful possession of firearms and money laundering.
But due to intermittent interlocutory applications from both the prosecution and defence counsel, commencement of the trial of the former NSA has been delayed.
At the trial yesterday, the judge told the court that he would not be able to go ahead with the hearing of the case in view of the recent clampdown on some judges in the country by the DSS.
Dipo Okpeseyi (SAN) was the prosecution counsel while the defence counsel was Adedayo Adedeji.
Addressing the court, Justice Ademola said: “I’m sure the prosecution and defence counsel are conversant with what has been going on in the last seven days in this country.
“One of the allegations being made against me by the Department of State Security is that I received certain sums of unspecified money from the defendant.
“Of course, I have responded to that allegation of receiving an unspecified sum of money from the defendant but it will be wise for him to answer some questions.”
“Do you know me at all or have you come in contact with me?” the judge asked Dasuki who was present in court.
“I don’t know you My Lord,” Dasuki responded.
“Did you at any time give me money in respect of the ongoing trial?” the judge asked, to which Dasuki replied: “No, My Lord, I didn’t give you any money.”
Again, Justice Ademola queried: “Did you send any money to me; to any member of my family, or through any counsel?”
Dasuki answered: “No, My Lord, except the DSS agents who are reporting the allegation did.”
The judge said: “I am happy that you have answered these questions. In the interest of fair hearing, I am minded to return the case file to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for further action.”
Reacting, the prosecution counsel said: “We are guided by Your Lordship’s decision even though we had come for a ruling and continuation of the trial.”
Adedeji acknowledged the recent turn of events and said the judge was right to take that step.
Consequently, Okpeseyi requested an adjournment while awaiting the decision of the Chief Judge.
After listening to the counsel, Justice Ademola said: “This court is minded to transfer this case to the Chief Judge. The defendant has vehemently denied in open court today the allegation made by the DSS. “Therefore, this case file will be returned to the CJ in line with the principle of fair hearing.
“This criminal matter has been adjourned to another date as may be fixed by the new judge.”
In his letter to the CJN, following his arrest, Justice Ademola had alleged that he was arrested by the DSS because he admitted Dasuki to bail and freed Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB).
Justice Ademola said he was held for over 24 hours before he was told the reason he was brought to the office of the DSS.
He also saw his arrest as a revenge from Mr. Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), whose arrest and detention he ordered for professional misconduct when he was a judge in Kano between 2004 and 2008.
Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia Ignores EFCC
In a related development, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court, Lagos, yesterday failed to honour the invitation of the EFCC. However, Justice Musa Haruna Kurya, another judge of the Federal High Court, reported at the commission’s Lagos office at 10 a.m. yesterday, in order to respond to some findings in an ongoing investigation. Kurya, accompanied by his lawyer, was attended to by the operatives of the commission on arrival.
Ofilli-Ajumogobia, who was also supposed to be at the commission’s office on a similar invitation, failed to turn up, reported the online news website, The Cable.
On Monday, two other Federal High Court judges – Justices Mohammed Nasir Yunusa and Nganjiwa Hyledzira – reported to the EFCC Lagos office, where they were quizzed for hours.
The National Judicial Commission (NJC), some months ago, placed Ofili-Ajumogbobia on its “watch-list,” and had barred her from being elevated from her present position, owing to gross misconduct.
NJC Speaks on Ghanaian Corruption Cases
The NJC, meanwhile, has stated that the Ghanaian corruption cases against judges in the West African country were not the same as the cases in Nigeria.
In a detailed explanation of its position on the invasion of residences and arrests of judicial officers by the DSS, the NJC said in an advertorial published in THISDAY today that the experience was not the same with the recent events in Nigeria.
It said: “The Ghana experience is not the same with the recent events in Nigeria between the DSS and the judicial officers that were arrested. “The events in Ghana unfolded after a painstaking two-year undercover investigative journalism by a Ghanaian journalist, Mr. Anas Aremyau. Mr. Anas gathered evidence, including audio and video, supporting the allegations of corruption and bribery against some Ghanaian magistrates and judges.
“The evidence was turned over to the Ghanaian Judicial Council, equivalent of the NJC. The Hon. Chief Justice of Ghana, Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, took charge of the situation and assured the Ghanaian people that the judicial council would take, ‘prompt and resolute action to redeem the image of the Judiciary’.
“The allegations of corrupt practices and professional misconduct against the High Court judges were handled by the appropriate impeachment Committee of the Ghanaian Judicial Council.
“Attempts to obtain injunction to stop the proceedings were dismissed by the Ghanaian High Court. All the Judges found culpable of the allegations, were disciplined appropriately by the Judicial Council of Ghana.” It noted that the residences of the judicial officers in Ghana were not raided neither were they arrested by the police or Ghanaian Secret Services equivalent to Nigeria DSS.
“Indeed, they were not arraigned before any law court nor kept in the cell of the Ghanaian Secret Services Department or their houses searched,” it added.
The full statement of the NJC, part of which was published last Friday, can be read in THISDAY newspaper today and on the website: www.thisdaylive.com.
Buhari on Corrupt Judiciary
However, as the judiciary scrambles to exonerate itself of allegations of widespread malfeasance in its midst, Buhari has said a corrupt judiciary would make the war against corruption a wasteful venture, just as he said a corrupt executive and legislature would make the anti-graft battle a futile effort.
The president was of the view that if the ongoing war against corruption in Nigeria must be won, a synergy between reasonable and right thinking men and women must be secured.
Buhari made the remarks at the opening of a two-day anti-corruption conference in Abuja organised by the Joint National Assembly Committees on Anti-Corruption, with the theme: “The Role of the Legislature in the Fight against Corruption in Nigeria.”
According to him, corruption had eaten deeply into the fabric of the nation’s socio-economic and political structures as a result of the failure of past administrations to confront the menace with the required commitment. However, he said his administration has opted to defy the status quo with a strong determination to combat the menace.
“Despite the widespread cynicism about the ability of the political class to fight corruption, we have indeed found the will to go after it with all that is within our resources as enabled by existing laws of our land.
“How do you explain a situation where funds meant to equip soldiers in a war that was consuming thousands, but was stolen by a few individuals, and then people still find the justification for such behaviour?
“We don’t set out fighting corruption believing and acting as if we are the best by virtue of our positions as chief executives and thinking that we will do it alone without employing other available human resources.
“That’s not what we need to win the war that’s threatening everybody; what we need is a coalition of reasonable men and women who would form the army of the willing in this fight.
“We need to know that a corrupt executive will destroy all that’s meant for development, that a corrupt legislature will frustrate all efforts to strengthen institutions via relevant legislation, and that a corrupt judiciary will frustrate all attempts at punishing corrupt crimes and those involved in them.
“We have an opportunity today to begin a national project which is not necessarily a finger-pointing exercise. We must be aware that this Republic will fall and consume us all if we don’t put a practical plan in place using our laws and actions going forward,” the president said.
In his contribution, Senate President Bukola Saraki said the Buhari administration, unlike previous governments, had shown the political will to tackle the menace of corruption, which he said had held the nation hostage for four decades.
He added that whereas previous administrations had woefully failed in this regard, the onus lies on the current administration to seize the moment and institutionalise the fight against corruption.
However, he warned against using the anti-graft crusade as a platform to persecute perceived political enemies. He also asked them to adhere to the rule of law and comply with court orders.
“For more than 40 years now, the ‘anti-corruption’ fight has remained a major policy thrust of successive administrations. While this is true, it is also unfortunately true that not much traction has been achieved in preventing corruption in our public life.
“There is no doubt that corruption has significantly impaired our growth and development as a nation. More importantly, it is the poor that are mostly affected by corruption.
“This is why the war against corruption must now be fought sustainably through systemic solutions.
“It is safe to say that we have failed before, for various reasons. Whatever, those reasons are, we cannot afford to fail again. This time, we must get it right.
“To lose this opportunity will have untold impact on our history and development. The current initiative must be insulated from being used as a political tool for political witch-hunts. It must not be allowed to be tainted in a manner that suggest selectivity,” Saraki cautioned.
In his keynote address, Kenyan activist and anti-corruption crusader, Prof. Patrick Lumumba, did not mince words about blaming Nigeria for the lack of progress in Africa, saying the continent would only see a glimmer of hope if Nigeria assumes its leadership position.
“You may not know this, but it has never been lost on me that the day Nigeria rises, that’s the day that Africa will rise. It must also be known that out of every five Africans is a Nigerian,” he said.
He lamented the damage corruption had done to Africa’s potential, saying it was the reason the entire continent, despite being larger than Europe, was trailing behind in relation to the gross domestic product (GDP) of smaller countries like Germany, France and Britain.
He also dismissed formulating new frameworks targeted at fighting corruption, explaining that Africa has a flood of legislations to combat corruption and blamed the problem on bad leadership.
“That’s why African countries combined have a GDP that’s lower than that of some individual countries in Europe such as Germany, France and Britain. “Africans are poor because their leaders have chosen the part of corruption. One of the reasons why corruption thrives in Africa, is because African leaders are in the business of cannonising thieves, punishing the small ones and electing the big ones into offices.
“In fact, Africa has forests of legislations. One must bear in mind that there are a number of countries in African which have actually succeeded. “These countries did so because their leaders meant what they said. African countries have the inclination to sign treaties and ratify them. If you look at countries which were quick to sign protocols, they rush to sign everything on sight without having the willingness to do those things that the documents so signed demand of them,” he said.
Lumumba added that corruption could only be combated in Africa if it is made unattractive, noting that the menace is evident in every sphere of the society.
Also speaking, the head of the Presidential Committee on Anti-Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, said the legislature occupies a strategic position with the power to whip other arms of government into action.
However, he said the Nigerian legislature has failed to live up to its responsibilities, insisting that a corrupt legislature could not take its rightful position in a democratic government.
“For the legislature to play this role effectively, its own hands must be clean in order to effectively check other arms of government. A self-seeking and corrupt legislature cannot effectively check the executive or the judiciary.
“In my own humble view, our legislature has not shown transparency in the discharge of its responsibilities,” Sagay said, citing the recent allegation of budget padding as example.