Law enforcement officers involved in investigating corrupt Nigerian judges arrested over the weekend have told Saharareporters how the main national body saddled with punishing judges have made it impossible to prosecute the judges even after they found guilty by the same body, the National Judicial Council.
They revealed that in the cases of judges arrested over the weekend by the Department of State Security they had written to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed a month earlier regarding the criminal conduct of some of the judges but the CJN who is the presiding chairman at the NJC refused to let the judges be interrogated. They said before the invitation by the DSS; the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had also tried to interrogate judges with whom they found substantial sums of bribe money but the NJC had insisted that the sanctions by the body were sufficient. In most cases, corrupt judges are given compulsory retirement and left to enjoy their loot.
The NJC is made up a committee headed by the CJN as chairman while the second most senior judge at the Supreme Court, in this case, Walter Onnoghen is deputy chair, others includes the President of the Court of Appeal, five chief judges of state high courts chosen by the CJN, five legal practitioners and the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
The current composition of the NJC also presents a problem, according to an EFCC official some members of the NJC are themselves corrupt and have been shown to be heavily involved in corruption. They pointed to immediate past chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association, Austin Alegeh who has petitions pending at the EFCC accusing him of embezzlement of NBA funds.
Also, another former President of the NBA, Joseph Daudu who chairs the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee has a case against him at EFCC over embezzlement of settlement fees paid to Nigeria by Halliburton.
Ricky Tarfa, a senior lawyer, involved a maze of corrupt activities involving several judges is also a member of Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, a body saddled with choosing senior lawyers known as “Senior Advocate of Nigeria.” Mr. Tarfa he has retained his position despite being charged with bribery and corruption.
More troubling for law enforcement agents is the attitude of the outgoing CJN who they accused of shielding a judge of the Court of Appeal, Justice Uwani Abba-Aji, who reportedly received N8 million from Mr. Tarfa. Despite her indictment, the CJN has recommended her for elevation to the Supreme Court.
A former CJN, Justice Katsina-Alu had also prevented Justice Umaru Eri of the National Judicial Institute in 2011 from honoring an invitation by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission over allegations that N6 billion went missing at his agency. Eri remained as the chairman of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee until his retirement.
One of the cases involving now-retired Justice Gladys Olotu of the Federal High Court in the Abuja Division in 2014 was also cited as the reason the NJC has become a useless body; the judge was found by the EFCC to possess over N2 billion in her bank accounts. As soon as the EFCC summoned her to appear she rushed to the court of Justice Adeniyi Ademola to obtain an order to stop the EFCC from acting on her case. She was later “compulsorily retired” by the NJC. Meanwhile, Justice Ademola was one of the judges arrested over the weekend with $500,000 found in his bedroom.
Soon after seven judges including two Supreme Court justices were arrested in overnight raids carried out by the DSS, the CJN met with President Muhammadu Buhari to ask for their release.
Sources at the Presidency said while President Buhari assured him that the raids were not targeted at the judiciary but corrupt judges the CJN showed the president of some persons close to him who had funneled monies to judges to influence them in recent election cases.
The President then reluctantly asked the DSS to release all the arrested judges on Sunday pending their arraignment in court.
The NJC is expected to meet today to discuss the recent clampdown on corrupt judges. The DSS has reportedly sent a detailed report of its investigations against the arrested judges and eight others under investigation to the NJC to aid their deliberations and decisions, however, a source knowledgeable about today’s meeting said the NJC was to fight back strongly against the DSS not to ratify its actions against corrupt judges.