Nigeria’s secret police, the Department of State Services, DSS yesterday explained why it embarked on nocturnal invasion of the homes of High court and Supreme Court judges and arresting them in the process in the past few days. The directorate, which described the crackdown as “sting operations involving some Judges of the Supreme, Appeal and High Courts,” said the actions were based on “allegations of corruptions and other acts of professional misconducts by a few of the suspected judges.”
The DSS in a release signed by Abdullahi Garba said the “judges involved were invited, upon which due diligence was exhibited and their premises searched.” According to Garba, the searches “uncovered huge raw cash of various denominations, local and foreign currencies, with real estate worth several millions of Naira and documents affirming unholy acts by these Judges.” He claimed that some of them have made useful statements while a few declined “even with the glaring evidences that were found against them in terms of material cash, documents and property recovered pointing to their compromise.”
According to Garba, the operations on just three justices yielded recoveries of large amounts money in foreign and local currencies to the tune of N93,558,000.00, $530,087, £25,970, and €5,680; and other foreign currencies. The directorate further disclosed that the financial recoveries are “in addition to other banking documents, including real estate documents.”
The justices from whom the recoveries were made are Justice F.A. Ademola of Abuja Federal High Court, Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court, and Justice John Inyang Okoro, also of the Supreme Court. Others so far affected by the DSS sting operation are Justice Muazu Pindiga of Federal High Court (Gombe Division), Justice Nnamdi Dimgba (Federal High Court, Abuja), whose house was raided though without his arrest, and Justice Abdullahi Mohammed Liman of Federal High Court 1. The residences of the former chief judge of Enugu, I.A. Umezulike, was also raided in Enugu while that of Kano State High Court judge, Kabiru Auta, who was dismissed last week, was equally raided. All the affected justices have either delivered judgement on electoral matters, arising from the 2015 general election or handled a corruption case.
Against the speculation in some quarters, the Service clarified that none of the latest sting operations has been directed at Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, the Federal Judicial Service Commission’s, FJSC nominee to the National Judicial Commission, NJC for the position of Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN.
The DSS disclosed that it held the judicial arm of government in high esteem, and was solely on a mission to sanitise the judicial system by ridding it of bad eggs. “The Service would like to put it on record, that it has tremendous respect for the Judiciary and would not do anything to undermine it or its activities. The Service will also join hands with this noble institution in its fight to rid it of few corrupt Judges whose actions is undermining not only the Judiciary but the common bond of our national life.”
The DSS claimed that the invasion of the residences of the judges and their arrests were in line with its core mandate, and followed its monitoring “of the expensive and luxurious lifestyle of some of the Judges as well as complaints from the concerned public over judgment obtained fraudulently and on the basis amounts of money paid.” It vowed that the “operation will be sustained and followed till sanity and sanctity is restored to the esteemed third arm of government and public confidence is regained.”
Meanwhile contrary to the DSS’s claim that the affected judges “were invited, upon which due diligence was exhibited and their premises searched,” the case of the failed arrest of Justice Abdullahi Mohammed Liman of Federal High Court 1, Port Harcourt proves to the contrary. The DSS besieged his residence in 35/94B Force Avenue by 1am, forcing the horrified judge to send SOS to the governor of the state, Nyesom Wike, who mobilised resistance against the men of the DSS. The governor who claimed he was almost gunned down by the angry DSS men for his action, told the press, he had to mobilise the peoples resistance against the DSS for invading the judge’s residence at an ungodly hour, just to arrest him. Governor Wike said his intervention became necessary as he would not condone such lawlessness and rascality as the chief security officer of his state. The governor said he had expected the DSS to first send invitation to the judge, and if he refused, take legal steps.
Referring to the aborted Port Harcourt operation, the DSS stated that $2million would have been recovered in the residence of Justice Liman, if Governor Wike had not aborted the operation. “In one of the States where the Service operations were conducted, credible intelligence revealed that the Judge had Two Million United States Dollars ($2,000,000 USD) stashed in his house. When he was approached for due search to be conducted, he in concert with the State Governor, mobilized thugs against the Service team. The team restrained itself in the face of unbridled provocative activities by those brought in by the Governor. Unfortunately, the Judge and Governor also engaged the tacit support of a sister security agency.
“The Service surveillance team noticed that upon frustrating the operation, the Judge with the active support of the Governor craftily moved the money to an unknown location which the Service is currently making effort to unravel,” the DSS said.
The raids on the residences of the justices and their subsequent arrests last week prompted an convening of emergency meeting by the chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed to assess the development.
On its path, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA said it was horrified by the action of the DSS, which it sees as desecration of the judiciary. The NBA warned that the DSS action would have “grave consequences if the arrested justices are not immediately released without conditions.” The NBA, which stated this in a press conference addressed in Lagos yesterday by its president Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), also declared a state of emergency in the judiciary as a result of the development. To further address the situation, the NBA also set up a Crisis Management Team that comprises its past presidents and general secretaries that would investigate the development.
At the press briefing were former NBA presidents Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Joseph Daudu (SAN), bar leaders Yusuf Ali (SAN), former NBA general-secretary Dele Adesina (SAN), among others. The NBA described the action of the DSS as “Gestapo style operation” saying such must not be allowed in a democracy. The NBA also described as “abduction” the arrests Supreme Court justices Okoro and Ngwuta.
According to the NBA president, “I want to, on behalf of the Bar Association, make the very following clear and unequivocal demands: we demand the immediate, unconditional release of all the judges abducted from about 9pm yesterday (Friday).
“The release must be done immediately and without any conditions. Two, we demand that the Department of State Services (DSS) should limit itself to its statutory and constitutional responsibilities.”
In his reaction to the development, lawyer and human rights activist, Mike Ozekhome called on Nigerians rise up and speak against what he sees onslaught on the judiciary. He said, “Are you surprised? I am not. I am rather surprised that some Nigerians are still surprised. Some of us warned, wrote, preached, talked, but, we were maximally ignored due to political partisanship.