NJC condemns invasion of judges homes by DSS is a threat to judiciary

The National Judicial Council has described the invasion of homes and
aRrest of some serving and suspended judges by agents of the Department
of Security Services (DSS) as a threat to the independence of the
judiciary.

In a statement released last night, the council said no
judicial officer who is under any form of investigation should be
invited by any institution in the country, including the DSS, without
complying with the rule of law and due process.

DSS officials last
Saturday, stormed the homes of some judges alleged to have been involved
in corrupt practices and arrested them. The affected judges namely
Justices Okoro and Ngwuta of the Supreme Court; Justice Muhammad Ladan
Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano High
Court; Justice Mu’azu Pindiga of the Gombe High Court; Justice Ibrahim
Auta, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria; and Justice
Adeniyi Ademola, were however released on grounds of self recognition on
Monday October 10th.  
According
to Thisday, the NJC in its statement maintained it had never shielded
any judge from investigation. Part of the NJC’s statement reads 
“That it
maintains its earlier decision that no judicial officer shall be
invited by any institution, including the DSS, without complying with
the rule of law and due process. That explains why when the DSS wrote to
the council by letter Ref. No. LSC.960/4 dated 14th September 2016, to
direct Hon. Justice Mu’azu Pindiga to appear before it, the Hon., the
Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council
directed the Hon. Chief Judge of Gombe State to ask Hon. Justice Mu’azu
Pindiga to report to DSS, which His Lordship did. 
That the National
Judicial Council has never shielded, nor will it shield any judicial
officer who has committed any misconduct. That the Department of State
Services is an agency in the presidency and its functions as specified
in the statute establishing it, is primarily concerned with the internal
security of the country. That the action of the DSS is a denigration of
the entire judiciary, as an institution. That by the act of the DSS,
judicial officers are now being subjected to insecurity, as criminals
might take advantage of the recent incidents to invade  their residences
under the guise of being security agents. The council vehemently
denounces a situation whereby the psyche of judicial officers in the
federation is subjected to a level where they would be afraid to
discharge their constitutional judicial functions, without fear or
favour, intimidation, victimisation or suppression. 
The council will not
compromise the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. The council
wishes to reassure the public that any person who has a genuine
complaint against any judicial officer is at liberty to bring it up to
the council for consideration, after following due process vide its
Judicial Discipline Regulations.”
The
NJC added that at the end of it two-day meeting, it unanimously agreed
to recommend Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, as the most senior, suitable and
competent justice of the Supreme Court to President Muhammadu Buhari
for appointment as the next Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), to succeed
Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed, who retires from office on the 10th November 2016.
‎The
statement further read: “At its last emergency meeting, which was held
on 11th October 2016, Council decided among other matters, as follows:
“That
the council is a creation, by virtue of Section 153 of the 1999
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, with its
powers specified in Paragraph 21 of Part One of the Third Schedule
whereof.
“That
by virtue of Section 160 of the 1999 Constitution, council fashioned
out: i) Judicial Discipline Regulations; ii) Revised NJC Guidelines and
Procedural Rules for the appointment of judicial officers of all
superior courts of record; iii) Code of Conduct for judicial officers of
the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and‎ iv) National Judicial Policy to
inter-alia, regulate its own procedure while exercising its
constitutional powers.
“That
Section 158(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of
Nigeria, as amended, has unequivocally provided for the independence of
the National Judicial Council vis-à-vis directing or controlling it by
any authority or person while exercising its powers.
“‎Reiterated
its absolute confidence in the President Muhammadu Buhari
administration and its unwavering determination to uphold the principles
of democracy, separation of powers and the rule of law enshrined in the
1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended and
the United Nations Charter, of which Nigeria is a member.
“‎That
it shall continue to support the President Buhari administration in its
fight against corruption in all its ramifications in the federation;
and in cleansing the judiciary of corrupt judicial officers.”
The council further addressed the issues as they affected each of the affected judges.
In
the case of Justice Ngwuta, it stated that the public was aware that
Ngwuta, a justice of the Supreme Court, was arrested after his house was
invaded by heavily armed and masked operatives of the DSS on Friday,
7th October 2016.
“The operatives did not leave his house until noon of the following day, when he was whisked away to the (“DSS”) office,” it revealed.
In
the case of Justice Okoro‎, the council stated that the residence of
Justice Okoro, a justice of Supreme Court, was raided in the same manner
and was arrested by the same operatives of the DSS.
It
stated that “contrary to the claim by the DSS and as published in the
electronic and print media, council has never received any petition
against the aforesaid judicial officers: Hon. Justices Ngwuta and Okoro
of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, by the DSS”.
In
the case of Justice Muhammed Ladan Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal, the
council said that ‎at its meeting held on 29th September 2016, it found
him culpable of professional misconduct contrary to the Code of Conduct
for Judicial Officers and the provisions of Section 292 of the
constitution.
NJC
said that it accordingly recommended him to Buhari for compulsory
retirement from office, following the petition written by one Mr. Nnamdi
Iro Oji for demanding the sum of N200 million bribe.
The
council said: “It is to be stressed that from the evidence before the
it, Hon. Justice Ladan Tsamiya did not receive the N200 million bribe.
The petitioner adduced evidence to support his allegation that Hon.
Justice Tsamiya only demanded for the money.
“In
the exercise of its power, council suspended Justice Tsamiya from
office, pending when the president will act on the recommendation. And
Mr. President has approved the recommendation of the council and
compulsorily retired His Lordship from office yesterday the 12th day of
October, 2016.”
On
Justice I. A. Umezuluke, the Chief Judge of the Enugu State, the
council ‎revealed that it also recommended him for compulsory retirement
from office to the Enugu State governor for gross misconduct, pursuant
to the petition written against him by Mr. Peter Eze.
It stated that the judge remained suspended, pending the time the Enugu governor would act on its recommendation.
With
respect to Justice A.F. Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, the
council said there was a petition written against him by ‎Hon. Jenkins
Duviegiane Gwebe on allegations bordering on corrupt practices.
It
disclosed: “Currently, a committee of the council is investigating the
allegation. ‎There is no other petition against Hon. Justice Ademola
from DSS pending at the National Judicial Council.”
In
the case of Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court, the
council said he was investigated based on allegations of corrupt
practices levelled against him in a petition by one Alhaji Kabiru
Yakassai.
NJC added that it had recommended the judge to the governor of Kano State for removal from office by dismissal.
It
said: “Council wrote separately to the AIG Kano Zone 1, for the police
to prosecute Hon. Justice Auta. Council has suspended His Lordship from
office pending when the governor will act on its recommendation.”
On
Justice Pindiga of the Gombe State High Court, the council said it
received a petition from DSS against him alleging ‎corrupt practices
against him.
“The
DSS had alleged that the ‎‎ judge, in a bid to illegally enrich
himself, perfected plans through third party proxies/conduits, with a
view to influencing the outcome of the election tribunal in the
governorship polls in favour of the incumbent Governor Nyesom Wike (of
Rivers State).
“It was also alleged
‎that further ongoing discreet investigation, Justice Pindiga was
observed to have illegally enriched himself through corrupt means.
“Part
of the illegitimate proceeds suspected to have accrued to Pindiga
include the underlisted: a) Two (2) completed blocks of six (6) units of
two bedroom flats in Federal Low Cost Estate in Gombe metropolis; b)
Four (4) units of bungalows in another part of the estate; c) An
uncompleted property at GRA in Gombe metropolis; d) a Mercedes Benz C300
car in the name of MUBAJJAL; e) a Toyota Venza-Model SUV.
“The
DSS also alleged that from all indications, it was apparent that
Pindiga, who is a very senior justice in Gombe State, was highly
corrupt,” the NJC disclosed.
The
council further stated that DSS alleged that “Pindiga’s continuous stay
as a justice in any capacity would likely embarrass the current
administration and pervert the cause of justice.
“In
view of the foregoing, it strongly advised that immediate necessary
administrative and judicial measures be taken on him, including
appropriate sanctions and trial to set a precedent to others of his
like,” NJC alleged.
The council said
the‎ complaint was not supported by a verifying affidavit deposed to by
the DSS, as required by the National Judicial Council Discipline
Regulations 2014.
The
council said the petition should have been disregarded for
non-compliance with the National Judicial Council Regulations, but by
letter Ref. No. NJC/S.15/HC.GM/5/1/128
dated 19th April, 2016, the DSS was notified and requested to comply
and to depose to a verifying affidavit in support of the allegations of
corrupt practices levelled against the Hon. Judge, and that the DSS
deposed to the verifying affidavit following which Justice Pindiga
responded to the allegations against him by DSS.
NJC
said: “Thereafter, a committee comprising members of the council
investigated the allegations of corrupt practices. Both parties – the
DSS and Hon. Justice Mu’azu Pindiga, together with their witnesses and
counsel – appeared before the panel set up by council in compliance with
the National Judicial Discipline Regulations and Section 36 of the 1999
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, on the
right to fair hearing.
“The
DSS was represented by a Director, S. U. Gambo, Esq. who is also a
legal practitioner in the department and Hon Justice Pindiga was
represented by Joe Agi (SAN).
“At the
end of the investigation, the DSS could not substantiate any of the
allegations of corrupt practices either by documentary or oral evidence
against the Hon. Justice Pindiga.
“Consequently,
at its Meeting of 15th July, 2016, Council decided to exonerate Hon.
Justice Pindiga of the allegations of corrupt practices levelled against
him by DSS.
“The Council’s decision was conveyed to Hon. Justice Pindiga in a letter Ref. No. NJC/HC.GM/5/1/132 of 9th August, 2016 and copied the DSS.”
In
the case of Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, the council said: “Council is aware
that DSS had written a complaint alleging corrupt practices and
professional misconduct against Hon. Justice Dimgba by a letter Ref. No.
LSD.158/2/31 dated 5th August 2016.
“At
its meeting of 29th September 2016, council constituted a fact finding
committee comprising its members to investigate the allegation.
“During
the last emergency meeting of the council, it received a report from
Hon. Justice Nnamdi Dimgba that his residence was also raided and
ransacked; and in the process, his nephew and driver were man-handled,
using a wrong search warrant which was not meant for the search of his
house.
“The committee has commenced the
process of investigating the allegations before the recent unfortunate
raid and search of Hon. Justice Dimgba’s residence,” it said.
The
NJC said it had also meticulously considered the entire unfolding
events that led to the arrest of the judicial officers and the
misinformation and disinformation making the rounds in both the
electronic and print media that the DSS acted thus because the National
Judicial Council was shielding the judicial officers from investigation
and prosecution for corrupt practices and professional misconduct.
It
noted particularly that from the available records, the DSS forwarded
only two separate complaints containing allegations of corrupt practices
against Justice Pindiga and corrupt practices and professional
misconduct against Justice Dimgba.
“The
impression created and widely circulated before the public that the DSS
forwarded a number of petitions containing various allegations of
corrupt practices and professional misconduct against some judicial
officers to the council, and they were not investigated, is not correct.
“The council urges the DSS to make public the particulars of such petitions to put the records straight,” it stated.
Rendering
an account of the disciplinary cases it has handled since 2000, it
said: “Given the above background facts, on behalf of the judiciary,
council is constrained to inform the general public that all petitions
and complaints forwarded against judicial officers bordering on corrupt
practices and professional misconduct, have been attended to and
investigated, where applicable, by council since year 2000 to date,
within the powers conferred on it by the 1999 Constitution of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.
“Therefore,
any judicial officer that was reprimanded by council or recommended for
removal from office by compulsory retirement or dismissal to the
president or governor, was done in compliance with the constitutional
power, rule of law and due process.
“From
year 2000, when the National Judicial Council held its inaugural
meeting to 2016, 1808 petitions and complaints against judicial
officers, including Chief Justices of Nigeria, justices of the Supreme
Court and Court of Appeal were received by the respective Chief Justices
of Nigeria and Chairmen of the National Judicial Council.
“Eighty-two
of the judicial officers were reprimanded (suspension, caution or
warning) by council, in the exercise of its exclusive constitutional
disciplinary power over judicial officers.

“Thirty-eight
of the judicial officers were recommended to the president or governor,
where applicable, for compulsory retirement from office; while 12 were
recommended to the president or governor, as the case may be, for
dismissal from office
.

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