Arrested judges remain in office

Ex-CJN, Justice Ministers, NBA presidents meet

The refusal of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to suspend serving judges arrested by the State Security Service (SSS), last weekend for alleged corruption, has caused the affected judges to retain their jobs despite efforts by the SSS to end their careers.

In a memo, dated 10th October with reference no LSD 960/11, SSS had requested the Council to suspend the judges, including the affected two justices of the Supreme Court.

In the memo, the SSS wanted all the arrested judges still in service and others with petition against them, indefinitely suspended by the council.

It reads in part, “it is the humble request of the Service to the Council to immediately suspend all the judges found to have been involved in grand corruption or based on petitions already submitted to it, including the already arrested judges”.

It was signed by Ahmed Ahmed on behalf of the SSS Director General.

At its Tuesday emergency meeting, the Council deliberated on the request and refused to grant it, validating the continuous service, though none of them had presided over any case since their arrest.

Those still in service among the arrested seven judges are Justices Sylvester Ngwuta, Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court as well as  Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court and Justice M.A Pindiga of Kebbi High Court.

Since the administrative bail extended to all the seven judges on Sunday, they have been asked to be reporting at the SSS office everyday, making it virtually impossible for them to sit.

On Wednesday, they spent close to 10 hours at the SSS office in Abuja, making it impossible for them to keep an appointment with the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Human Rights.

The planned arraignment of the affected judges has also been shelved indefinitely, though there are indications that charges have been preferred against them.

SSS was close to arraigning them before a Chief Magistrate Court in Life Camp on Monday, but it was put off at the last minute.

Many senior lawyers, including the NBA, have indicated their interest to defend the judges.

The lawyers were mobilising from the valedictory service of retired Justice Coomasie of the apex court, on Monday, to storm the court before news of the postponement got to them.

The judges still made an apperance on Friday.

An aide to a senior justice of the apex court, has also been arrested by the SSS.

He has spent many days with the Service.

It was also learnt that the SSS has deployed more undercover officers to the apex court and the NJC for more intelligence gathering.

Both institutions are housed on same premises.

A back-and-forth between the SSS and NJC over the arrested judges, before and after their arrest, has heightened tension between the two arms of government.

The possibility of a full-blown major crisis has seen different layers of intervention by stakeholders on both sides.

Saturday Tribune has learnt of interventions of living former Chief Justices of Nigeria, former Attorneys General of the Federation and former presidents of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).

It was reliably learnt that the outgoing CJN, Justice Mohammed Mahmud, has had an interface  with two of his predecessors-in-office (names witheld), while consultations have continued at other higher levels.

On Thursday, past AGFs and NBA presidents met with the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN and NJC secretary, Halilu Danladi.

The meeting took place at the NBA president’s office.

The meeting was called to hear from both the representatives of the executive and judiciary arms of government and seek an amicable resolution to the burgeoning crisis of confidence between them.

According to an insider, Malami had spoken before the arrival of Danladi, restating the allegation by SSS that the raid on the judges was consequent upon NJC’s unwillingness to act on the petitions against them.

To demonstrate his confidence in the SSS, Malami had sent petitions against six other judges after the raid.

But Danladi was said to have torn all his argument into pieces with supporting documents which were said to have been made available to all in attendance.

The documents, which included all correspondences between SSS and NJC regarding the judges, reportedly put a lie to all the claims from the executive arm. With his position defeated, Malami was said to have excused himself from the meeting without any firm commitment to a peaceful resolution.

After the meeting, NBA issued a statement backing the NJC again.