Now that the National Judicial Council (NJC) has announced the suspension of judicial officers being investigated for alleged corruption-related offences, what follows next? In announcing the suspension of at least seven judges (two justices of the Supreme Court) and five judges of the lower courts recently, Mr. Soji Oye, acting director of information of the NJC, justified their suspension thus: “Council also decided that Judicial Officers shall not be standing trial for alleged corruption related offences and be performing judicial functions at the same time. Council however decided that it will ensure that Judicial Officers who are being investigated for alleged high profile criminal offences do not perform judicial functions until their cases are concluded”.
Some of the judicial officers arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS) and currently being investigated included: Justice Inyang Okoro and Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, both of the Supreme Court; Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya, the suspended presiding judge of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division; Justice Kabiru Auta of Kano State High Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
In a recent statement, Oye implied that the suspension of the judicial officers was in furtherance of the NJC’s commitment to pursuit of transparency and zero corruption in the judiciary as enshrined in the National Judicial Policy document, which came into effect in April 2016 and was actually launched on October 24, 2016. Perhabs as a reflection of its seriousness to confront corruption, the NJC set up a panel to implement certain aspects of the National Judicial Policy. Members of the panel include: Hon. Justice E O Ayoola, CON (retd Justice of the Supreme Court), chairman; Hon. Justice Kashim Zannah, Chief Judge of Borno State, member; and A B Mahmoud, SAN, President, Nigeria Bar Association, member.
Oye noted that the Transparency and Anti Corruption Policy Implementation Committee would work to eliminate corruption in the judiciary. The high point of the National Judicial Policy is that it aims to put in place strategies that will promote transparency and eliminate corruption in the Judiciary. It as well provides a window for members of the polity who have credible information on any corrupt practices in the Judiciary to volunteer such information.
The NJC did the needful by suspending the judicial officers currently being fingered by the DSS. Logically, one would expect the executive arm of government to take a cue from the Judiciary by as well suspending all of its officers accused by some of the judges of offering them gratification to swing election cases in their favour. Supreme Court Justice, John Inyang Okoro, had in a letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmoud Mohammed, alleged that former Rivers State Governor and current Minister of Transport, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, as well as the All Progressives Congress Governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Umana Umana, tried to bribe him.
“My Lord, I strongly believe that this my travail is not unconnected with the verbal report I made to you on Ist February, 2016 about the visit to my official residence by H/E, Rotimi Aaechi, former Governor of Rivers State and now Minister of Transportation. In that report, I told you My Lord, that Mr. Amaechi said that the President of Nigeria and All Progressives Congress mandated him to inform me that they must win their election Appeals in respect of Rivers State, Akwa Ibom State and Abia State at all cost. For Akwa Ibom State, he alleged that he sponsored Mr. Umana Umana, candidate of All Progressives Congress for that election and that if he lost Akwa Ibom appeal, he would have lost a fortune. Mr. Amaechi also said that he had already visited you and that you had agreed to make me a member of the panel that would hear the appeals. He further told me that Mr. Umana would be paying me millions of Naira monthly if I co-operated with them. 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 Ibonm State”. Justice Okoro added, “My Lord will recall that I also reported that Mr. Umana Umana visited my residence before Amaechi’s visit. He also made the same request of assistance to win his appeal at the Supreme Court. Mr. Umana talked about ‘seeing’ the Justices who would hear the appeal”.
On the strength of the above allegations, it is imperative for the Executive Arm of Government to suspend Chief Rotimi Amaechi who is a serving minister, to pave way for unencumbered investigation into the allegation levelled against him. Umuana Umana should as well be interrogated because offering bribe is equally a crime.
Besides, it will as well give members of the public hope that President Mohammed Buhari’s anti-corruption war is not all about perceived opposition members. Most of the people being hounded for alleged corrupt practices are being viewed as Peoples Democratic Party loyalists or people who are perceived to hold sympathy for the PDP. There are many former public office holders under the PDP administration who have been accused of varying degrees of corruption but because they are now members of the APC, the DSS and the EFCC (Economic and Financial CRIMES Commission) seem not to have a clue about where they are. Besides Amaechi, the same treatment would have been recommended for Muiz Banire, APC Legal Adviser, if not that he has resigned his appointment, a move he explained was intended to save the image of the party. The EFCC is investigating Banire for allegedly paying N500,000.00 into the account of a judge of National Industrial Court, Abuja; a charge he denies, describing the payment as a gesture borne out of his generosity to an old school mate. Banire said he was resigning not because he was guilty but purely to safeguard the image of the APC. That is indeed the way to go, and Amaechi should for the sake of APC and indeed Nigeria’s image, step aside to pave way for a thorough investigation by EFCC and DSS into the weighty allegation made against him.
President Buhari should handle the war against corruption fairly and firmly, so that the impression gathering storm in some quarters that the war is merely against perceived enemies of his government or perceived opposition members could be whittled down. Nigerians deserve a better deal on the war against corruption. The perceived unleashing of the DSS and the EFCC on perceived opposition members gives the suggestion that the Buhari government is out to cow the opposition. That impression is not healthy for the nation’s democracy. It could indeed be a pedestal for the enthronement of a one-party state, which could snow-ball into a full-blown dictatorship with time.