Sources within the Department of State Services (DSS) have revealed that the implemented Bank Verification Number (BVN) was responsible for the service’s operatives tracing several millions of money to alleged corrupt judges who are currently in its custody.
They said the DSS’ access to the bank accounts of the detained judges revealed that they had been taking bribes from many sources in the discharge of their duties but used the names and pictures of their wives, children and siblings to open such bank accounts.
“When we brought in most of the children, wives and relatives of the suspects based on the papers we got from the banks, they did not even have an idea that their names had been used by the judges to open such accounts.
“But you see under the Bank Verification Number, you must put in your passports, name, signature and others. So, for some of the judges, who used fake names and their wives’ names to open the accounts into which they paid in the proceeds of crime, they foolishly appended their signatures or used their pictures, something that gave them out.
“From what we have found out, some of the suspects acted foolishly in committing the offence because they cannot prove that even if their children were to earn N1 million monthly since they were born till date, none of them can accumulate the amount of money we have traced to their accounts and the type of property they have.
“Look, it may interest you to know that one of the two Supreme Court justices in our custody has a property worth N1.5 billion in one of the South-South states. If we may ask, where did he get the money to set up such project?
“As far as we are concerned, there is nothing unusual in arresting corrupt judges and taking them to court because it would be an offence against the nation to continue to turn a blind eye to mounting corruption in the judiciary”, the DSS source said.
The report also pointed that another judge, who is being detained and questioned, disguised as a shopper in one of the supermarkets and ended up collecting bribes in dollars from a ‘client’ only to be caught on CCTV camera.
Meanwhile, one Helen Ogunleye, a Federal High Court registrar, was on Monday arrested by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Ogunleye is said to have been arrested on allegation of corruption and in line with the ongoing cleansing of the judiciary by the Federal Government.
However, Mahmud Mohammed, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), has described the mode of arrest of seven judges as “deeply regrettable.”
Speaking at a valedictory session for Justice Suleiman Galadima of the Supreme Court in Abuja, Justice Mohammed urged Nigerians to pray for the country.
“It is indeed very saddening and deeply regrettable, the distressing and unfortunate incident which occurred on Friday, October 7 and Saturday, October 8, 2016,” he said.
The Chief Justice said an emergency meeting of the National Judicial Council (NJC), “which will take place tomorrow, will comprehensively look into the matter.”
“Furthermore, I must express my sincere appreciation to the executive of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) ably led by the president, Abubakar Mahmoud, and indeed all members of the legal profession for their prompt action and continued support,” he said.
The arrested judges by the Department of State Services (DSS) include John Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court; Namdi Dimgba and Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja; Kabiru Auta from Kano; Muazu Pindiga in Gombe, and a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Innocent Umezulike.
The judges were arrested between Friday night and Saturday morning.
DSS detained seven judges and seized cash from their homes in a series of night time raids that lawyers have criticised for being unconstitutional.
The service said it confiscated $800,000 in cash in the operation that was launched because of “allegations of corruption and professional misconduct” against the judges, including two Supreme Court justices.
The presidency has said that the weekend raids were part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption drive and the first to target the judiciary.
Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, said the president reserves his highest respect for the institution of the judiciary as the third arm of government, adding that the president will not do anything to undermine its independence.
He said, “President Buhari remains a committed democrat, in words and in his actions, and will not take any action in violation of the constitution.
“The recent surgical operation against some judicial officers is specifically targeted at corruption and not at the judiciary as an institution.”
However, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), South East zone, has criticised what it described as midnight invasion of judges’ homes by the DSS, saying the action has “brought to the fore the reality that democracy, rule of law and respect for the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are under serious threat in the civilian administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.”
In a statement signed by the South East zonal chairman, Comrade Emeka Attah, CLO said “the Gestapo style of the DSS operation is a sad reminder that after 17 years of return to civilian administration, dictatorship and all other accompanying derivatives of the military regime are still here with us.”
The organisation said even if the DSS had already declared affected judges guilty as charged, there are still legally accepted procedures for criminal arrest, investigation, prosecution and conviction.
The statement noted: “Nigeria as a nation-state also has relevant agencies and bodies charged with the responsibility of addressing corruption, financial malfeasance and other related offences.
“The DSS under Buhari if left unchecked may become another strike force, the deadly group formed by the late maximum ruler, Sani Abacha.”
Similarly, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa Ibom State has described the invasion of the judges’ houses by the DSS as “burglary and kidnapping”.
The party said it considers such act as shameful and flagrant display of military action in a democratic dispensation, even when the vice president of the country is a vested legal luminary.
Speaking with journalists in Uyo on Monday, the Akwa Ibom State capital, Ini Emembong, the party’s publicity secretary, noted that the law setting up the DSS does not give it such powers it displayed in the so-called arrest of the judges.
According to him, every security agency is set up by law, and must operate within the limit of the law for its operations to be considered and regarded legal.
“It is most shameful that a professor of law is the vice president at the time this is happening. That, even in the highest of Abacha’s regime, such a thing never happened; this act happened when the incumbent president ruled this country as a military man.
“The president should know that this country is ruled by law and as Nigerians we would defend those laws and democracy with all we have.
“If there were reasonable suspicions, the law created the National Judiciary Council (NJC) and gives it the responsibility to discipline judges. Recently, the Chief Judge of Enugu State was disciplined without the intervention of anybody and therefore the act of burgling into their homes and kidnapping them is totally condemned.”
A non-governmental organisation, Concerned Ebonyi League of Professionals (CELOP), Monday demanded an unreserved apology from the DSS over the invasion and arrest of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta.
In a communiqué signed by the leaders of the group, Obinna Ekuma, Eze Gabriel and Paulinus Nwaja and issued after an emergency meeting on Monday in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, the group described the action of DSS as mindless abuse of state power, maintaining that the DSS has by its action and inaction demonstrated partisan interest in the matter, which it said was capable of preventing the cause of justice.
“The act of the DSS officers by arresting judges who are enjoying judicial immunity as provided for by our constitution, laws, the Supreme Court rules and laws, which is a necessary condition for them to be able to dispense justice shows that the DSS has no respect and regard for separation of powers and independence of the judiciary”, it said.
Meantime, the Publicity Secretary of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Enugu State, Kate Ofor, has commended President Muhammadu Buhari for “raising the bar of anti-graft war in Nigeria”.
Ofor said “a Daniel has come to judgment. Well done President Buhari for touching the untouchables.
“The judges thought they are untouchables and above the law.
“These are judges, who are supposed to protect the law, defend our hard earned democracy and cleanse the Aegean Stable but regrettably, are the ones subverting the law and mangling the War Against Corruption.”
On the fear of return of dictatorship and why Buhari did not allow the National Judicial Council (NJC) to discharge its mandate, she said that the judges were those trampling on law instead.
According to her, dictatorship is actually enthroned when the rule of law is trampled upon by those who are the custodians of the temple of justice.