Justice Mahmud Mohammed, Chief Justice of Nigeria:
The National Judicial Council, NJC bows to pressure on Thursday as it directed judges currently being investigated for criminal offences to stop presiding over cases and performing other functions related to their offices.
The suspension will last until the innocence of the judges was established, NJC said at the end of its 79th meeting held in Abuja between Wednesday and Thursday.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC as well as the Department of State Services, DSS have been investigating some judges over allegation of corruption.
DSS had between 7 and 8 October raided the houses of some judges, including two Justices of the Supreme Court in Abuja and Port Harcourt over allegations of corruption.
The secret police recovered local and foreign currencies suspected to be proceeds of crime from the residence of some of the judges. There are indications that some of the judges may be arraigned in court over corrupt dealings very soon.
Different interest groups, lawyers and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Abubakar Mahmud (SAN) had at different times called on NJC to suspend judges recently arrested over allegations of corruption by EFCC pending the determination of the cases against them.
But NJC which was very critical of arrest of judges over corruption by the EFCC had insisted that it lacked the statutory powers to suspend judges without adequate evidence of allegations against them.
NJC however seem to have had a change of heart after its 17th meeting with the directive that no judge under investigation will be allowed to preside over cases.
Thus, the affected judges will no longer conduct proceedings until the cases against them are concluded.
NJC statement signed by its Acting Director of Information, Soji Oye reads: “Council decided that Judicial officers shall not be standing trial for alleged corruption related offences and be performing judicial functions at the same time.“Council however decided that it will ensure that judicial officers, who are being investigated for alleged high profile criminal offences do not perform judicial functions until their cases are concluded,” it said.
NJC also said it has commenced implementation of specific aspects of the National Judicial Policy which came into force in April 2016 and was launched on Monday 24th October, 2016 with the setting up of a Transparency and Anti-Corruption Policy Implementation Committee which had Hon Justice E. O. Ayoola, CON (Rtd Justice of the Supreme Court) as Chairman.
The other members of the Committee are Hon Justice Kashim Zannah, Chief Judge of Borno State and A. B. Mahmoud, SAN, President Nigeria Bar Association.
“Section 6 of the National Judicial Policy aims at putting in place multifaceted strategies and guidelines that will ensure transparency and eliminate corruption in the Judiciary.
“It seeks, amongst other measures, to provide a platform and opportunity to citizens who profess factual and credible knowledge of information on the nature and modalities of corruption in the judicial system to ventilate such,” NJC said.
The seven justices under investigation are from the Supreme, Appeal and High courts for corruption are John Okoro and Sylvester Nguta of the Supreme Court and a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Innocent Umezulike.
Others are Namdi Dimgba and Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja; Kabiru Auta, from Kano; Muazu Pindiga of Federal High Court in Gombe.