Two weeks ago, the Nigerian Bar Association had cause to condemn the nocturnal raid on the official quarters of seven judges including two members of the Supreme Court. But upon a further review of the circumstances surrounding the arrest and the large sums of money recovered from the homes of some of the judges the Nigerian Bar Association was compelled to request them to recuse themselves until they have been absolved of the allegations of judicial corruption leveled against them. Curiously, without allowing the judges affected to react to the advice of the NBA the National Judicial Council (NJC) has said that the judges would not step aside until an investigation has been conducted into the allegation of judicial corruption leveled against them by the Federal Government.
Meanwhile, notwithstanding the gravity of the allegation of judicial corruption and the far reaching implication for the image of the nation's judiciary the NJC has not deemed it fit to institute any inquiry into the matter because the SSS has not submitted any report to it. Thus, the NJC has allowed the allegation of judicial corruption to continue to hang menacingly on the heads of the judges like a sword of Damocles. However, the NJC has held an emergency meeting to review the arrest of the judges. In a communique issued at the end of the meeting, the NJC condemned the manner of the arrest without denying the allegations of judicial corruption leveled against the judges.
It is on record that each of the judges has denied involvement in judicial corruption. Apart from Justice Nnamdi Dimgba who has categorically denied any involvement in corrupt practices or misconduct others have alleged that their ordeal is politically motivated. In their own defense, the two Justices alleged that two serving ministers had met them to discuss pending appeals at Supreme Court. One of the jurists even suggested that the huge sums of money seized by the SSS were planted in his house. Before then, a judge in the federal high court had said that he admitted and signed for the millions of Naira and foreign currencies recovered from his residence under duress.
If the NJC had treated this national crisis with the urgency required it should have investigated the matter based on the avalanche of materials placed before it. Interestingly, the NJC had handled a similar complaint of judicial corruption about a decade ago. That was in 2006 when it was alleged that the members of the Akwa Ibom governorship election petition tribunal had received bribes to pervert Justice. Without prejudice to the innocence of the judges the NJC suspended them and requested the Director-General of the SSS to conduct a discreet investigation into the allegation. Upon the receipt of the report of the investigation, it was found that each of the members of the tribunal had received a bribe of N10 million while a judge of the federal high court had acted as a conduit pipe in the scandal. At that stage, the judges were confronted with the allegations. As their defense was found unsatisfactory, the NJC recommended their removal from the bench. Furthermore, the NJC referred the matter to the Independent and Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission. One of the indicted judges collapsed and died when the ICPC operatives wanted to arrest him in his house in Makurdi, Benue State!
Last year, the Judicial of Ghana found itself in a more embarrassing situation than ours. Since the bar and the bench had paid lip service to the nagging crisis of judicial corruption an investigative journalist, Anas Arameyaw Anas recorded several judges on tape while they were busy negotiating bribes of various sums. The Judicial Council under the Chief Justice of Ghana, Lady Regina Wood moved speedily to douse the tension in that country. The 22 judges who were recognized in the video were immediately placed on suspension. They were later investigated and dismissed from the bench. Before then, the Acting Chief Justice of The Gambia, Justice Joseph Wowo, a Nigerian, was caught in a video demanding a bribe of 2.5 million Dalasis to pervert justice in a land matter. Following the demand for his prosecution by the Gambian Bar Association the judge quietly resigned as the Acting Chief Justice and disappeared from The Gambia. He was later dismissed in absentia by President Yayah Jammeh.
Given the foregoing, the NJC ought to commence an investigation into the serious allegation of judicial corruption leveled against the embattled judges without any further delay. Having regard to the embarrassing disclosures in the letters addressed to the Chief Justice by the judges the NJC should follow the advice of the Nigerian Bar Association by placing them on suspension pending the conclusion of full-scale investigation in line with section 2.2.3 of the National Judicial Policy of the National Judicial Council which stipulates that the Council shall have the "powers of interim suspension". However, both the NJC and the NBA should demand a public apology for Justice Nnamdi Dimgba as the SSS has not been able to link him with any corrupt practice or misconduct whatsoever.
-Femi Falana SAN