The National Judicial Council (NJC) appears to have drawn the battle line with the Department of State Security (DSS) following the agency’s recent arrest of nine judges for alleged corruption.
The council has decided against suspending six of the judges contrary to the expectation of the DSS.
The remaining three had earlier been recommended for suspension by the NJC for misconduct.
The council, The Nation, gathered yesterday is insisting on the DSS providing evidence of its allegations of corruption against the judges before any official sanction can be taken against them.
The NJC’s refusal to suspend the six serving judges is believed to be delaying their arraignment in court.
The two Supreme Court Justices – Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro – who were among those arrested and granted administrative bail by the DSS have already gone back to their duty posts while the NJC has formally written a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari seeking the confirmation of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the next Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Justice Mahmud Mohammed forwarded a separate letter to the President detailing the ordeal of arrested judges.
The NJC at its meeting in Abuja during the week insisted that the DSS must follow due process in its handling of the allegations against the judges.
Those under investigation apart from Justices Ngwuta and Okoro are the suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya; Justice Adeniyi Ademola (Federal High Court); suspended Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike; suspended Justice Kabiru Auta of Kano State High Court; Justice Muazu Pindiga (Gombe State High Court); Justice Bashir Sukola and Justice Ladan Manir, of the Kaduna State High Court.
The NJC had earlier recommended Tsamiya, Umezulike, Auta for suspension ahead of their removal from office.
Auta was, in addition, recommended for prosecution.
A reliable source in NJC said: “The Council has decided not to suspend the six judges until due process is followed and there is evidence from the DSS on the allegations against them.
“We will not shield any corrupt judge but the DSS should write formally to the NJC with necessary evidence and we will call an emergency meeting to consider the allegations against the judges.
“You cannot build something on nothing. We have established rules and regulations for disciplinary action against judges.
“As a matter of fact, when the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed met with President Muhammdau Buhari last (penultimate) Saturday, the President was alleged to have asked him: ‘Do you think I can do a thing like that?’ He also asked the CJN to put his complaint into writing.”
The source said the CJN has already written a letter to the President on the ordeal of the judges and the need for due process in line with the mandate of the NJC in the 1999 Constitution.
The source confirmed that Justices Ngwuta and Okoro had resumed work at the apex court, adding: “If not for the DSS directive that they should be reporting daily, they would be having their normal sitting in court.”
A second letter from the CJN to President Buhari sought his approval for the recommendation of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the next CJN.