SERAP director defends organisation’s call for arrested judges’ suspension


*Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director, SERAP.

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By Kemi Kasumu

The Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP), Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, has defended the call by his organisation for the arrested judges to step aside.  He said the idea was to enable a fair, dependable trial that Nigerian people would have confidence in.

This new call, contained in his letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, dated 11 October 2016 is a clear departure from SERAP’s earlier demand asking President Buhari to get the DSS release the arrested judges or meet him in court.

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Speaking on a television station in Lagos, Sunday night, Mumuni dismissed as an afterthought the allegations by one of the embattled judges saying some members of the executive approached him regarding the cases in his court in which they were involved to be delivered in their favour.

“If it was true that some people approached him and, like he said, he reported the matter to the CJN and NJC, then that in itself is an indictment on the judge, the CJN and the NJC because if it was true that he reported to the CJN, what did the CJN say or do about it?  Since that time that he said he reported, nothing was heard whereas cases are to be heard in open court not in the judge’s chambers.  The judge’s chamber is a place where researches are carried out on a particular case at hand in order to be able to give fair judgment.

“The judge who is now alleging that somebody approached him has shown that he is not fit to be a judge.  He should not have allowed anybody to approach him in the first place.  That it happened that way shows the kind of wrath that had been going on for a long time within the judiciary,” Mumuni said.

On whether President Buhari was victimising the judiciary to favour his party the APC, Adetokunbo Mumuni said it didn’t look to him like that.  He went on making reference to an advocacy by SERAP in April of this year where it frowned at a situation whereby the NJC would say it retired a judge found to be guilty of corruption “and that same judge would still be enjoying retirement benefits.  We are saying that it shouldn’t anymore be a case of corrupt judge should go home and sin no more while he continues to enjoy retirement benefits.  He should be presented for prosecution.”

It would be recalled that SERAP in an open letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, dated 11 October 2016 had requested the CJN to use his “good offices and leadership of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to immediately take over from the Department of State Service (DSS) the cases of all the seven judges released by the DSS and refer the cases of those judges to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for conclusion of investigation and prompt prosecution.”

The organisation asked the NJC to “refer the cases of the seven released judges to the EFCC and ICPC within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. SERAP will take appropriate legal action to compel the NJC to take action on the cases if it fails and/or refuses to act as requested.”  In the letter signed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organisation expressed serious concern that “the NJC has for many years failed to appropriately deal with several cases of corrupt judges by failing to refer those cases to the EFCC and ICPC for prosecution. Many of these suspected corrupt judges are still alive and their cases should be promptly referred to the anticorruption agencies. The NJC under your leadership should seize the opportunity of the just released seven judges to comprehensively address corruption in the judiciary.”

Mumuni agreed on the television interview programme that most of the judges were corrupted by senior lawyers.

“If you go by votes by junior lawyers, you would see that the earlier decision the NBA took was wrong.”

In the meantime, the body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) has endorsed the recent u-turn by the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mallam Abubakar Mahmoud, for the arrested judges to proceed on a leave of absence pending when they would be cleared of all the allegations made against them.

The body met in Lagos on Saturday to review and endorse all actions taken by the NBA’s president so far on the incident.

Mr. Mahmoud had said that the request was in order to protect the sanctity and integrity of judicial processes that may involve the judges concerned and to safeguard the public image of the institution.

He said that the recommendation was without prejudice to the innocence or otherwise of the judges involved in the ongoing investigations.

The National Judicial Council (NJC) had said on Saturday that it had opened investigation on complaints against the arrested judges, but that it had not received any complaint from the Department of State Services that arrested them.

“They should be required to excuse themselves from further judicial functions or required to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is fully and completely established or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings,” Mr. Mahmoud had insisted.

Generally, some Nigerians said lawyers who continued to accuse the Federal Government of hidden agenda on the DSS action against the corrupt judges were being unpatriotic whereas, according to them, much as they are lawyers responsible to their clients, “they should as well know that the interest of the nation should come first before any other interest.”

One of the respondents who spoke to The DEFENDER Sunday night, was reacting to a lawyer alleging that all the judges being dealt with were those that had delivered cases against the ruling APC in their respective courts.

He said, “It was disappointing that a lawyer would so speak.  We all agreed that corruption must be tackled.  Why are some people who supposedly should know the law are trying to twist the law?  Are the seven judges the only judges in the courts of this nation?  Why only they?  If an accused judge has written a letter now transferring allegation to another person who should be on the prosecuting side, why could he not have made that allegation before now?  It means that some people are only trying to prove why the hands of the law should not be laid upon them.  It will be unacceptable!” He said.

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