By Obidike Udoka with additional report from SaharaReporters
Fresh facts at the weekend emerged on why President Muhammadu Buhari okayed a nationwide onslaught against suspected judges across the hierarchy of the nation’s judicature.
Bar and Bench Watch learnt that the intelligence report on some serving judges moved the presidency to sanction the unprecedented mass arrest of affected judicial officers, preparatory to mass purge in the judiciary.
It was learnt that the intelligence report indicted various top judicial officers including two heads of superior courts of record.
But for the clean bill of health given the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmoud Mohammed, the intention was to disband the Supreme Court.
Since Nigeria attained independence, the judiciary has been the most stable of the institutions that wield governmental powers in terms of personnel.
But the political history was to take a curve until few days when the plan was halted.
In the confidential report sent to President Buhari, names of top judges and the allegations against them were carefully detailed.
They were to be investigated with those found guilty prosecuted.
The Department of the State Service had commenced action with the midnight arrest or attempted arrest of judges in Abuja, Gombe, Kano, Port-Harcourt and other locations in the country.
The exercise was highly controversial and had divided the polity because of the manner it was carried out and because it was unprecedented in the political history of Nigeria.
It was authoritatively learnt that emerging facts after the mass arrest was commenced put a lie to some of the claims in the confidential result.
The Presidency, in a face saving measure, it was learnt, had to order the immediate stoppage of the exercise to further study situation.
Already, two high court judges affected by the mass arrest: Justice Adeniyi Ademola and Justice Dimgba, both of the Abuja division of the Federal high court had written the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmoud Mohammed in his capacity as the Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC) for permission to sue the DSS for invasion of their privacy and humiliation suffered by them in the hands of the operatives of the DSS.
The CJN is yet to take any action on their requests.
But ahead of the CJN’s decision, a lawyer has slammed a N50billion suit against the Presidency over the mass arrest even though his locus standi to institute the suit is in doubt.
But amidst various reactions trailing the mass arrest, the confidential report on which the Presidency acted has been leaked.
According to SaharaReporters, it claimed it had obtained a full list of the 20 top Nigerian judges under investigation by security agencies across the country and the lawyers involved in some of the deals.
It said the list is contained in a confidential memo forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari on a recent dramatic move by agents of the Department of State Security (DSS) against judges accused of accepting bribes as well as other acts of corruption.
The judges named in the purported confidential list sent to President Muhammadu Buhari include Justices Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta and John Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court, Justice Muhammad Ladan Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Uwani Abba-Aji of the Court of Appeal, Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Justice Mohammed Yunusa of the Federal high Court, Justice Kabir Auta of the Kano State High Court, Justice Munir Ladan of the Kaduna State High Court, Justice Bashir Sukola of the Kaduna State High Court, and Justice Mu’azu Pindiga of Gombe State High Court.
Other high profile judges named in the confidential memo include Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, the current President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ibrahim Auta, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati of the Federal High Court, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba and Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court.
The memo, according to SaharaReporters accused Justice Chikere of receiving cash for a pre-election matter that came before her.
The memo alleged that Justice Kabiru Auta collected bribes from a businessman named “Alhaji Kabiru SKY.”
Justice Abdul Kafarati was alleged to have a litany of corruption allegations against him, even though he is due to become the new Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
For instance, officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) allegedly found more than N2 billion in the judge’s bank account.
The judge reportedly claimed he had earned the funds from his farming business in Yobe State.
Justice Yunusa was also alleged to be facing several allegations of corruption.
The memo alleged that he took N5 million bribe from a senior lawyer who is presently facing trial.
Justice Yunusa was also accused of disregarding case precedents set by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Justice Pindiga of the Gombe State High Court was thrust into national prominence on account of his involvement in the Rivers State election petition fraud.
He reportedly received N100 million from Governor Nyeson Wike of Rivers State to influence a tribunal ruling in the governor’s favor but the governor had since denied the allegation.
However, the judge was subsequently removed as the head of the tribunal, but he reportedly bought several cars and built houses from the proceeds of his alleged corruption.
Justices Munir Ladan and Bashir Suokla of the Kaduna High Court were recommended for arrest and prosecution based on several petitions alleging that they received bribes in exchange for verdicts.
Some lawyers reportedly characterized the two judges as “cash-and-carry” judges.
Some of the most extensive allegations in the memo pertain to Justice Adeniyi Ademola.
In one instance, the judge allegedly accepted a $200k bribe to discharge a garnishee order against the Delta State House of Assembly.
He was also accused of using his position as a judge to get his wife appointed to the position of Head of Service in Lagos State because of alleged certain deals with Bola Tinubu, national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In 2010, the Cross Rivers State command of the DSS determined that Justice Ademola had accepted a bribe from some members of the “Peace Corps of Nigeria” and oil bunkerers under prosecution.
Justice Ademola was arrested last weekend and allegedly found to be in possession of $550k, part of which he reportedly claimed belonged to Justice Auta, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court
But Justice Ademola had since denied the allegation of indicting his boss or anybody in his letter of October 11, 2016, addressed to the CJN to ask for permission to sue.
Justice Ademola was also allegedly found with two unlicensed Pump Action Rifles in his Abuja home.
The judge, however, in his October 11, 2016 letter, had claimed that his ordeal was because he once tried current Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), for professional misconduct when he was a judge in Kaduna.
He had accused Mr. Malami of being behind his harassment, adding that the raid on his residence was part of a retaliation plot by the AGF.
The judge did not, however, deny the fact that he was found with huge cash at home except insinuations that the cash might have been brought by the operatives of the DSS, claiming that he was not with them when they allegedly recovered some monies from his guest room.
Justice Ibrahim Auta of the Federal High Court was also alleged to be facing several allegations of misconduct, according to the memo obtained by SaharaReporters.
The accusations against him included accepting bribes in order to assign “lucrative” cases to certain ‘corrupt’ judges who give him kickbacks.
Numerous real estate assets were allegedly traced to him which worth was claimed to be over and above what his lawful earnings could give him.
In addition, law enforcement agents had alleged that he once accepted N500,000 from a top lawyer facing prosecution.
Justice Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal, by the memo was accused of demanding N200 million from an interested party in a case before his court.
He was arrested last week after the NJC determined that he was guilty of demanding for bribes.
Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, president of the Court of Appeal, is named in the memo where she is described as stupendously wealthy.
Even though agents found that Justice Bulkachuwa abstained from taking bribes in the Rivers State election case, she was accused of engaging in bribery and taking kickbacks from judges to which she assigned “lucrative” cases.
Justice Abba Aji reportedly received N8 million from a top lawyer
SaharaReporters learned that she was purportedly dropped from the list of judges recommended for elevation to the Supreme Court on account of her implication in the bribe scandal.
In addition, Justice Bulkachuwa is alleged to have taken bribes from two former governors in order to facilitate favorable judgment in election petitions.
The two justices of the Supreme Court, Ngwuta and Okoro, allegedly received significant bribes from Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.
Security agents alleged that Mr. Wike gave the two judges N5 billion to ensure that other Supreme Court justices ruled in the governor’s favor in a final election petition at the Supreme Court.
Governor Wike had, again, promptly denied the allegation as false and concocted.
SaharaReporters had earlier reported that Justice Mary Odili of the Supreme Court played a role in the Wike’s case.
Justice Walter Onnoghen, the nominee for the post of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was alleged to have a question to answer regarding the Wike bribery scandal.
However, security agents decided not to go after him, telling President Buhari that the backlash would be intense if Justice Onnoghen, a southerner, were bypassed for CJN in favor of a northerner.
Justices Ngwuta and Okoro were also named in the case of Akwa Ibom where the governor was alleged to have disbursed a huge amount of money to bribe Supreme Court justices to secure a favorable ruling.
A senior lawyer was fingered to have reportedly facilitated the deal using a female in his chambers.
The Akwa Ibom governor paid the highest bribe to the Supreme Court justices.
Both justices were among judges arrested last week in late night raids carried out by the DSS.
But it had emerged that there was no petition against the two justices of the Supreme Court as at the time of their arrest neither was there any summon on them by the DSS which they snubbed as earlier alleged.
The two justices are yet to say a word about the saga.
Security agents claimed that Justices Ngwuta and Okoro were found with stashes of foreign currency at their homes.
Both justices have since been released.
Other judges mentioned in the memo included Justices I. A. Umezulike, who two weeks ago was retired by the NJC, Ibrahim Buba, Rita Ajumogobia and an unnamed judge of the Lagos State High Court.
Although so many judges were mentioned and various allegations reeled out, they all remain allegations until proven.