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DSS raid: Issues as arrested judges fight back

Mahmood Mohammed, CJN, Rotimi Amaechi and Justice Okoro

Following the arrest, detention and release of two Justices of the Supreme Court and five other Judges by the Department of State Services (DSS) on the allegation of corruption, the affected Jurists have written to the Chief Justice of Nigeria who doubles as the chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), explaining why the DSS is after them, reports SUNDAY EJIKE.

 

The principle of fair hearing, which members of the Bar and the Bench speak glowingly about in courtroom, appears to have been applied in the case involving the seven judges arrested and later released by operatives of the Depart of State Service (DSS). The judges are not taking the allegations of graft, bribery and sundry others leveled against them sitting down. One after the other, they have been conveying their reactions to the allegations and arrest in letters to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and the chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC).

Two days after an emergency meeting, the position of NJC was made known through a press statement issued by the Acting Director of Information of the Council, Soji Oye, which berated the DSS, describing its action as an attempt to ridicule, harass and intimidate judges.

To prove his innocence, Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, pointed the finger at the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, as being behind the whole saga. He stated that he was being persecuted for granting bail to former National Security Adviser (NSA), Mohammed Sambo Dasuki, as well as the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, who are currently being held by the DSS on charges of corruption and treason respectively. Ademola disclosed a long standing friction between himself and Malami, which he believes was also reason for the alleged persecution.

In a letter to the CJN, he said, “The search of my residence was based on the petition of Honourable Jenkins Duvie dated 4th of April 2016 to the NJC, granting bail to Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retd) and the unconditional release of Nnamdi Kanu, using my office to secure my wife’s appointment as the Head of Civil Service, Lagos State through Senator Bola Tinubu.”

“What is more intriguing in this whole episode is that I see it as a vendetta/revenge from the AGF. Whilst I was in Kano between 2004 and 2008 as a Federal High Court judge, he was involved in a professional misconduct necessitating his arrest and detention by my order. However, with the intervention of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Kano Branch, the allegation of misconduct was later withdrawn by me.

“Consequently, the NJC referred Malami to the NBA Disciplinary Committee for disciplinary action,” Ademola said and added further that the case cost Malami his initial prospects of becoming a senior advocate of Nigeria. “It was as a result of this he was denied the rank of SAN by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee for a period of four years until when he produced a fake letter of apology, purportedly addressed to me…Since…, Malami has threatened to revenge and has sworn to do anything to bring me down,” the judge told the CJN in his letter as he denied the allegations against him, including charges that he was in possession of unlicensed firearms.”

In the same vein, the two Justices of the apex court also opened up on the reasons for their arrest by the DSS. Justice Inyang Okoro, fired a salvo and said he was probably being vilified because he did not accede to the request to help the All Progressives Congress (APC) to win the governorship of Akwa Ibom State.

The Supreme Court justice alleged that former Rivers State governor, now Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, visited him after the 2015 general election to request that he should ensure that APC won the Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Abia governorship elections at the appeal stage at all cost and that he would be rewarded with millions of naira monthly if he cooperated.

Justice Okoro also alleged that Amaechi told him that he had already “visited you (CJN) and that you had agreed to make me a member of the panel that would hear the appeals. My response, as I told you on that date, was that it does not lie within my power to grant his request and that I would do all within my power not to be in the panel for Akwa Ibom State. My Lord graciously left me out of the panel for Akwa Ibom State. When they lost at the Supreme Court, the APC believed it was my presence at the court that contributed to their loss. Could I have resigned from the Supreme Court simply because people of Akwa Ibom State had a matter before it?” Okoro asked rhetorically.

Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, in his own letter explained how he was being victimised for refusing entreaties, at various times, to help the APC win governorship election cases involving Ekiti, Rivers and Ebonyi states.

He also alleged that Amaechi reached out to him over election appeal cases for Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Abia States. Ngwuta specifically mentioned Amaechi and Minister of Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, as two top APC leaders who approached him. Ngwuta said in the letter that Ameachi begged him to facilitate the removal of Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State. He further stated that shortly after the Supreme Court affirmed the election of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Amaechi also called him on phone and said: “Oga is not happy”.

The Justice of the apex court also alleged that the operatives of the DSS planted huge sum of money in his house during the raid to incriminate him. He said apart from the $25,000, £10 and a brown envelope containing the sum of N710, 000 which was a monthly allowance paid to him for September 2016 and another N300, 000 and some loose change contained in the bag he usually took to the office, he had no explanation for the large sum of money allegedly recovered from his house.

Reacting to the allegations, Amaechi, said the accusations from the two Justices of the Supreme Court was a figment of their imagination, concocted to obfuscate and politicise the real issues for their arrest and DSS investigation of allegations of corruption against them.

“The claims by Justice Okoro against Amaechi are blatant lies, bereft of any iota of truth or even logic.

In the statement sent through a text message to the Sunday Tribune by David Iyofor on behalf of Rotimi Amaechi Media Office, said “Amaechi did not and has never approached Justice Okoro in respect of the cases Okoro mentioned or any other case. This is a cheap attempt, albeit, political move to drag the name of Amaechi into something he knows nothing about. Justice Okoro should face his issues and leave Amaechi out of it.  He will be hearing from our lawyers.”

In the same vein, Amaechi, in his response to the latest allegation on Thursday, described the allegation against him by Justice Ngwuta as pure fiction. He stated this in a statement he personally signed in Abuja on Thursday. Amaechi said that he did not and had never tried to lobby, induce or make Justice Ngwuta to influence the outcome of any matter before the Supreme Court or any other court.

He said, “The Honourable Justice Ngwuta’s narrative as it concerns me is simply not true, an unadulterated fallacy, designed to deceive and distract from the real issues of DSS investigation of acts of corruption against him.”

What is in dispute, as the brickbats go back and forth, is whether there was a contact between Amaechi and the judges. To observers, this dispute can be resolved with the provision of visual or audio evidence to support the claims in the judges’ letters. This, however, does not redound to or detract from the veracity or otherwise in the claims.

Should this category of evidence not forthcoming, then the testimonies of those mentioned in the letters as witnesses, particularly one Pastor Ebebe Ukpong who was said to have accompanied Umana Umana to the home of Justice Okoro and who was said to have frowned at the request by Umana, could help in unearthing the truth of the matter.

Judges are obviously known to come under pressure as a result of the nature of their task. What this unpleasant episode has shown is the need for judges, who are like priests in the temples of justice, to be more circumspect in their interface with politicians. To analysts, the level of technological development has made it so easy that security cameras can be installed by judges in their homes. And if or when a meeting is not scheduled for their residence, there are pens and wristwatches and even sun glasses that record audio-visual materials the evidence from which will be clear without any shadow of doubt.

Although he has denied ever meeting or seeking the judges’ support as claimed, the question many observers try to find answer to is why is Amaechi a constant name in the letters of two of the three judges whose letters have so far been made public? Perhaps when the determination of the cases Amaechi threatened to file begins, more revelation may come to light. The last, apparently, has not been heard about the accusations and counter-accusations on the matter.