The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed has said the invasion of the official residences of some judges in the country by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) was an affront on the judiciary’s independence as an arm of government.
The DSS had on October 7 and 8, swooped on seven judicial officers comprising two justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the Appeal and High Courts across the country over allegation of corruption.
Justice Mohammed, in a statement issued on Saturday by his Senior Special Assistant, H. S. Sa’eed in Abuja, condemned the call by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for the suspension of the embattled Judges from the Bench, saying that there is a procedure for the discipline of errant members of the bench.
In the statement, Justice Mohammed explained that the constitutional procedure for their suspension, as being sought by some stakeholders, is clearly spelt out.
The outgoing CJN noted that the requisite engagement to arriving at the said point, had not been activated by the DSS which began the push for their suspension.
The statement reads: “Under the powers provided by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria(as amended) and as the Head of the Third Arm of Government, the Honourable, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman National Judicial Council, Honourable Justice Mahmud Mohammed, GCON, is calling on all Nigerians to continue to have faith and full confidence in the Nigerian Judiciary.
“The Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria (Hon. CJN) is indeed deeply concerned by the rising antagonism over the recent arrest of our Judicial officers and other issues pertaining thereto.
“Furthermore, it must be reiterated that the current misunderstanding is only between the National Judicial Council (NJC), which was established by the constitution and the Directorate of the State Security (DSS), in the Presidency. Hence, we must emphasise that the judiciary continues to maintain cordial relations with the other arms of government, that is, the Executive and the National Assembly.
“The Honourable CJN reiterates that the Nigerian judiciary, as an arm of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is not a party in this matter, nor is the Nigerian judiciary on trial.
“On the call by President of the Nigerian Bar Association, A. B. Mahmoud, SAN, to suspend judicial officers whose residences were invaded and who were subsequently arrested and detained by the DSS, we believe that the call was unnecessary and hasty as the said judicial officers are still being investigated by the DSS. Furthermore, the DSS is yet to forward any complaint or any official communication regarding the seven judicial officers to the National Judicial Council.
“Indeed, some of the affected judicial officers have already been investigated by the NJC, which found some culpable and recommended their removal from office by dismissal or retirement to the president and respective governors as provided under the constitution. While some are still being investigated by the NJC, in respect of others, no complaint against them has been received by the NJC whose powers to suspend must be exercised in accordance with the provisions of the constitution establishing it.
“The National Judicial Council is currently investigating the various complaints made against a number of judicial officers. As soon as such investigations are completed, appropriate recommendations will be made to the resident or governors, as the case may be, who will have the final say on the fate of the affected judicial officers who could then be charged for the offences disclosed from the facts against them and be prosecuted if necessary.
“The Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria also wishes to state in clear terms that the ‘sting’ operations carried out by the DSS on 07 and 08 October 2016 was certainly an assault on the independence of the Nigerian judiciary. Nonetheless, the judiciary fully supports the anti-corruption drive of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammdu Buhari, GCFR. The Nigerian judiciary has never and will never shield any judicial officer who is found to be guilty of corruption, however, the Hon. CJN believes that due process and the rule of law must be followed.
“As a testament to our commitment to uphold the Constitution, the Nigerian judiciary continues to function and our courts remain open to all who seek remedy.
“With the support and goodwill of all Nigerians, the Nigerian judiciary will continue to serve with all its heart and might.”