SERAP write CJN over Amaechi’s alleged visit to Justice Okoro

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According to reports, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has sent an open letter to Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, in his capacity as the Chairman of the National Judicial Council, seeking explanations on what “he and the NJC knew or had reason to know regarding the report to them on February 1, 2016 by Justice John Inyang Okoro, Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, on the alleged visit by Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation, to the official residence of Justice Okoro to allegedly discuss election Appeals in respect of Rivers State, Akwa Ibom State and Abia State.”

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The letter was dated October 21, 2016 and signed by SERAP’s Executive Director. Adetokunbo Mumuni.

The letter stated: “We consider these allegations as constituting a serious threat to the independence, impartiality and accountability of the judiciary, and should in the ordinary course of duties, have prompted action from your Lordship and the NJC to wit: undertaking prompt, thorough and transparent investigations, and where there is prima-facie evidence of political interference in the judicial system, to report the matter to the appropriate anticorruption commissions and agencies for further investigation and possible prosecution.”

The letter reads in part: “SERAP strongly believes that the NJC has a responsibility to support judges in dealing with alleged corrupt inducements that are offered or the threats they receive, such as the allegations in this case.

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“In this respect, SERAP wishes to pose the following questions to your Lordship and the NJC: First, is it correct to suggest that Justice Okoro reported to you and the NJC on 1st February, 2016 his alleged meeting at his official residence with Mr Rotimi Amaechi? Was Justice Okoro’s report documented by your Lordship and the NJC? If so, Nigerians would like to hear from your Lordship and the NJC whether Justice Okoro’s report was ever discussed, and what action, if any, was taken by your Lordship and the NJC to respond to the allegations raised in his report?

“Second, is it fair to suggest that your Lordship and the NJC knew, or had reason to know, that the alleged visit by Mr Amaechi to Justice Okoro’s official residence would constitute a case of political interference in the judicial system and a corruption offence under Nigerian laws and the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party?

“Third, after the alleged visit was brought to the attention of your Lordship and the NJC, did your Lordship and the NJC take any step to promptly and thoroughly investigate the matter further? Fourth, would your Lordship and the NJC agree that the alleged visit to Justice Okoro’s official residence to discuss election Appeals has seriously undermined the public trust and confidence in the judiciary, and the image of the judiciary as the last hope of the common man?

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“Fifth, is it correct to suggest that it is part of the inherent and implicit constitutional duties of the NJC to ensure that the judiciary as a whole does not lay itself open to the risk of political interference, manipulation and coercion to act in a certain way? Is it also correct to suggest that such duties require the NJC to promptly and thoroughly investigate allegations of political interference in the judicial system, that is, when those in political power allegedly use their influence to force or induce judges to act and rule according to their interests and not in accordance with the application of the law?

“Sixth, would your Lordship and the NJC accept that the alleged visit by Mr Amaechi to the official residence of Justice Okoro to allegedly discuss election Appeals was motivated, facilitated and encouraged by the apparent failure by the NJC to ensure, as part of its inherent and implicit constitutional duties: (1) that system was in place to ensure prompt and thorough investigation of allegations of political interference in the judicial system and where there is prima facie evidence, to refer such allegations to appropriate anticorruption commissions and agencies for further investigation and possible prosecution, in strict accordance with the standards of national laws and international law including the UN Convention against Corruption; (2) that any such system was operating in a continuous and effective manner?

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“Seventh, would your Lordship and the NJC proceed to establish a system to ensure prompt and thorough investigation of allegations of political interference in the judicial system, and then ensure that through such system the alleged visit of Mr Amaechi to Justice Okoro’s official residence is promptly and thoroughly investigated by the NJC, and where there is prima facie evidence of political interference, that the matter is promptly referred to appropriate anticorruption commissions and agencies for further investigation and possible prosecution?

“Nigerians are eagerly awaiting clarifications from your Lordship and the NJC on the issues raised above.

“According to reports, Justice Okoro in his recent letter to your Lordship stated that he reported to you the alleged visit by Mr Amaechi to his official residence to allegedly discuss how to win election Appeals in respect of Rivers State, Akwa Ibom State and Abia State. Justice Okoro also said that he told your Lordship about the visit of Mr. Umana Umana to his residence to allegedly make the same request of assistance to win the appeal at the Supreme Court.”

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