President Muhammadu Buhari has challenged the powers of the Federal High Court in Abuja to stop the prosecution of judges accused of engaging in acts of corruption.
Buhari maintained that the high court was bereft of the jurisdiction to entertain a suit filed by a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Olukoya Ogungbeje, with a view to stopping the Federal Government from arraigning seven judges arrested after a “sting operation” the Department of State Services, DSS, conducted between October 7 and 8.
It will be recalled that trial Justice Gabriel Kolawole, had on October 28, summoned President Buhari and the Director-General of the DSS, Mr. Lawal Daura, to appear in court and show cause why the embattled judges should be tried. Others equally ordered to appear before the court were the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and the National Judicial Council, NJC.
They were all cited as Respondents in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/809/16. The plaintiff had specifically applied for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Respondents from arresting, inviting, intimidating, or harassing any of the judges whose homes were raided by the DSS.
He contended that the arrest and detention of the judges without recourse to the NJC, was not only unconstitutional, but also aimed at ridiculing the judiciary arm of government. According to him, the action of the DSS is in gross violation of the rights of the judges as enshrined in sections 33, 34, 35, 36, and 41 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Consequently, Ogungbeje sought 10 separate reliefs from the court, including award of N50 billion as general and exemplary damages against the Respondents, as well as another N2 million as cost of the suit. He equally prayed the court for an order compelling the DSS to return to the judges’, money seized from their homes. Justice Kolawole had at the last adjourned date, declined an ex-parte motion for an interim order stopping the FG from carrying out any “untoward action” against the Judges. Rather, he directed the plaintiff to put all the Respondents on notice to enable them to appear in court to show cause why prayers contained in the suit should not be granted.
Meanwhile, challenging the competence of the suit, President Buhari, via a preliminary objection filed by his lawyer, Chiesonu Okpoko, argued that the plaintiff did not disclose his locus standi to initiate and maintain the suit. He insisted that there was no lis (case) between the plaintiff and the Respondents, adding that “the applicant’s suit as constituted and conceived, is a mere academic exercise and raises hypothetical issues.”
President Buhari argued that before the plaintiff could invoke the judicial powers of the court as enshrined in section 6(6) (b) of the 1999 constitution, he must show how his civil rights and obligations were affected or would be affected by the act complained of. Though seven judges were arrested, the plaintiff said he instituted the action on behalf of five of them who were still serving as at the time the action was commenced.
The judges the plaintiff is fighting for are Justices Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court, Adeniyi Ademola and Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court Abuja, as well as Justice Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division.