The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed on Wednesday said there was nothing wrong in stepping on judges’ toes in the fight against corruption.
It would be recalled that the Department of State Services (DSS) had last weekend stormed the houses of some judges, arrested them and recovered the huge sum of money in different denominations.
But briefing State House correspondents at the end of Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided by President Mohammadu Buhari, Mohammed said that there was nothing wrong with the method adopted by the DSS.
Mohammed was accompanied by the Ministers of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola and Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika.
While stressing that governors who have immunity are still open to investigation, he said that judges don’t even have immunity.
He said: “What the government is concerned and passionate about is to fight corruption. In the process of fighting corruption, it is not unusual that you step on some very sensitive toes but the question to ask and I think these has been adequately answered by the Attorney General is that let’s remove emotion from facts.
“One, do judges have immunity? The answer is no. Can judges be arrested? The answer is yes. Have judges that are serving been arrested in Nigeria? The answer is yes. Justice Okoli had been arrested and tried.
“Now the next question to ask is what is the proper procedure for arresting anybody including judges? There must be properly executing of the search warrant. Was such presented? The answer again is yes. People have tried to muddle the facts about when do you search the person’s house, the truth of the matter is that under the new criminal justice law, you can search anybody, anywhere, anytime.
“Again they have tried to muddle issues by trying to say that the NJC is the only authority that can attend complain and discipline, the answer once again is no,” he added.
He pointed out that there is a difference between what is happening to the judges now and when a judge is accused of professional misconduct.
“If you suspect anybody including Governors who have immunity they are still subject to investigations.” He said
The government, he said, has the highest respect for the judiciary and does not intend to ridicule the judiciary.
“We are not painting the whole of the judges with the same brush but we also have a duty to fight corruption at whatever level and in doing so, we will do so within the ambit of the law.” He said
The Minister expressed displeasure that some people have started raising issues that are completely irrelevant to the matter.
He said: “Some people are saying oh, the reason why they went to some particular judges house is because the President wants somebody from one part of the country to be Chief Justice of Nigeria. I think that is preposterous.
“I want to assure you that this government has no intention to humiliate the judiciary and for those who are talking about separation of power, I think you are stretching it too far. I and members of the Executive, I can be invited by any arm of the government and I will go. So I think we should situate this thing in the right perspective.” He added
He recalled when 22 out of 32 judges in Ghana, who were caught on tape by journalists asking for a bribe, were dismissed in 2015.
He added: “Yes it’s true that what is happening today has probably never happened at this level before but frankly speaking and with all due respect we do not intend to humiliate any judge, we have no intention to humiliate the judiciary but believe me what we have done we have done within the ambits of the law.
“I think the Federal Government is being very careful with handling of this particular issue, I want to state clearly that this government believes very much in separation of powers, this government has a lot of respect for the judiciary and for obvious reasons, not just because the constitution says so but I think probably this is one cabinet that has the highest number of lawyers as ministers.
“As at the last count about eleven or twelve council members are lawyers and we have female lawyers also in the cabinet until death robbed us of late Ocholi we had five SANs in our cabinet and I think this is unique, therefore you can understand the kind of respect we have for the judiciary.”
He also pointed out that the President himself, who sought to be President four times and had it thwarted three times, took his case to court on the three occasions.
“He took his case to the judiciary, so I can say clearly that this administration has a lot of respect for the judiciary and I think I stand by what Mallam Garba Shehu said that please do not confuse the fight against corruption as a fight against judiciary,” he added
Fashola disclosed that the FEC approved N700 million for the completion of abandoned Federal secretariats in Anambra, Bayelsa, Gombe, Nasarawa, Osun and Zamfara states.
According to him, the fund for the completion of the secretariat projects, which were abandoned since 2012, were captured in the 2016 budget.
He said when completed, the projects would provide office accommodation to Federal Government staff deployed to the affected states.
“They are at various stages of completion. There have been changes in cost as a result of project designs, amendment, cases where original location and contract are changed and they have to be redesigned in such structure,’’ he said
He said that the second memo approved by FEC from the ministry has to do with ongoing projects for the construction of the abandoned 10 megawatts Wind Farm power project in Katsina state.
According to him, the wind farm project is part of government’s strategic plan for renewable energy.
He added that the project was a major component of the government’s road map towards achieving incremental power in the country.
Fashola noted that the contract cost of the power project escalated following the kidnapping of the contractor, who after being rescued abandoned the project.
Sirika said that the council approved an outline Business case for Industrial Port Development in Badagry, Lagos State.
According to him, the Council also approved the relocation of flight training simulator from Lagos to Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria in Kaduna state, for the training of pilots and engineers.