Justice Okoro, Rotimi Amaechi in war of words over arrest issue

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*Amaechi , APC tried to bribe me over Rivers, Akwa Ibom guber elections cases – Judge claims in letter to CJN

*Okoro a blatant liar – Amaechi

*Presidency not victimising anyone, corrupt judges must face justice – Source

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*Senate to probe arrested judges

By Kemi Kasumu

The issue of alleged corrupt judges arrested by operatives of the Department of State Service (DSS) on Saturday October 8 has taken a new dimension with a letter by one of the alleged corrupt judges, Justice John Inyang Okoro, to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Justice Mohammed Mahmoud, claiming that his travail was caused by his failure to dance to the tune of the nation’s presidency and All Progressives Congress (APC) trying to bribe him to win the gubernatorial cases regarding Rivers and Akwa Ibom states.

In the letter dated October 17, 2016, Justice Okoro, who confirmed that monies were actually found with him, said the foreign currencies recovered from his home were exclusive of those he received from international conferences attended since he joined the Supreme Court three years ago.

He also said the $24,000 and £10,000 recovered in his house by the operatives were balance of the estacode he received on foreign trips for three years.  He stated in the letter that his travail in the hands of the operatives was in connection with alleged desire of  the Presidency and All Progressives Congress, APC, to win at all cost, election appeals in Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Abia states.

Okoro wrote just as one of the embattled judges, yesterday, had reportedly indicated in intention to hands off the criminal charge the Federal Government preferred against the detained former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd).

Justice Okoro stated in the letter that former Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, approached him to ensure that the cases of both Rivers and Akwa Ibom must be won at all cost, claiming that the now Minister of Transport said he had the instruction of the presidency to say so.

But a presidency source debunked Justice Inyang Okoro’s claim saying President Muhammadu Buhari’s government was never set out to victimise anyone.

The source, which reportedly spoke under condition of anonymity, however stated that the law must run its full course on anyone who breaks it, stressing that the current administration would never be cowed from its anti-corruption war.

The presidency was apparently reacting to the allegation credited to Justice John Inyang Okoro, one of the Judges arrested by the operatives of the Department of State Services, DSS that the federal government was victimising him unduly in relation to the gubernatorial elections in Akwa Ibom and Rivers States.

The source said that “it is not in the character of this government to victimize anybody.”

Justice Okoro’s can of worms

The letter read:  “On Friday, the 7th day of October, 2016, at about 9 pm, I received a phone call from an unfamiliar caller. He introduced himself as an official from the Presidency.  He told me he had a letter for me from Mr. President.

“I immediately left my study room and went to open the door.  Upon the door being opened, I saw so many heavily armed men with an inscription “DSS” on their uniform. One of them, who was in mufti, told me they were to search my house.  I requested that I be allowed to inform the Chief Justice of Nigeria but they rebuffed, rather, they seized my phone from me.

“My Lord, the operatives of the Department of State Security searched all the rooms in the house meticulously. They also searched the boy’s quarters and my official vehicles parked outside.

“At the end of the search, which lasted till about 1.30 am of 8th October, 2016, they took away the following items: One IPad; three phones (only one active); USD 38,800; N3.5m and cheque books (four in number).

“The above items were documented on the back page of the search warrant they produced and we signed.

“Also, the DSS operatives informed me that their Director General wanted to see me that night. I requested to visit their office upon the break of the day but they refused.

“In view of the presence of the heavily armed men, who accompanied them and who were pointing their guns at me from all angles, I had no choice than to follow them to their office that night.

“I was detained by them in their office till Sunday, 9th October, 2016 and upon your Lordship’s intervention that Sunday, they released me in the evening of that Sunday.

“My Lord, I notice that they also brought other judicial officers (serving and retired) to their office. So, before releasing us, they asked me to make a statement concerning the money found in my house.

“I told them that having received the sum of USD24,000 and 10,000 Pounds a year for the past three years of my sojourn in this court as annual medical/vacation allowances, and having not spent more than 5,000 Pounds on each of three trips I have so far made abroad, I was entitled to have more than the amount recovered from me. Put differently, My Lord, the money was the balance of my estacode received from this court for the past three years.

“This is quite outside the estacodes I have received for the International Conferences I have so far attended since joining the bench of this court.

“My Lord, as at the time of writing this report, the DSS has not confronted me with any petition or complaint from any quarters whatsoever. Rather, they have grilled me, asking questions on some none-existing properties around the country.

“They have also doubted the age of my children, alleging that they are toddlers. This is sad and unbelievable. Reason for the raid

“My Lord, I strongly believe that this my travail is not unconnected with the verbal report I made to you on 1st February, 2016 about the visit to my official residence by His Excellency, Rotimi Amaechi, former Governor of Rivers State and now Minister of Transportation.

“In that report, I told you My Lord, that Mr. Amaechi said that the President of Nigeria and the All Progressives Congress mandated him to inform me that they must win their election Appeals in respect of Rivers State, Akwa Ibom State and Abia State at all costs.

“For Akwa Ibom State, he alleged that he sponsored Mr. Umana Umana, candidate of All Progressives Congress for that election and that if he lost Akwa Ibom appeal, he would have lost a fortune. Mr. Amaechi also said that he had already visited you and that you had agreed to make me a member of the panel that would hear the appeals.

“He further told me that Mr. Umana would be paying me millions of Naira monthly if I co-operated with them. My response, as I told you on that date, was that it does not lie within my power to grant his request and that I would do all within my power not to be in the panel for Akwa Ibom State. My Lord graciously left me out of the panel for Akwa Ibom State.

“That notwithstanding, the All Progressives Congress in Akwa Ibom State, which lost the appeal at the Supreme Court, believe that my presence in the Supreme Couirt made them to lose the appeal. Could I have resigned from the Supreme Court simply because people of Akwa Ibom State had a matter before it?

“My Lord will recall that I also reported that Mr. Umana Umana visited my residence before Amaechi’s visit. He also made the same request of assistance to win his appeal at the Supreme Court.

“Mr. Umana talked about “seeing” the Justices who would hear the appeal. Pastor (Dr) Ebebe Ukpong, who led Mr. Umana Umana to my house, intercepted and said that the issue of “seeing” the Justices was not part of their visit and that as a pastor, he would not be part of such a discussion. Mr. Umana apologised. I advised them to go and pray about the matter and get a good lawyer. That was how they left my house.

“My Lord, up till now, I do not know what I have done. Over the years, from the Magistracy till date, I have done my best to eschew all forms of corrupt practices. I have not received any bribe from anybody.

“My Lord is quite aware of my position as regards those who take bribe in the judiciary. I detest it and have no room for any adjustment. That is the truth.

“I urge my Lord and the National Judicial Council to disregard all the lies and media campaign orchestrated by those who felt I purposely refused to help them win their election appeals in the Supreme Court.

“I am confident that God will vindicate me at the end of this ordeal. I take it as a temporary set-back. I remain loyal to my oath of office and the need to be just and fair in handling matters before me.”

Amaechi reacts

Reacting to the allegation, last night, Transport Minister, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, in a statement, described it as a figment of Justice Okoro’s imagination.

The statement read:  “This accusation from Justice Okoro against Amaechi is a figment of his imagination, concocted to obfuscate and politicize the real issues for his arrest and DSS investigation of allegations of corruption against him.

“The claims by Justice Okoro against Amaechi are blatant lies, bereft of any iota of truth or even logic.  Amaechi did not, and has never approached Justice Okoro in respect of the cases Okoro mentioned or any other case.

“This is a cheap attempt, albeit, political move to drag the name of Amaechi into something he knows nothing about. Justice Okoro should face his issues and leave Amaechi out of it.  He will be hearing from our lawyers.”

Senate to probe arrested judges

In the meantime, Senate on Wednesday resolved to invite the six justices that were arrested by operatives of the Department of State Security for further investigation into the matter.

The justices are to appear before the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal matter to provide answers to certain question from the Senate.

The Chairman of the Committee Sen. David Umaru disclosed the plans to invite the judges on Wednesday while relying on a point of order to make a personal explanation.

“Mr President by virtue of the 1999 Constitution as amended and order 96, Rule 37 of our rules, the powers of this committee to oversight the Judiciary and particularly its powers include judicial matters and Judges and Justices of the court.

“I am bringing this to the attention of the Senate so that we can take the permission of this senate to enable us conduct proper oversight on this matter and invite the justices to enable us interact with them in order to conduct proper oversight as we are enjoined by the provision of our rules and the 1999 constitution,” he said.

In his reponse, the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki told the committee to go ahead with their oversight function as they had already been empowered.

“You do not need to come to us, you have your powers under the oversight and you should be able to use the powers and do whatever you deem necessary.

“So do your job in line with your powers,” Saraki said.

Recall that operatives of the DSS went on a sting operation on Saturday Oct. 8 where it arrested six justices who were alleged to be corrupt.

The justices arrested include 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.

Meanwhile, The National Judicial Council (NJC) on Oct. 13, described the arrest of the judges as threat to democracy and a threat to the independence of the Judiciary.

The NJC made its position known after its emergency meeting held on Oct. 11.

The Council insisted that the arrest was an attempt to humiliate, intimidate, denigrate and cow the Judiciary.

But the Presidency had been consistent in its position that there would be nobody above the law as all corrupt judges would be made to face justice.  That was as Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed dismissed the intervention of the National Judicial Council, NJC in the matter, underscoring a difference between professional misdemeanor and corruption.

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