The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), has justified the arrest of seven judges by the Department of State Services (DSS) at the weekend.
The minister spoke in Abuja yesterday at the inauguration of the Country Expert Review Committee for the second cycle of the review of the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).
Malami’s reaction came against the backdrop of mixed reactions that have trailed the arrest of the seven judges and the threat by the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) to declare a state of emergency.
The judges — Justices John Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta of the Supreme Court; Justice Muhammad Ladan Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano High Court; Justice Mu’azu Pindiga of the Gombe High Court; Justice Ibrahim Auta, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria; and Justice Adeniyi Ademola — were arrested between Friday and Saturday by operatives of the DSS on allegations of corruption.
All seven judges were released on bail on Sunday night, owing to what the DSS said was the lack of co-operation of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
According to Malami, what happened in relation to the affected judges was a mere investigation of criminal allegations, contending that no one was immune to investigation under the Nigerian law.
He pointed out that once an allegation of criminality was raised, it was the duty of the relevant investigating agencies to carry out the investigation.
When asked by journalists to provide more insight into the judges’ arrest and release on bail two days later, he said nobody is exempted from being investigated, not even the president, vice-president, governors and their deputies who are covered by the immunity clause under Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution.
“The fundamental consideration is whether there is an allegation of the commission of a crime, whether there is the need for investigation, and whether the relevant provisions of the law and indeed, all circumstances, as provided in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) are put into consideration in our conduct as regards the fight against corruption.
“The bottom line is that we have a responsibility to fight corruption. Corruption is a crime and nobody, regardless of how highly placed is exempted as far as issues that border on crimes and criminalities are concerned.
“The limited exceptions as we know constitutionally are the exceptions of immunity. And to the best of my knowledge, those exceptions do not apply to investigation.
“For those that are conferred with the immunity, the right to investigate has not been taken away constitutionally.
“So I think the framework and the circumstances within which we are operating are clearly whether there exists the right to investigate or not, and whether the action borders on criminality.
“Once crimes and criminality are concerned, nobody is an exception. I think the undertone should be exclusively the consideration of the existence of a prima facie case; existence of reasonable grounds for suspicion of commission of a crime.
“And if there are, no member of the legislature, judiciary and executive can definitely be exempted from investigation. I think where we are now is the point of investigation and that is what is taking place,” he said.
The minister expressed confidence in the ability of members of the review committee to execute their responsibilities.
He said: “The extant review focusing on Chapter II and V of UNCAC, relating to preventive measures against corruption in public and private sectors and assets recovery, is both necessary and timely at this time in the annals of our country, when endemic cum systemic corruption has created a great disconnect between our nation’s wealth and the quality of life of ordinary citizens.”
Malami said that the objectives of UNCAC were in harmony with the conviction of the current federal government to curb corruption.
He said it was necessary for members of the committee to understand the important task of nation building which was being committed to their hands.
“Let me emphasise that the guiding principles of the review is non-adversarial, non-punitive and not aimed at ranking state parties.
“Nevertheless, members of the expert committee should understand that those selected, appointed or nominated by my office or your various agencies are chosen based on skills, expertise and commitment.
“It is therefore important to note that your performance in this assignment will be a step in the direction for us as a country and people to achieve the goals that we have set for ourselves – prevent corruption, recover, return and manage stolen assets,” he explained.
Members of the committee are drawn from 22 federal agencies including the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Special Control Unit Against Money Laundering (SCUML), and the Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-corruption Reforms (TUGAR).
Malami, therefore, charged the committee to be transparent and efficient as much as possible in carrying out its mandate.