The DSS raided the homes of the judges and arrested Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro (both of the Supreme Court); Mohammed Tsamiya (Court of Appeal); Adeniyi Ademola and Muazu Pindiga (both of Federal High Court); Innocent Umezulike (Chief Judge, Enugu State); and Kabir Auta (Kano State High Court). But the raid that generated ruckus happened in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, when the governor, Nyesom Wike, mobilised against the DSS agents arresting an FHC judge. The National Security Agencies Act, Section 3, among others, charges the State Security Service with the responsibility for preventing and detecting crime against the internal security of Nigeria; and such other responsibilities “affecting internal security within Nigeria as the National Assembly or the President, as the case may be, may deem necessary.”
Coincidentally, the National Judicial Council, headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, had, on September 29, showed how cheaply some judges have sold their courtrooms in return for favourable rulings. The NJC had recommended the trio of Tsamiya, Auta and Umezulike to the President and their respective governors for retirement over allegations that included demanding bribe to pervert the course of justice. These breaches are ominous as they clearly ring into disrepute the entire Nigerian magistracy and threaten the very fabric of the society.
Tsamiya allegedly brought the judiciary to disrepute by relating with a litigant in a 2015 election dispute before the Court of Appeal panel, which sat in Owerri, Imo State. The NJC said, “During deliberations, Council found as follows: that there was evidence that the petitioner met with … Tsamiya thrice, in his residence in Sokoto, Gwarinpa, Abuja and Owerri, where, on each occasion, he demanded from him the sum of N200 million to influence the Court of Appeal Panel in Owerri or risk losing the case.”
The case against Umezulike is equally revolting.
The highest judicial officer in Enugu, he failed to deliver judgement in Suit No E/13/2008: Ajogwu v Nigerian Bottling Company Limited, 126 days after final addresses were adopted in October 2014. This is contrary to the 90 days time-limit set by law. The NJC also accused Umezulike of other offences, including accepting a NI0 million donation during his book launch from businessman, Arthur Eze, who had an interest in two cases before his court. It is unethical to unduly delay judgement. Justice delayed erodes the integrity of the judiciary, and the aphorism that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man is thus lost through dishonourable judges.
However, this is not the first time that such perversity is occurring. In March, the NJC descended on Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Lagos High Court, barring her from elevation to the Court of Appeal. Her offence: she allegedly adjourned a 2011 pre-election matter before her several times until the termination of the lifespan of the Ogun State House of Assembly in 2015. That meant the petitioner never got Justice In e case.
Auta was accused of collecting N197million from a litigant. Part of the filthy lucre was purported to have been used to help in providing accommodation for a former CJN, who had just been appointed at the time. Auta, who was recommended for prosecution, even agreed to refund N95 million to the petitioner, though this behaviour is unconscionable for a judicial officer, it is not, however. surprising. Already, the NJC has sanctioned about 13 judges for misconduct this year. Those affected include Oluyinka Gbajabiamila (Lagos High Court), MJ Evuti and Tanko Usman (both Niger State High Court); Olamide Oloyede (Osun High Court); and BT Ebuta (Cross River
High Court). Most of them were just retired and freed from punishment. This is a bad policy. It entrenches corruption on the Bench.
To stamp out graft from the judiciary and really kick-start the Buhari administration’s avowal to rid Nigeria of graft, the NJC must go the whole hog. As we have said in past editorials, this means prosecuting offenders. Before his death in 2012, a former Supreme Court Justice, Kayode Eso, had warned that there were then “billionaire judges. He meant judges who made ill-gotten wealth from collecting bribes in election petitions before State Election Petitions Tribunals, which were common then because of the massive electoral heist of 2007. Corrupt judges should not escape the long arm of the law because justice is skating on thin ice if the judiciary is compromised, as these cases indicate.