… Ask judges to produce evidence against them
Following separate allegations by two Supreme Court judges indicting Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi and Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu of attempt to influence the apex court’s decisions in some election cases (now decided), some civil society organisations including the Social-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN) are pushing for the probe of the minister.
The Supreme Court judges who accused the ministers are Justices Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta.
Men of the Department of State Service (DSS), it would be recalled, had raided the houses of seven judicial officers including those of the Supreme Court justices, before arresting them over corruption related offences.
The judges, after securing administrative bail on personal recognition, had written separate letters to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmoud Mohammed in his capacity as the Chairman of National Judicial Council (NJC) to allege that their arrests were masterminded by a number of people including serving minister, Rotimi Amaechi.
They further alleged that he visited their houses to demand for judicial victory in the gubernatorial election appeals in some states of the Federation including Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Abia, Ebonyi and Ekiti but that they refused his request.
They also disclosed that he promised to offer them money which they rejected and orally reported to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmoud Mohammed who himself confirmed that Amaechi was with him for the same reason.
In his letter, Justice Okoro said that Amaechi told him that he had been mandated by the President of Nigeria (Muhammadu Buhari) and the All Progressives Congress to inform him that “they must win their election appeals in Rivers State, Akwa Ibom and Abia states at all costs.”
Ngwuta alleged that Amaechi wanted to use him to influence the Supreme Court judgment with respect to election cases in the Rivers State governorship election and the Ekiti State governorship election.
He also claimed that Amaechi’s counterpart in the Ministry of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, contacted him to help sway the Court of Appeal’s decision on Ebonyi State governorship election matter.
Some stakeholders had picked holes in the allegations by the serving Supreme Court justices including that it must be an after-thought having failed to report what happened to the police or the ICPC.
Besides, the disclosure by Justice Ngwuta that he drove to the house of Ogbonaya Onu where the request to influence the judgment of the Supreme Court was a desecration of his high office and that the confession showed that he was yet to disclose in full what actually transpired.
Notwithstanding the holes picked in their explanations, civil society groups have said that the allegation against the two ministers must not be thrown out and that it must be investigated.
For instance, the Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said as much as he considered the judges’ allegations as an after-thought, for not making the revelations earlier, there was need for a thorough investigation into the matter.
He said, “Amaechi is having too many baggage, but let the appropriate agency (ies) start investigating the two sides.
“They should investigate what the judges have said and examine what Amaechi has said in defence. The truth will be somewhere in-between. The investigation must be thorough and unbiased.”
Also, the Executive Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said there was the need for the government and the relevant agencies to waste no time in investigating the claims of the judges, and that anyone found guilty should be made to stand trial, including the judges.
He also called on the judges to come up with evidences to substantiate their allegations.
He said, “The judges should not think they can embarrass anybody by making allegations without evidence and they should not think they can disrupt the free flow of trial.
“But if Amaechi is found guilty of the allegations, he should be made to stand trial, just like the judges.”
The Coalition for Transparency Accountability and Good Governance said it was high time Amaechi stepped down as a minister, given the number of allegations against him.
Its Coordinator, Mr. Mike Opia, said apart from the judges’ allegations against Amaechi, a report by UK-based Mail Online had also levelled some corruption allegations against the former governor.
Opia in a chat with the Punch (not Bar and Bench Watch) said if Amaechi was not investigated, it would appear that the fight against corruption by the present administration was a mere witch hunt.
“The allegations should be investigated and the minister should step down.
“This is not the first time he would be accused, and he’s not the only one in that cabinet.
“The President is not corrupt but it appears he harbours some corrupt persons. So, let Amaechi step aside because the anti-corruption fight seems like a witch hunt.”
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), also said all the allegations should be investigated irrespective of who is involved.
“What has been confirmed is that cases pending in the highest court of the land are discussed and negotiated with litigants who visit their (judges’) homes,” he said.
“I have also read the allegation of a retired judge who said that a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria asked her to pervert the course of justice.
“These very serious allegations ought to be thoroughly and speedily investigated by an independent panel.
“Offering a bribe to a public officer is a criminal offence while failure to report the offer is also a criminal offence.
“Whoever is implicated in the investigation should be prosecuted. This is a can of worms that cannot be covered up.
“The bankrupt ruling class has allowed the house of justice to be taken over by rats and cockroaches. It has to be fully fumigated in the interest of political stability.”
Another lawyer, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, asked Amaechi and Onu to leave their ministerial positions while the matter is being investigated, saying, “What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”
“So while investigating the judges, we just cannot close our eyes to the allegations made by the judges,” he added.
“If we say the judges should step aside as a matter of confidence, is it not also a matter of confidence to ask the ministers that have been accused of trying to influence court decisions to also step aside pending a holistic investigation into all the matters?
“These are politicians and we cannot pretend that we don’t know the attitude of Nigerian politicians; if we pretend we don’t, we will be deceiving ourselves,” he added.