Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, said Nigerian judges are not above the law.
His statement came amidst the controversy surrounding the weekend arrest of seven judges by the Department of State Services.
“Nobody is an exception once crimes and criminality are concerned,” Malami said in Abuja.
He said the judges’ arrest is constitutional and immunity could not stop 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 once the issue borders on crimes and criminalities,” 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 is investigating 15 senior judges over allegations of corrupt practices. The security agency has arrested seven so far.
On the issue of immunity, Malami said no public official is exempted from investigation, explaining also that “immunity does not cover any member of the legislature, judiciary and executive. 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. However, 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 accused judges
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; as well as 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.
Security agencies found over N200 million in different currencies at the residences of three arrested judges, as a result of the sting operation.
The FG may arraign the judges on conclusion of the investigation.
The National Judicial Council may issue a statement on the case today.