Abuja Judges protest detention of colleagues, shut down Court

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In seeming solidarity with judges detained since last Saturday by the Department of State Services (DSS), the Abuja division of the Federal High Court was shut down yesterday.

The action was in protest against the arrest of four judges by the DSS for alleged corruption. Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the division was one of the four detainees who were released yesteray.

Thie is even as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmoud Mohammed, said the DSS’ action was regrettable.

The DSS had in a nationwide crackdown last weekend, began arresting judges suspected to have collected huge cash to pervert the cause of justice before, during and after the 2015 general elections as well as in other cases.

Others arrested during the midnight sting operations were Justices of the Supreme Court, Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro, while the DSS stormed the house of Justices  Nnamdi Dimgba and Adeniyi Ademola, both of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, in their official residences.

The operations, which began in Gombe State with the arrest of Justice Muazu Pindigi, who served on the elections tribunal in Rivers State, continued in Abuja on Friday night into early Saturday morning.

When Daily Sun visited the Federal High Court yesterday, none of the justices sat, even as they had listed some cases on their Cause List.

Consequently, some of the cases slated for yesterday were adjourned by the Registrars.

Many lawyers and litigants expressed disappointment over the development, saying the DSS’ action would obstruct the speedy dispensation of cases if the matter was not resolved quickly.

One of the high profile cases that were adjourned yesterday was the one against former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Alex Badeh, who is standing trial for alleged  fraud, relating to the diversion of N3.9 billion meant for the purchase of arms.

Retired Air Marshal Badeh was arraigned before Justice Okon Abang on a 10-count charge of money laundering, criminal breach of trust and corruption.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is accusing Badeh of using funds assigned to the Nigerian Air Force to purchase a mansion in Abuja. The commission said the purchase was done with the dollar equivalent of N1.4 billion.

“Badeh, while being the CDS, between January and December, 2013, allegedly used dollar equivalent of N1.4billion allegedly removed from the accounts of the Nigerian Air Force to purchase a mansion situated at 6, Ogun River Street, Off Danube Street, Maitama, Abuja,” the EFCC said in a statement.

His case was listed for trial, but could not be heard in view of the development.

There was no official statement from the court for the action, but sources said it was to show solidarity to their brother justices now in detention.

The Federal High Court did not,  however, carry other hierarchy of the courts along in their action as both the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory [FCT], the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, all conducted their affairs.

Meanwhile, the CJN, Justice Mohammed, yesterday broke his silence over the DSS’ ‘string’ operations, saying the action was regrettable.

Justice Mohammed, who said he was saddened by the event has, however, appealed for calm.

Speaking at the valedictory session organised by the apex court in honour of its retired Justice Suleiman Galadinma, the CJN said: “My lords, invited guests, ladies and gentlemen, not to detract from this occasion, it is indeed very saddened and deeply regrettable, the distressing and unfortunate incident which occurred on Friday, October 7and Saturday, October 8, 2016

“However, I must urge all Nigerians to remain calm and prayerful, as an emergency meeting of the National Judicial Council (NJC) will take place tomorrow (today) to comprehensively look into the matter.

“I must express my sincere appreciation to the executive of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) ably led by the President, Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, and indeed, all members of the legal profession, for their prompt action and continued support.”

Meanwhile, the Attorney-General of the Federation [AGF], Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami [SAN], was invited to the occasion, he was absent and did not send a representative.

But speaking at the event, the NBA  boss insisted that President Muhammadu Buhari should call the security agencies responsible for the arrest of the judges to order.

“We viewed these actions as illegal and unconstitutional and a threat to the independence of the judiciary and must be aimed at intimidating the judiciary and the legal profession.

“This military-style operations are totally unacceptable in a democratic society. They are unacceptable against private citizens but even moreso against serving justices of superior courts,” he said.

Mahmoud said the NBA rejects the explanations and justification by the Presidency that these so-called surgical operations were targeted at corruption and not the judiciary.

“We find absurd that the Presidency will accept assurances from DSS that it followed due process of the law! We maintain our position that these operations are illegal and unconstitutional. I want to reiterate that the position of the NBA is not aimed at protecting any judge. We are not also shielding any judges from investigation on charges of corruption.”

He also addressed the divisions among lawyers over the DSS’ action, saying: “We are clear that raiding houses of justices of the Supreme Court in the middle of the night by masked armed men is the way to go. We do not accept it. This portends real danger .to the Nigerian democracy. It is contrary to all civilised norms and accepted standards.”

He said the NBA called on DSS to restrict itself to its constitutional and statutory duties.

According to him, DSS’ core mandate is to guarantee internal national security.

“It is not its duty to conduct police investigation or arraign and prosecute cases of corruption. It is not its responsibility to conduct sting operations on judges for corruption or professional misconduct in the middle of the night,” he added.

He called on the CJN to immediately take necessary and urgent steps to set in motion the process of cleansing the system,” Mahmoud noted.

He said: “Urgent steps to restore the confidence of the Nigerian people in the nation’s judiciary.”

He called on lawyers to remain resolute and speak with one voice, adding, “this is not the time to be divided.”

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