Corruption: Indicted Judges to face trial this week

BARRING any last minute adjustment, the seven senior judges arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS) will be arraigned this week for alleged corruption and illegal possession of arms.

Separate charges have been reportedly prepared against them, including two justices of the Supreme Court, who were caught in the web of the unprecedented security onslaught against senior judicial officers.

The exact arraignment date is reportedly being kept under wraps by the prosecution, in order not to jeopardise the planned trial of the affected judges, whose arrests caused a nationwide uproar.

Both Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro have written to the National Judicial Council (NJC), claiming that cabinet members in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, particularly Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, attempted to use them in buying judgments in a couple of governorship elections.

Okoro and Ngwuta claimed their travails in the hands of the DSS were primarily due to their refusal to help the minister pervert the course of justice.

Though currently on administrative bail granted them on self-recognisance, the prosecution would seek the remand of the seven judges in prison custody, even if they came prepared with bail applications.

It was learnt that as investigations deepened in the alleged corruption cases being built against the judicial officers, they could be re-arrested even if granted bail, in order to keep them away from tampering with evidence being collated against them and witnesses being lined up against them.

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A source said that the judges would be shocked by those that would be lined up as witnesses against them, “including those they know and have worked with for years.”

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed and the National Judicial Council (NJC) had kicked against the calls for the suspension of the judges, insisting that there were due processes to be followed.

Both the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and Body of Senior Advocates had backed off the DSS and the executive arm, seeking the suspension of the judges from the Bench.

Sunday night, it was gathered that the NJC may not hold out for too long on the call for compulsory leave for the judges, as pressure kept mounting on the CJN to let them go out of work for the period their trial would last.

Okoro and Ngwuta were sighted together on Thursday at the Supreme Court. They met briefly with the CJN before leaving.

It could not be ascertained if they returned to their chambers immediately or exited the building after the meeting with the CJN.

Some senior lawyers said that a gag order may have been placed on the NBA president, Mahmood, following the controversy trailing a shift in his position on the DSS raid of the judges’ residence and the call to have the judges suspended.

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Mahmood, a member of the NJC, was present when the decision to reject the suspension request was taken by the council and reportedly endorsed it.

He, however, led the Bar to call for the judges’ suspension, compelling both the NJC and CJN to condemn his new position.

The body also put a committee in place to have an interface with the CJN over the new position, but reportedly told Mahmood to keep off any further public comments on the matter, while the committee takes over further interaction.

The committee and CJN are expected to work out a modality for sending the arrested serving judges on leave, without making the process appear punitive.

Justice M.A. Pindiga, who was among the stung judges, had also written to the CJN and NJC over his ordeal. He was the presiding judge of the Rivers State election petition tribunal that was sacked by the President of the Court of Appeal.

As the controversy over the arrests rages, Justice Mahmud will today launch an ambitious reform agenda to reposition the judiciary. The package is entitled “the National Judicial Policy” and it will be launched at the National Judicial Institute.

The new policy covers all issues currently bedeviling the sector. The issues of appointment, discipline and code of conduct for judicial officers top the new reform.

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