…As NJC meets to brainstorm
Strong indications emerged Sunday night that at least eight more judges are presently on the radar of the Department of State Service (DSS) and might be picked up any moment from now as soon as on-going probe of their activities is completed.
A senior intelligence officer who made the disclosure was however not forthcoming on the identities of the judges.
The disclosure came on a day feelers also emerged that emergency meeting of the National Judicial Council (NJC) fixed for Tuesday would discuss the plight of the affected judicial officers and how to save the judiciary from being messed up in the circumstance the council found itself.
A reliable source and member of the NJC who spoke with Bar and Bench Watch said that the council might suspend the affected judges pending conclusion of their case so that they would enter the dock as Mr A or B and not as Justice A or B.
The source said that option might be necessary if their first option of securing their release and allow the council take over the investigation and disciplining of the indicted judicial officers.
The source however indicated that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and other members of the council were miffed by the style adopted by the executive in handling the case.
But the intelligence officer who spoke on condition of anonymity who said the on-going intervention of the DSS was not intended to disrespect the judiciary but to attack corruption headlong.
According to him, “a total of 15 judges are being investigated by the Department of State Services and other security agencies.
“Seven of them are currently being interrogated at the DSS headquarters in Abuja and may be charged to court as from Monday while another eight including one or two from the Supreme Court are still being investigated and more of the judges will be arrested in the next few days or weeks.’’
The judges being detained include: Justice Muhammad Ladan Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal; Justice Kabiru Auta in Kano; Justice Muazu Pindiga who was arrested in Gombe; and Justice Adeniyi Ademola.
The intelligence source said that none of the judges arrested during the DSS’ sting operations between Friday and the early hours of Saturday had been released even though there were media reports that a justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Agwata had been let off the hook.
“The seven judges being detained and interrogated have not been released; their statements are still being taken; they are cooperating with the interrogators. The interrogation is taking more time than expected because of the many questions the arrested judges need to answer,’’ the source said.
Asked why the DSS did not allow the NJC to handle the case, being an institution created by section 153 of the 1999 Constitution to hire probe and fire erring judicial officers, the source said there was nothing wrong in its intervention and that what it did fell within its core mandate.
“If not DSS, who else? There is nothing unusual about the DSS’ actions; it is normal. The security institution acted within the law guarding its operations.
“The actions of the suspected judges border on national security. We are talking about huge corrupt practices and national security that are beyond the mandate of the EFCC and the ICPC.
“If we talk about democracy — from the conduct of election to election rigging; issues of foreign investments; economy and other issues that have to do with our national security, they all end up in courts.
“So anybody or institution that tries to undermine that institution is toying with the national security of our dear nation.’’
“In the eyes of the law, the suspects were not above the law and didn’t have immunity from being investigated or prosecuted,” he added.
Continuing, the source said “Let me tell you, we have a situation where one of the judges was so foolish that he entered a departmental store to collect a bribe from a litigant. We have the evidence including video recording.
“During the sting operations, huge amount of monies, some in foreign currencies, were collected from some of the judges and they all signed the exhibits recovered in their houses.
“The DSS has strong evidence to charge them to court and that will be done as soon as the interrogation is concluded,’’ the source added.
He also gave the indication that the threat by the Nigerian Bar Association that there would be consequences should they not be released unconditionally was an empty threat.
“There is no tension at all. Whoever threatens national security of the nation will be dealt with.
“Gone are the days where those on the wrong side will turn around to intimidate us.
“That will never happen again in this country.’’
He said contrary to the allegation being bandied, the source said that a search warrant was obtained before the sting operations were carried out in the affected places, adding that “a warrant signed by a magistrate court can be executed even in the villa”.
It would be recalled that operatives of the DSS had embarked on a special sting operation at the weekend hauling into their dragnet a handful seven judges including two justices of the Supreme Court, one justice of the Court of Appeal and four other judges of the Federal High Court, all suspected to have engaged in bribery and large scale corruption.
The sting operations were conducted in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Gombe and Kano.
The affected judges are likely to have their days in court as from Monday