Judges aren’t above law, Malami says
The meeting of the National Judicial Council (NJC) over the arrest of senior judges continues today but the federal government said Nigerian judges were not immune to arrest or criminal investigation.
The NJC issued no statement yesterday after a lengthy meeting on the arrest of seven senior judges over corruption allegations by the Department of Security Services (DSS).
Sources said the meeting would continue today at the end of which the council would take a stand.
The Chief Justice, Mahmud Mohammed, Monday described the arrests as regrettable and unfortunate. There was also outrage in the legal profession over the arrests.
However, speaking to journalists in Abuja yesterday, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN said: “Once crimes and criminality are concerned, nobody is an exception.”
He said the judges’ arrest on Friday night and Saturday morning was constitutionally guaranteed and not even immunity could have stopped it.
“The bottom line is that we have a responsibility to fight corruption. Corruption is a crime and nobody, regardless of how highly placed, is exempted as far as issues that border on crimes and criminalities are concerned,” he said.
“I think the undertone should be exclusively the consideration of the existence of a prima facie case; existence of reasonable grounds for suspicion of commission of a crime,” the minister said.
He said, “If there are, no member of the legislature, judiciary and executive can definitely be exempted from investigation. I think where we are now is the point of investigation and that is what is taking place.”
He said investigation was in line with President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s resolve to cleanse the country of the stench of corruption.
The DSS said 15 senior judges were being investigated over allegations of corrupt practices while only seven had so far been arrested.
On the issue of immunity, Malami said no public official was exempted from investigation, explaining that “no member of the legislature, judiciary and executive can definitely be exempted from investigation. I think where we are now is the point of investigation and that is what is taking place.”
The minister added that: “The limited exceptions, as we know constitutionally, are the exceptions of immunity. And to the best of my knowledge, those exceptions do not apply to investigation. For those that are conferred with the immunity, the right to investigate has not been taken away constitutionally.
“So, I think the framework and the circumstances within which we are operating are clearly whether there exists the right to investigate or not, and whether the action borders on criminality.”
The seven judges so far arrested are: Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court; Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja; Kabir Auta of the Kano High Court; Mu’azu Pindiga of the Gombe High Court, Mohammed Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin; and the Chief Judge of Enugu State Justice I. A. Umezulike.
They were, however, released on bail on Sunday on self-recognizance. The DSS said they were going after eight other judges over the same graft allegations.
Over N200 million in different currencies were recovered from the residences of three arrested judges, according to the security agency.
The judges may be arraigned any time the investigation is concluded.