Justice John Tsoho of a Federal High Court in Abuja, has fixed December 6, 2016 to commence hearing in the N50 billion suit filed by a Lagos-based lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje, against President Muhammadu Buhari, the Department of State Services (DSS) and its Director-General, Lawal Daura, along with others.
The plaintiff had alleged that the defendants violated the rights of judges whose houses were raided by operatives of the DSS between October 8 and 9, 2016.
Hearing in the matter, assigned to Justice Tsoho for adjudication, was billed to commence on Monday, but the absence of the Judge stalled the hearing and a new date was fixed for December 6.
Others joined as defendants in the suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/809/16, are the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris and the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Ogungbeje alleged in the suit that the arrest of the judges, without recourse to the NJC, was unlawful and amounted to humiliating them, adding also that the operatives of the DSS violated the rights of the arrested judges under Sections 33, 34, 35, 36 and 41 of the 1999 Constitution.
The plaintiff, among other prayers, asked the court for an order awarding N50 billion against the defendants as “general and exemplary damages,” and to be awarded N2 million as the cost of the suit.
The legal practitioner also wants an order of the court, compelling the DSS to return to the judges, money reportedly recovered from them as well as a perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from arresting, inviting, intimidating or harassing the judges in respect of the case.
The DSS had, between Friday and Saturday, raided the houses of Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court; Justice Adeniyi Ademola, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, both of the Federal High Court, Abuja, and Justice Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division, arrested and detained them for some days before they were granted administrative bail by the DSS.
Others arrested, who were earlier placed on suspension by the NJC pending the time Buhari and the various state governors would approve its recommendation for the sacking of the affected judges, were the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike; the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; and the judge of the Kano State High Court, Justice Kabiru Auta.
The DSS said it recovered large sums of money in Nigerian and foreign currencies from three of the judges during the raids on the houses of the seven judiciary officers.
Ogungbeje, whose suit was restricted to five of the arrested judges, who were still in active service – Justices Ngwuta, Okoro, Ademola, Pindiga and Dimgba, contended in his suit that the raids on the residences of the judges and their arrest were unconstitutional as the DSS did not follow the law.
He averred in a 39-paragraph affidavit, he deposed to in support of the suit that “The 6th respondent (NJC) is the only body empowered by the Constitution to discipline judges and judiciary officers in Nigeria.”