Several law enforcement officers involved in investigating corrupt Nigerian judges arrested over the weekend have told SaharaReporters how the National Judicial Council (NJC), the body charged with monitoring and disciplining judges, has made it virtually impossible to prosecute the judges, even after the judges were found guilty of grave offenses by the same disciplinary body.
The law enforcement sources revealed that, regarding some of the judges arrested over the weekend by the Department of State Security (DSS), they had written to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, a month earlier detailing instances of criminal conduct by the judges. Our sources claimed that the CJN, who is the presiding chairman at the NJC, refused to allow investigators to interrogate the judges.
Our sources disclosed that, long before the DSS invited the judges, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had tried to interrogate judges in whose possession they had found substantial sums of suspicious cash, adding that the NJC had insisted that the sanctions by the body were sufficient.
In most cases, the NJC slaps corrupt judges with compulsory retirement but allows them to enjoy their loot.
The NJC is made up of a committee headed by the CJN as chairman while the second most senior judge at the Supreme Court, in this case, Walter Onnoghen, serves as deputy chair. Other members include the President of the Court of Appeal, five chief judges of state high courts chosen by the CJN, five legal practitioners and the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
An EFCC official told our correspondent that the current composition of the NJC presents a serious problem. According to him, some members of the NJC are themselves corrupt and have been shown to be heavily involved in corruption. He pointed to immediate past chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Austin Alegeh, who has petitions pending at the EFCC accusing him of embezzlement of NBA funds.
Also, another former president of the NBA, Joseph Daudu, who chairs the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, has a case against him at the EFCC over alleged embezzlement of settlement fees paid to Nigeria by the Halliburton Corporation.
Ricky Tarfa, a senior lawyer undergoing trial for funneling bribes to several judges, is also a member of Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, a body mandated to select senior lawyers for elevation to a rank known as “Senior Advocate of Nigeria.” Mr. Tarfa has retained his position on the committee despite being charged with bribery and corruption.
Our law enforcement sources said they were more deeply troubled by the attitude of the outgoing CJN, accusing him of shielding a judge of the Court of Appeal, Justice Uwani Abba-Aji, who reportedly received N8 million from Mr. Tarfa. Despite that indictment, the CJN has recommended her for elevation to the Supreme Court.
Our sources also alleged that in 2011, then Chief Justice Katsina-Alu blocked the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) from interrogating Justice Umaru Eri of the National Judicial Institute (NJI). The ICPC had wanted to ask Justice Eri questions regarding the alleged disappearance of N6 billion from the agency he was running. Justice Eri remained as the chairman of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee until his retirement, he made sure some 18 members of staff at the NI were punished for revealing the fraud before left office.
One 2014 case involving now-retired Justice Gladys Olotu of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court was cited as one more reason the NJC has become an ineffectual if not useless body. The EFCC had found that Justice Olotu's bank accounts held more than N2 billion. Yet, as soon as the EFCC summoned her to appear for interrogation, she rushed to Justice Adeniyi Ademola's court and obtained an order to stop the EFCC from acting on her case. She was later “compulsorily retired” by the NJC. Meanwhile, Justice Ademola, who prevented her interrogation, was one of the judges arrested over the weekend, with $500,000 allegedly found in his bedroom.
Soon after seven judges, including two Supreme Court justices, were arrested in overnight raids carried out by the DSS, the CJN met with President Muhammadu Buhari to demand their release.
Two sources at the Presidency said that, while President Buhari assured the CJN that the raids were not targeted at the judiciary but at corrupt judges, the CJN gave the president the names of some persons close to the president and who had funneled monies to judges to influence them in recent election cases.
Our sources said the exchanges between the two men compelled a reluctant President Buhari to order the DSS to release all the arrested judges on Sunday pending their arraignment in court.
The NJC is expected to meet today to discuss the recent clamp down on corrupt judges. The DSS has reportedly sent a detailed report of its investigations against the arrested judges and eight others under investigation to the NJC to aid their deliberations and decisions. However, a source within the NJC told SaharaReporters that the body was simply in a mood to fight back strongly against the DSS. He added that the NJC would not in any way endorse the actions the DSS took against allegedly corrupt judges.