THE Federal Government has expressed its readiness to step on more toes in the process of fight against corruption which has destroyed the fabric of the nation, while also justifying the recent arrest of some judges by the officials of the Directorate of State Service (DSS).
Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who defended the action of the DSS, reiterated that in the process of fighting corruption, government would certainly step on very sensitive toes.
Mohammed, while fielding questions from State House correspondents, after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said all proper procedures were complied with before the arrest, saying it was not an attempt to humiliate the judiciary as wrongly perceived in some quarters.
According to him, the current administration of President Buhari was not afraid to crack down on anybody or group, provided the due process of law was followed.
According to the minister, judges could be arrested since they had no immunity, adding that search warrant was also properly executed.
Mohammed further explained that the National Judicial Council (NJC) was not the only authority that could look into complaints against judges or discipline them.
According to him, there was a difference between when a judge was accused of professional misconduct and the present situation, which borders on the issue of corruption.
He explained that it was unfortunate that people brought in issues that were completely irrelevant to the matter, including saying that the purpose of the arrest was because the president wanted somebody from one part of the country to be the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
“I think the Federal Government is being careful with handling of this particular issue. I want to state clearly that this government believes very much in separation of powers, has a lot of respect for the judiciary and for obvious reasons, not just because the constitution says so, but I think probably this is one cabinet that has the highest number of lawyers as ministers.
“As at the last count, about 11 or 12 council members are lawyers and we have female lawyers also in the cabinet. Until death robbed us of James Ocholi, we had five SANs in our cabinet and I think this is unique. Therefore you can understand the kind of respect we have for the judiciary.
“Also, look at Mr President himself, three times of four times he sought to be president, three times it was thwarted and all the three times he took his case to the judiciary, so I can say clearly that this administration has a lot of respect for the judiciary. I think I stand by what Mallam Garba Shehu said that ‘please do not confuse the fight against corruption as a fight against judiciary, what the government is concerned and passionate about is to fight corruption.’
“Again, they have tried to muddle issues by trying to say that the NJC is the only authority that can attend to complain and discipline, the answer once again is no.
“There is a difference when a judge is accused of professional misconduct, which is quite different from what is happening now. If you suspect anybody, including governors who have immunity, they are still subject to investigations.
“I want to make it clear, this government has the highest respect for the judiciary and two, we are not in anyway trying to ridicule the judiciary. Three, we are not painting the whole of the judges with the same brush but we also have a duty to fight corruption at whatever level and, in doing so, we will do so within the ambit of the law,” he said.
He recalled the incident in Ghana in 2015, saying “32 judges were caught on tape by journalists asking for bribe, 22 of them were dismissed in one day in Ghana. Yes, it’s true that what is happening today has probably never happened at this level before, but frankly speaking and with all due respect, we do not intend to humiliate any judge. We have no intention to humiliate the judiciary. We have done what we did within the ambits of the law.”