FG Tightens the Screws, Charges S’Court Officials to Court for Diverting N2.2bn

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• NJC succumbs, judges being investigated must step down

• APC fingers Wike, Akpabio, Okowa, Emmanuel of being behind accusations against Amaechi

•Ruling party accuses governors of bribing Ngwuta, Okoro

Tobi Soniyi in Abuja

The federal government has moved to tighten the screws around corruption in the judiciary, with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) filing a nine-count charge against the outgoing Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Mr. Gambo Saleh, for allegedly diverting N2.2 billion.

Saleh has just been confirmed by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to take over as the secretary of the council, effective July 2017.

In the charge sheet filed by the ICPC at the Abuja High Court, Saleh has been charged alongside the Director of Finance of the Supreme Court, Mr. Muhammed Sharif, and one Rilwanu Lawal also of the Finance Department.

This came just as the NJC finally bowed to pressure, saying yesterday that it would no longer allow judicial officers under investigation for corruption to perform judicial functions.

Saleh, Sharif and Lawal were also accused by the federal government of obtaining gratification in the sum of N74.4 million.

The charge sheet was dated November 3, 2016 and was filed on behalf of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) by the ICPC.

They were accused of illegally diverting the sum of N2.2 billion into a private account in the United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc.

The offences were said to have been committed between 2009 and 2016.

The charge sheet was signed by Mr. Hajara H. Yusuf, Principal State Counsel in the Office of the AGF.

Saleh was appointed the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court on November 24, 2014 by the incumbent Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed.

At the just concluded NJC meeting, he was appointed secretary of the council. However, his new appointment will come into effect by July next year, before which he will understudy the incumbent secretary of the council, Danladi Halilu, who will be attaining the retirement age of 60.

Indicted Judges to Step Down

But as the NJC came to terms with the knowledge that its new chief registrar has a case to answer, it finally succumbed to pressure yesterday on the indicted judges, saying that it would no longer allow judicial officers who are being investigated for high profile corruption cases to perform judicial functions.

This decision was taken at the 79th meeting of the council held on the 2nd and 3rd of November 2016.

A statement issued by the council’s acting Director of Information, Mr. Soji Oye, said: “Council also decided that judicial officers shall not be standing trial for alleged corruption related offences and be performing judicial functions at the same time.

“Council however decided that it will ensure that judicial officers who are being investigated for alleged high profile criminal offences do not perform judicial functions until their cases are concluded.”

The council also said that it had commenced implementation of specific aspects of the National Judicial Policy, which came into force in April 2016 and was launched on Monday, October 24, 2016.

During the meeting, council also set up a Transparency and Anti-Corruption Policy Implementation Committee comprising Justice E. O. Ayoola (retired Justice of the Supreme Court) – chairman, Justice Kashim Zannah, Chief Judge of Borno State – member, A. B. Mahmoud (SAN), President Nigeria Bar Association – member.

The council stated that Section 6 of the National Judicial Policy aimed at putting in place multifaceted strategies and guidelines would ensure transparency and eliminate corruption in the judiciary.

The policy seeks, among other measures, to provide a platform and opportunity to citizens who profess factual and credible knowledge of information on the nature and modalities of corruption in the judicial system to ventilate them.

APC Accuses Wike, Others

Meanwhile, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has accused the Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, his Delta and Akwa Ibom State counterparts – Ifeanyi Okowa and Udom Emmanuel – and former Akwa Ibom State governor, Senator Godwill Akpabio, of being behind the accusations levelled against the Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi by two Supreme Court justices.

Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Inyang Okoro, both of the Supreme Court, were two of the seven judges arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS) for alleged corruption last month.

Shortly after the seven judges were granted bail, Justices Ngwuta and Okoro, in separate letters to the CJN, blamed their travails on Amaechi, whom they accused of trying to influence them into giving judgments that were favourable to the APC governorship candidates that contested the Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Ekiti gubernatorial elections between 2014 and 2015.

All the three states are currently held by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

But in a statement yesterday, the chairman of the Rivers State chapter of the APC, Chief Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, claimed that the allegations against Amaechi by Justices Okoro and Ngwuta had been linked to several top PDP leaders.

He alleged: “The governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, the governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, the governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel and the immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom State who’s now the Senate Leader, Godswill Akpabio (all PDP leaders), have been linked to the Supreme Court justices’ allegations against Amaechi.

“These big four PDP politicians are said to be the biggest spenders who allegedly induced and bribed the Supreme Court justices with hefty sums of money to get favourable judgments.

“They are said to be the major sources of the money, wealth and properties that have been traced by the DSS to Justices Okoro and Ngwuta.

“These PDP bigwigs are said to have advised the justices to drag Amaechi into their arrest and investigation by the DSS. They believe doing so would muddle the waters, divert the media and public attention from the corruption allegations against them and make the whole arrest and investigations look like a political vendetta against the justices.

“Our findings indicate that they told the justices that the Buhari government is after them, wants to bring them down, and that they must drag Amaechi down as well.

“They deceived the justices to think and believe that Amaechi is the one behind their travails because of some state governorship electoral matters the Supreme Court handled, that the All Progressives Congress (APC) lost.

“Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Delta governorship election appeals were cited to hoodwink Justices Okoro and Ngwuta into believing that Amaechi orchestrated their arrest and investigation.”

APC further recalled that in the recent past, some media organisations had written articles on the scandal and the link between Justices Okoro and Ngwuta and the four PDP leaders.

It said that an online news medium had specifically written about how huge sums of money in different currencies were channelled by these PDP leaders to induce the Supreme Court justices to influence courts’ rulings and get favourable judgments in the governorship election appeals of Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Delta States.

“Amaechi was targeted because the four of them – Wike, Akpabio, Udom and Okowa – see Amaechi as a big threat to their political ambitions and calculations ahead of 2019 elections.

“All four are from the South-south region, just like Amaechi. They are scared of Amaechi, his closeness to President Muhammadu Buhari, and they are afraid that Amaechi’s continual towering presence in the Buhari administration would truncate their plans and calculations for 2019.

“They want to damage Amaechi irreparably and destroy him politically. The ultimate target is President Buhari, and to get to the president, the conspiracy is to take out Amaechi first.

“Furthermore, our investigations reveal that all four PDP leaders hold one grudge or another against Amaechi. They desperately seek to destroy him. But they will fail,” APC said.