Indications emerged on Wednesday that the Federal Government might arraign, any moment from now, serving and suspended judges whose houses were raided penultimate weekend over alleged involvement in corrupt practices in the course of doing their judicial work.
This is because the Federal Government, it was learnt, is no longer willing to wait for the National Judicial Council (NJC) to suspend the judges before arraignment in view of the position by the judges’ regulatory body that the Presidency goofed by its approach and would not compromise its independence as an arm of government.
Both the executive and the judiciary have, in the last two weeks, politicized the investigation and possible arraignment of the arrested judges with the executive holding tight to section 174 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which empowers the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal charge against anybody suspected to have committed a criminal offence while the NJC is latching on the powers donated to it as a creation of section 153 of the same constitution to investigate and discipline erring judges without taking instruction from the executive
The fight for superiority, stakeholders have warned, by the two key institutions wielding governmental powers may mess up the nation’s democracy.
Already, two of the judges arrested by the DSS had started sitting with one of them asking an accused person in the open court if he actually demanded or collected bribe from him.
The interface between the judge and the accused person standing trial before him, it was learnt, had made litigants and members of the public who had thronged the court to watch proceedings look at one another in disbelief while few of them hissed and queried the judge’s legitimacy to sit on the corruption case in the first place or any other cases, himself being a suspected corrupt judge awaiting trial.
As it is today, the NJC is yet to take any step on the cases of the affected judges, a development that compelled the Attorney General of the Federation to give go-ahead for the arraignment of the affected seven judges, notwithstanding whether they are in the dock in the morning and on the bench in the afternoon.
The seven are among the 15 already identified by the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, but the other eight are yet to be officially named even though their identities had been leaked.
A top Presidency official said that the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, had approved the immediate prosecution of the suspects so as not to give the erroneous impression that judges are above the law.
The top source said the trial of the suspects would be carried out in phases and handled by the National Prosecution Council, which was recently inaugurated.
The source said the refusal of the NJC to suspend the suspected judges at its emergency meeting last week which lasted three days was interpreted as the readiness of the judiciary to engage in a war of supremacy with the executive.
Asked to disclose the nature of the charges to be preferred against the judges, the official said: “The charges are generally for corruption, with an isolated case of illegal possession of firearms to be pressed against one of the judges.”
‘The firearms were recovered from the home of one of the suspects by the DSS during the nocturnal raid on October 7, a development that had sparked national outrage.’
Giving further insight into the trial, the source hinted: “I can tell you that the National Prosecution Council will lead the prosecution of the suspects, while the Director of Public Prosecution in the Federal Ministry of Justice will coordinate the team.
“The charges were just cleared from the OHAGF and the suspects are certainly going to be charged to court any moment from now.
“The Federal Government is not deterred by the refusal of the NJC to suspend the suspects from office.
” Efforts to speak with the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, proved abortive, as he was said to be outside Nigeria.
None of his officials claimed knowledge of the approval of the charges against the suspected judges.
It will be recalled that the DSS had launched a sting operation in the homes of the judges on the night of October 7, 2016, recovering local and foreign currencies worth N360 million.
Two of the judges are from the Supreme Court, while the rest sit in Federal and State High Courts.
While Justice John Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court claimed on Tuesday that $38,000 found in his home was his estacode, he did not say how the over N3 million cash was left in his home and not the bank.
On the other hand, Justices Ademola Adeniyi and Nnamdi Dimgba had blamed their ordeal on the DSS and the AGF over certain court verdicts they claimed they gave against them in the past.
Nonetheless, the allegations against Malami were not mentioned to anyone until the raids on their homes by the DSS.