A human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said on Monday that the National Judicial Council had the power to place judges under investigation on interim suspension.
Falana said in a statement that the position held by the NJC to the effect that it had no power to suspend judges without first receiving a petition against a judge and investigating it was wrong.
He issued the statement before the NJC inaugurated a new National Judicial Policy which empowers the body to place a judge under investigation on interim suspension.
Citing the provisions of the newly launched National Judicial Policy and a similar scenario in 2006, the lawyer said the NJC had to seek the help of the Department of State Services to investigate some of judges accused of taking a N10m bribe after placing them on interim suspension.
Falana said, “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 State governorship election petitions 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 DSS 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 N10m while a judge of the Federal High Court had acted as a conduit in the scandal.
“At that stage, the judges were confronted with the allegations. As their defence 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!”
The Nigerian Bar Association had called for the suspension of four serving judges among the seven, whose houses were raided by the DSS operatives between October 7 and 8.
Falana said while the NJC had called an emergency meeting to address the arrest of the judges, it had not deemed it fit to investigate the allegations levelled against the judges.
He said apart from Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, whose house was searched but was not arrested, the rest of the judges had not frontally denied the allegations levelled against them.
He said, “In view of the foregoing, the NJC ought to commence an investigation into the serious allegation of judicial corruption levelled 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 a 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 DSS has not been able to link him with any corrupt practice or misconduct whatsoever.”
He added, “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 excuse 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 has said that the judges would not step aside until an investigation has been conducted into the allegation of judicial corruption levelled against them by the Federal Government.”