According to reports, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mahmud Mohammed, has condemned the arrest of judges by the Department of State Services (DSS), describing the development as deeply distressing.
Justice Mohammed spoke at a valedictory session held at the Supreme Court in honour of Justice Suleiman Galadima, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
He urged Nigerians to remain calm as an emergency meeting of the National Judicial Council (NJC) today will comprehensively look into the matter.
“It is indeed very saddening and deeply regrettable, the distressing and unfortunate incident which occurred on Friday, October 7 and Sunday, October 8. 2016.
“However, I urge all Nigerians to remain calm and prayerful. I must express my sincere appreciation to the executive of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) ably led by the president, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), and indeed all members of the legal profession, for their prompt action and continued support,” he said.
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN), who was expected to attend the event was absent and not represented.
Mahmoud said President Muhammadu Buhari should call the security agencies responsible for the arrest of the judges to order.
“We viewed these actions as illegal and unconstitutional and a threat to the independence of the judiciary and must be aimed at intimidating the judiciary and the legal profession.
“This military-style operations are totally unacceptable in a democratic society. They are unacceptable against private citizens but even more so against serving justices of superior courts,” he said.
According to Mahmoud, the NBA has rejected the presidency’s defence that the arrests were targeted at corruption and not the judiciary: “We find it absurd that the presidency will accept assurances from the DSS that it followed due process of the law.
“We maintain our position that these operations are illegal and unconstitutional. I want to reiterate that the position of the NBA is not aimed at protecting any judge. We are not also shielding any judge from investigation over charges of corruption.”
On the division among lawyers over the arrests and raid of the judges’ houses, the NBA president said: “We are clear that raiding houses of justices of the Supreme Court in the middle of the night by masked armed men is not the way to go. We do not accept it. This portends real danger to the Nigerian democracy. It is contrary to all civilised norms and accepted standards.”
Mahmoud said the core mandate of the DSS was to guarantee internal and national security. He urged the DSS to restrict itself to its constitutional and statutory duties.
“It is not the duty of DSS to conduct police investigation or arraign and prosecute cases of corruption. It is not its responsibility to conduct sting operations on judges for corruption or professional misconduct in the middle of the night.”
Mahmoud, therefore, called on the CJN to immediately take necessary and urgent steps to set in motion the process of cleansing the system.
He called on lawyers to remain resolute and speak with one voice, adding that “this is not the time to be divided. Urgent steps must be taken to restore confidence of the Nigerian people in the nation’s judiciary.”
The DSS at the weekend raided the homes of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta and Justice John Okoro, both of the Supreme Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court in Abuja.
A senior official of the DSS, Garbage Abdullahi, on Saturday disclosed that local and foreign currencies, totalling about N270 million, were recovered from the three senior judges.
Meanwhile, the DSS has released the arrested judges who were Sunday night sent back to their homes. Journalists that thronged an Abuja magistrate’s court yesterday left the place disappointed. Their siege on the court followed speculations that the judges were to be arraigned so they could get bail, unknown to many that the judicial officers spent the night in their homes. This was said to be a move by the DSS to play by the rules and douse tension.
A security source said last night: “They were all released on bail yesterday on self- recognition. They reported this morning (Monday) and they have all gone back home. They will be coming back tomorrow (today). And everything went very procedurally well and civil.”