Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, said Nigerian judges are not cast above the law.
His statement came amidst the controversy over the weekend arrest of seven judges by the Department of State Services.
“Once crimes and criminality are concerned, nobody is an exception,” Malami said in Abuja.
He said the judges’ arrest was constitutionally guaranteed and not even immunity could have stopped it.
“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,” he said.
“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,” the minister said.
“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 investigation was in line with President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s resolve to cleanse the country of the stench of corruption.
The DSS said 15 senior judges were being investigated over allegations of corrupt practices while only seven had so far been arrested.
On the issue of immunity, Malami said no public official was exempted from investigation, explaining that “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.”
“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.”
The seven judges so far arrested are: Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court; Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja; Kabir Auta of the Kano High Court; Mu’azu Pindiga of the Gombe High Court, Mohammed Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin; and the Chief Judge of Enugu State Justice I. A. Umezulike.
They were, however, released on bail on Sunday on self-recognizance. The DSS said they were going after eight other judges over the same graft allegations.
Over N200 million in different currencies were recovered from the residences of three arrested judges, according to the security agency.
The judges may be arraigned any time the investigation is concluded.
The National Judicial Council is expected to issue a statement on the issue today.
Source: Daily Trust