More judges are to be arrested across the country by the Department of State Services (DSS) in the ongoing alleged move to tackle corruption in the judiciary.
As the government yesterday defended the arrest of some judges at the weekend, it disclosed that it would arraign the affected judicial officers in court this week.
Besides, in a statement by Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu last night, the Presidency insisted that President Mohammadu Buhari still reserves his highest respect for the institution of the judiciary as the third arm of government, and will not do anything to undermine its independence.
Meanwhile, crisis is brewing between workers in the judiciary and the government over the arrest of the judges. The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) has summoned its National Executive Council (NEC) to an emergency meeting to decide on its next line of action on the matter.
Speaking with some journalists in his country home at Ugep, Cross River State at the weekend, the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Mr. Okoi Obono Obla said the arrest was constitutional and that the DSS acted within the ambit of the law. He described the action as an unprecedented achievement of government in the anti-corruption fight. According to him, more of such actions will take place to ensure that corruption is checked in the country.
Obla stated: “The problem with us is that when the big man is arrested it becomes a problem or an issue because he can use money to stall many things. The Nigerian big man wants us to have two standards of justice; one for the big man and another for the poor man, and we say no to that. The big man should not do anything and get away with it in this country. The poor people are being arrested every day and nobody talks about them.
“Everybody should be subjected before the law. If the president does not have immunity, he can be arrested. The Senate president was
arraigned and put on trial, so what is wrong with arresting Supreme Court justices?
“They will be arraigned before the court. The DSS carried out their operations constitutionally with a bench warrant and are free to do their work at any time of the day.
The Nigerian big men must change their mentality and subject themselves before the law.
“It is unprecedented in Africa for senior judges to be arrested for corruption and you say we are not fighting corruption? Judges are
partly responsible, the corrupt lawyers are partly responsible.”
It was learnt yesterday that one or two Supreme Court justices and six other judges across the country may soon be taken to interrogation centres to answer questions on their financial integrity.
These are apart from the two Supreme Court justices still in detention and five other judges already facing interrogators at the Yellow House, the headquarters of the security services in Abuja.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola was among the judges who were reportedly harassed by the DSS last Saturday, and he is currently being held at the DSS headquarters in Abuja.
Other judges reported to have been held by the DSS include Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, also of the Federal High Court, and Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court.
Also, banks which have come under the investigation radar of the secret police will soon feel the heat .
The JUSUN described the action of the government as uncivilised, calling for unconditional release of the judges.
The Guardian learnt that the union will unveil its next line of action after the meeting billed to hold tomorrow if its demand is not met.
National President of JUSUN, Marwan Adamu, in a statement by the National Public Relations Officer, Koin Selepreye, said though the union was in support of the anti-corruption war of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the rule of law must be respected.
The judiciary workers lamented what they described as the Gestapo style of the DSS on the matter, pointing out that the secret police should have forwarded the names of the alleged corrupt officers to the National Judicial Council (NJC) which is the statutory body that punishes or dismisses any erring judicial officer.
But 24 hours after the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) demanded the immediate release of the judges, it appeared the government would not budge.
The NBA, through its President Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) had set up a crisis management team comprising the association’s past presidents and general secretaries to investigate the situation.
As at yesterday, a member of the committee, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) said they would meet with the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mohammed Mahmud today.