Niyi Odebode, Olusola Fabiyi, Fidelis Soriwei, Friday Olokor, Ade Adesomoju, Adelani Adepegba and Ramon Oladimeji
The Federal Ministry of Justice decided to forward petitions against judges bordering on alleged corrupt acts to the Department of State Services when the ministry discovered that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission failed to act on previous petitions as expected, The PUNCH learnt on Wednesday.
It was gathered that some human rights groups forwarded petitions to the Federal Ministry of Justice when the anti-graft agency failed to investigate and prosecute the judges.
Investigations also showed that the relationship between the EFCC and the Ministry of Justice had been frosty.
It was gathered that the problem between the agencies was caused by the inability of the anti-graft agency to speedily investigate some of the cases forwarded to it by the ministry.
The government source, who confided in The PUNCH, cited a petition on the withdrawal of over N11bn from the Rivers State Government’s account between October, 2015, and February, 2016.
According to an exclusive report by The PUNCH on June 24, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had, in March, 2016, directed the EFCC to investigate the withdrawal, which the ministry described as suspicious.
“From all indications, because of the EFCC’s seeming inaction on some of these cases, the ministry of justice has now resorted to forwarding the petitions to the DSS. Obviously the EFCC is not happy with this,” the source stated.
The relationship between the ministry and the anti-graft agency has actually not been cordial since President Muhammadu Buhari sent the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Bill, 2016, to the National Assembly through the AGF earlier this year.
The EFCC definitely sees nothing good about the law, though it acknowledges that the extant Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (amended in 2012) needs to be amended again.
On the new law, the EFCC catalogued what it considered the many flaws of the new bill in a position paper, which it submitted to the National Assembly.
It pointed out in the paper, which was obtained by one of our correspondents, that among others, “it is not advisable to pass the bill into law.”
The EFCC maintained that the passage of the bill into law would be inimical to Nigeria’s standing in the next round of mutual evaluation of the nation’s Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Financing of Terrorism by the relevant international bodies.
It is obvious from the issues raised by the commission that it is apprehensive that the bill seeks to whittle down some its powers under the EFCC Act.The PUNCH gathered on Wednesday that the EFCC was bitter because it was already investigating some of the judges, who were arrested by the DSS on Friday and Saturday.
The DSS had, in what it called a sting operation, arrested Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro, both of the Supreme Court; the suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Others arrested were a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, and Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division.
It was also learnt the rivalry between the two agencies came to a head when the EFCC allegedly opposed the takeover of the investigations of some petitions against some judges, which it had already worked on.
A top government source, who confided in The PUNCH, said the EFCC was also not favourably disposed to investigating some judges, who had assisted in the speedy trial of graft cases instituted by the commission.
The source stated, “The point of disagreement came from the investigation into the petitions. While the EFCC thought that the DSS should steer clear of the petitions because it had already worked on them, the service and the Federal Ministry of Justice insisted that the commission was slow in its investigations.
A source in the EFCC explained that if not for the rivalry, the DSS should have involved the commission in the investigation into the graft allegations against the judges.
He stated that the anti-graft commission was of the view that the DSS disrupted ongoing investigations being carried out by it into the alleged corrupt practices by some judges.
According to him, the EFCC has been carrying out discreet investigations into the activities of three judges, which were said to be jeopardised by the raids conducted by the DSS.
“It is a DSS operation. The EFCC is not involved. The raids carried out on the judges’ residents have affected our ongoing investigation into the activities of some of the judges.
“What this has done is that they have alerted those suspected judges. With what they have done, they have alerted them to be careful,” the source in the commission told The PUNCH on Wednesday.
We earlier submitted petitions against judges to EFCC –CSNAC
The Chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, confirmed to one of our correspondents that his petitions against some of the judges were earlier sent to the EFCC.
“We sent the petitions to the EFCC and in fact, the anti-graft agency commenced investigation.
“They found evidence against one or two of the judges, but it was obvious that they could not proceed against the suspected judges,” he said without explanations.
It was gathered that the group as well as Human and Environmental Development Agenda Resource Centre had initially sent some of the petitions against the judges to the NJC and the EFCC.
DSS free to carry out its operations, say Police
On the role of the police in the raids, the Force Public Relations Officer, Donald Awunah, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said though the police and the DSS engaged in inter-agency collaboration, the arrest of the judges was not a joint operation.
Awunah said the DSS had the right to carry out its operations without involving the police.
“You cannot say the non-involvement of the police in the operation by the DSS amounted to lack of confidence in the Force. We engaged in inter-service collaboration from time to time, but the DSS is free to carry out its own operation alone without involving us,” he stated.
Corruption is threatening our internal security –Sagay
When The PUNCH contacted the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), he faulted the argument that the DSS acted outside its statutory mandate by arresting some judges when its operatives raided their houses.
He described the argument canvassed against the DSS operation as puerile.
According to Sagay, the allegations of bribe-taking, levelled against some judges, especially when they have to do with election cases, can cause a breach of security which falls within the mandate of the DSS.
He said, “That is a very puerile interpretation of the mandate of the DSS. The DSS is established to maintain internal security through intelligence operations.
“I think it’s got to a stage where judicial corruption was beginning to threaten internal security in the sense that if you look at the case of elections, for example, taking bribes and declaring somebody, who lost an election or who did not win an election, as the winner, particularly, those who first bribed the Independent National Electoral Commission, then engaged in killing people and destroying properties in order to get there.
“If such people’s elections are upheld, that threatens internal security because the other party, knowing that the party that was declared winner did not win the election or that there was no election, and that the party got there by a combination of bloody combat and bribery of the judiciary, will also tend to resort to force of arms and then you can have a disintegration of the society.
“So when bribery gets out of hand and the consequences are becoming devastating, it can create conflict within the society and that, in my view, can result in a breach of security.”
DSS has no business with corruption matters –Ozekhome
But Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said the DSS had no business with corruption matters.
Ozekhome stated, “Emphasise it to them (the Federal Government) that provisions of Sections 10, 11, 12, 13, 186, 187 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act which some have incredibly argued presumably allow unarmed and non-resistant citizens’ homes to be broken into to be searched at any time of the day or night, including weekend and public holidays, constitute a violent violation of sections 34, 35, 36 and 37 of the 1999 constitution and are accordingly null and void by virtue of sections 1 (1) and 1 (3) of the same constitution.
According to him, search warrants validly issued by a court of competent jurisdiction are only executed between 6am and 6pm.
He added, “Under our laws, the DSS is concerned with matters of internal security. It has no business whatsoever with corruption matters, which are the exclusive preserve of the EFCC, the ICPC and the police.”
Also, Chief Edward Ashiekaa (SAN), said from the enabling Act creating DSS, it did not have the power to prosecute.
“Some people keep making references to FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) of the United States, but the FBI only investigates and hands over to the Department of Justice for prosecution,” he said.
Efforts to get the reaction of the DSS did not succeed as it had yet to get a spokesman.
CSNAC’s petitions received our attention based on merit –EFCC
The Head of Media and Publicity of the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said while he did not know the particular judges referred to by the CSNAC, petitions received from the group on several sectors were duly treated.
He said, “I don’t know some of the judges under reference. But suffice it to say that the commission has over the years received petitions from CSNAC covering several sectors and issues.
“All received attention based on merit as every petition to the commission do.”
Alleged Corruption: DSS to arraign seven judges next week
Meanwhile, the DSS will next week arraign seven judges it arrested across the country on Friday and Saturday last week.
A top DSS source, who confided in The PUNCH, explained that the service was almost through with the investigations into the allegations against the judges, adding that it was waiting for the National Judicial Council to take actions against them.
He stated, “The ongoing investigation is not supposed to go beyond this week. We have written to the NJC about what has happened and we expect the NJC to take some decisions about the affected judges this week.
“Once that is done, hopefully by next week or thereabouts, we should arraign them in court. For now, more facts in the form of petitions are trickling in about the judges.”
He further stated that it was its statutory responsibility to investigate painstakingly every complaint against the judges, adding that some victims had even indicated their readiness to testify in court.
The source also said that as part of the investigations, it had gone through the asset declaration forms the judges submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau.
“We discovered a judge filling three different forms with different information either in terms of assets declared or even personal information like age. Imagine one judge filling three different forms with different information just to deceive. Just as I said, we will do a thorough job.’’
The PUNCH also learnt on Wednesday that the DSS seized the telephones of the seven judges under investigation for corruption.
A security source, who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said the call logs of the affected judges were being analysed.
A top security source said the telephones of the judges were being analysed to know whether they had what was described as “illicit communication” with politicians.
The source said, “We have seized their telephones and we have started analysing everything.
“Apart from that, we are checking their call logs and also checking the calls that had been coming in since Saturday.”
It was also gathered that the DSS had asked all the affected judges to be reporting at its headquarters, otherwise known as ‘Yellow House’ every day.
Protesters storm Federal High Court, demand judges’ prosecution
A group of protesters, under the aegis of Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Coalition, stormed the premises of the Federal High Court on Oyinkan Abayomi Drive, Ikoyi, on Wednesday, demanding the prosecution of the seven judges arrested over the weekend for alleged corruption.
Speaking through their leader, Desmond Abiona, the protesters expressed their solidarity with the DSS for arresting the judges and condemned those who termed the DSS action as an attack on the judiciary.
Abiona alleged that the arrested judges had already sponsored a group of protesters to march against the DSS and launch cyberspace war, calling on the public to watch out for them.
He stated that the DSS had exposed the endemic rot in the judiciary, which had eroded the gains of Nigeria’s democracy.
Abiona said he and his colleagues were disappointed that members of the public, who were victims of corruption, were still being fooled to believe that the action of the DSS was an attack on the judiciary.
He said, “We are sad to discover that the democracy we thought we had for almost two decades was a farce – the judiciary that is a crucial arm of government, that should be the last recourse of the common man is a bigger problem than what we had hoped it would solve for us.”