Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
An anti-corruption group, Forum of Non-Governmental Organisations in Nigeria (FONGON), wednesday handed down a one-week ultimatum to the judges arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS) for alleged corruption to vacate their seats and allow for unimpeded investigations.
The group also threatened to mobilise its members to occupy the Supreme Court if the judges refused to step aside.
The Chairman of the organisation, Wole Badmus, who addressed journalists during a rally at the Supreme Court said no member of the judiciary was above the law and untouchable especially when found to be involved in criminal acts.
Badmus who led about 100 members of the forum to the Supreme Court and the National Assembly said the judges violated the Money Laundering Act by keeping huge amount of cash at home.
He said: “Following the failure of National Judicial Council (NJC) to stop all the judges under investigation from sitting, we have no choice than to occupy the courts the judges are sitting. When we are talking of the rule of law, you have to obey the rule of law first before we obey your rule of law. You have been alleged of certain things and the best thing to do is to step aside and let investigations be done.
“You cannot continue sitting there and pervert the course of justice, we have 50 organisations here, we will be up to 200 organisations, from today we are giving a one week ultimatum for the judges under investigations, to step aside.”
FOGON said no judge should be untouchable or above the law as the constitution did not confer immunity from prosecution on judicial officers.
“No judge or justice is beyond being arrested if found wanting in the discharge of his duty, we are surprised by the argument being put up by the judges, none has been able to come out clear to say the money found in his house did not exist.
“They are telling us stories meant for a three-year-old baby, when has a judge turned to farmer? Some other judges are claiming it is estacode, this is bunkum. We cannot believe it, even by the law of Nigeria, once you have unspent estacode you must return it to the coffers, based on the Money Laundering Act of 2000, the money has to be declared, this sum found in the houses of these judges is very embarrassing when Nigerian are crying for food on the table, for qualitative education.
“A justice home is not Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), it is not bureau de change, not black market so I don’t know what argument they want to push, all judges and justices under investigation must step aside first not to pervert investigation. You cannot be a judge in your own case. If you are being investigated for money laundering and they brought such case before you what moral justification do you have to preside over such a matter?”
FOGON also accused the NJC of not doing enough to fight corruption in the judiciary.
“Even the NJC should be steadfast, 73 judges have been indicted and not one of them was brought to justice, the meaning is that take your loot and sin no more, we cannot continue like this.
“They have not denied the fact that the money was in their house and what they have been saying is funny stories, one said he is a farmer when the law of the land does not allow you to engage in commercial farming as a public official so it is not a matter of presumption of guilt, it is a matter of caught in the act,” he said.
The members of FOGON who carried various placards insisted that those who were being indicted should face the law while the anti-corruption agencies continue their investigations for more corrupt officials.
“Change is not automatic, Nigerians must brace up to the reality. For the fact that another thief has not been caught that does not free the one that has been caught. People should not muddle things together, this rule of law is used to kill a lot of cases. Let the thief that has been caught be dealt with. Unless we have a positive precedence from this, this type of thing will repeat itself in the future.”
The secretary of FOGON, Omobolaji David said the fight against corruption would not exclude the members of the executive and the legislative. “There is no untouchable, no one is exclusive even the president, if found corrupt, we will dissociate with him. Everyone is touchable,” he said.