A Lagos-based activist and legal practitioner, Mr. Olukoya Ogungbeje has filed a N50 billion suit against President Muhammadu Buhari, the Department of State Services (DSS) and its Director-General, Lawal Daura over alleged violation of the rights of some judges whose houses were raided and arrested between October 8 and 9, 2016.
Other defendants named in the suit are Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and the National Judicial Council (NJC). Ogungbeje alleged that the clampdown and arrest, without recourse to the NJC, was unlawful and amounted to humiliating them.
He said the DSS operation violated the rights of judges under sections 33, 34, 35, 36, and 41 of the 1999 Constitution. Among others, he seeks an order awarding N50 billion against the defendants as “general and exemplary damages.”
He also sought to be awarded N2m as the cost of the suit. He also sought an order compelling the DSS to return to the judges the sums of money recovered from them. He also sought perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from arresting, inviting, intimidating, or harrassing the judges with respect to the case.
The DSS had, between Friday and Saturday, arrested Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court; Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, and Justice Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division.
Justice Nnnamdi Dimgba’s residence was also searched but he was not arrested. Others who were arrested had been placed on suspension by the NJC pending the President Buhari and their various state governors would approve its recommendation for their sacking.
They are a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; and judge of the Kano State High Court, Justice Kabiru Auta.
The DSS said it recovered large sums of money in Nigerian and foreign currencies from three of the judges during the raid on the houses of the seven judicial officers. All the seven of them had since been released on self recognition by the DSS.
But Ogungbeje’s suit is restricted to five of the arrested judges who are still in active service, namely, Justices Ngwuta, Okoro, Ademola, Pindiga and Dimgba. The plaintiff contended in his suit that the raid on the residences of the judges and their arrest was unconstitutional.
He maintained that the arrest of the judges did not follow the law.
He stated in a 39-paragraph affidavit which he deposed to in support of the suit, “That the 1st (President Buhari), 2nd (DG of DSS), 3rd (DSS), 4th (AGF), and 5th (Inspector-General of Police) respondents against there is no petition by the affected to the 6th respondent (NJC).
“That the 6th respondent is the only body empowered by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to discipline judges and judicial officers in Nigeria. “That the judiciary is an independent arm of government in Nigeria and separate from the executive and the legislature.
“That this illegal and unconstitutional action by the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th respondents have been roundly condemned by the Nigerian Bar Association. “That the 2nd (DG of DSS), 3rd (DSS), and 5th (IGP) respondents carried out their action which brazenly infringed upon the rights of the affected five judges without lawful excuse or recourse to the 6th respondent.
“That the 2nd, 3rd and 4th(AGF) respondents have no right under the law and and Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to discipline, infringe upon the rights of the affected judges. “That due process of law has not been followed in the arrest, humiliation harassment and detention of the affected Judges by the armed agents and officers of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th respondents
“That the affected judges have not committed any crime or wrong known to law to warrant their arrest, harassment, humiliation and detention, the forceful invasion and sieging of their residential houses and the forceful seizure and confiscation of their monies and properties without any court order.
“That due process of law were not followed and carried out by the 2nd, 3rd and 5th respondents before the arrest, humiliation, harassment, embarrassment, hounding, detention and forceful, seizure and confiscation of their monies.
“That the officials and agents of the 2nd, 3rd and 5th respondents have threatened and vowed to continue to use to use unconstitutional means to arrest, humiliate, harass, pillory, hound, intimidate, and detain Hon. Judges and judicial officers of superior courts in Nigeria without recourse to the 6th respondent as the constitutionally recognised body to discipline erring judges.”