The National Judicial Council (NJC) yesterday condemned the arrest of some judges by the Department of State Services (DSS).
It described the action as a threat to the independence of the Judiciary, which portends great danger to our democracy.
The judicial body also described the arrest of judges as a clear attempt by the DSS to humiliate, intimidate, denigrate and cow the Judiciary.
The NJC expressed its support the Federal Government’s commitment to the fight against corruption, but insisted that due process must be adhered to.
The NJC, in a statement late last night, said it had nominated the second most senior Justice of the Supreme Court as the successor to Chief Justice Mahmud Mohammed, who will retire on November 10.
“Council meticulously considered the entire unfolding events that led to the arrest of the Judicial Officers and the misinformation and disinformation making rounds in both Electronic and Print Media that the DSS acted thus because the National Judicial Council was shielding the Judicial Officers from investigation and prosecution for corrupt practices and professional misconduct.
“Council noted particularly, that from the available records, the DSS forwarded only two (2 no.) separate complaints containing allegations of Corrupt Practices against Hon. Justice Pindiga; and corrupt practices and professional misconduct against Hon. Justice Dimgba.
“The impression created and widely circulated before the public; that the DSS forwarded a number of petitions containing various allegations of corrupt practices and professional misconduct against some Judicial Officers to the Council, and they were not investigated, is not correct. The Council urges the DSS to make public the particulars of such petitions to put the records straight.
“Given the above background facts, on behalf of the Judiciary, Council is constrained to inform the general public that all petitions and complaints forwarded against Judicial Officers bordering on corrupt practices and professional misconduct, have been attended to and investigated, where applicable, by Council since year 2000 to date, within the powers conferred on it by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
“Therefore, any Judicial Officer that was reprimanded by Council or recommended for removal from office by compulsory retirement or dismissal to the President or Governor, was done in compliance with the Constitutional power, Rule of Law and Due Process.
“From year 2000, when the National Judicial Council held its inaugural Meeting to 2016, 1808 petitions and complaints against Judicial Officers, including Chief Justices of Nigeria, Justices of Supreme Court and Court of Appeal were received by the respective Honourable, the Chief Justices of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council. Eighty-two (82 No.) of the Judicial Officers were reprimanded (suspension, caution or warning), by Council, in the exercise of its exclusive Constitutional Disciplinary power over Judicial Officers. Thirty-eight (38 No.) of the Judicial Officers were recommended to the President or Governor where applicable, for compulsory retirement from office; while twelve (12 No.) were recommended to the President or Governor as the case may be, for dismissal from office.
“In conclusion, Council wishes to state as follows:-
That it maintains its earlier decision that no Judicial Officer shall be invited by any Institution including the DSS, without complying with the Rule of Law and Due Process. That explains why when the DSS wrote to the Council by letter Ref. No. LSC.960/4 dated 14th September, 2016, to direct Hon. Justice Mu’azu Pindiga to appear before it, The Hon. The Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council directed the Hon. Chief Judge of Gombe State to ask Hon. Justice Mu’azu Pindiga to report to DSS, which His Lordship did.
That the National Judicial Council has never shielded nor will it shield any Judicial Officer who has committed any misconduct.
That the Department of State Services is an Agency in the Presidency and its functions as specified in the statute establishing it, is primarily concerned with the internal security of the Country.
That the action of the DSS is a denigration of the entire Judiciary, as an institution.
That by the act of the DSS, Judicial Officers are now being subjected to insecurity, as criminals might take advantage of the recent incidents to invade their residences under the guise of being security agents.
The Council vehemently denounces a situation whereby the Psyche of Judicial Officers in the Federation is subjected to a level where they would be afraid to discharge their Constitutional judicial functions, without fear or favour, intimidation, victimization or suppression.
The Council will not compromise the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary.
The Council wishes to reassure the public that any person who has a genuine complaint against any Judicial Officer is at liberty to bring it up to the Council for consideration, after following due process vide its Judicial Discipline Regulations.
At the end of the Meeting, Council unanimously agreed to recommend Hon. Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, CFR, as the most senior, suitable and competent Justice of the Supreme Court to President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, for appointment as the next Chief Justice of Nigeria to succeed Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed GCON who retires from office on 10th November, 2016.