Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, has accused the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, and his Science and Technology counterpart, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, of asking him to help to influence the apex court’s decisions in some election cases.
Ngwuta, who is one of the seven judges arrested recently by the operatives of the Department of State Services, said his current ordeal was connected to his refusal to accede to the requests made by the ministers.
He made the allegation in his letter dated October 18, 2016, and addressed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
Maintaining his innocence, the judicial officer said he was a victim of his resolve never to violate his “sacred oath of office”.
Ngwuta’s letter which came 48 hours after that of his colleague, Justice John Okoro, who was also arrested by the DSS operatives, accused Amaechi, a former Rivers State Governor, of asking him (Okoro) to influence the apex court’s decision on poll judgment in Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Abia states.
Okoro’s letter, dated October 17, 2016, also addressed to the CJN, had stated, “I strongly believe that my travail is not unconnected with the verbal report I made to you on February 1, 2016, about the visit to my official residence by H/E Rotimi Amaechi, former Governor of Rivers State, and now Minister of Transportation.
“In that report, I told you my Lord that Mr. Amaechi said the President of Nigeria and the All Progressives Congress mandated him to inform me that they must win their election appeals in Rivers State, Akwa Ibom and Abia states at all costs.”
In his own letter, which was leaked to the media on Thursday, Justice Ngwuta alleged that Amaechi wanted to use him to influence the Supreme Court judgment with respect to election cases on the Rivers State governorship election and the Ekiti State governorship election.
He claimed that Onu contacted him to help sway the Court of Appeal’s decision on Ebonyi State governorship election matter.
Ngwuta alleged that Amaehi had sought his help to make the Supreme Court to set aside the election of the incumbent governor, Ayodele Fayose, in order to pave the way for another election to enable his friend, Mr. Kayode Fayemi (now Minister of Solid Mineral and Steel Development), to contest the poll again.
Similar to the allegation by Okoro, Justice Ngwuta added that Amaechi had impressed it upon him that the President was interested in the judgment of the Supreme Court going in favour of the APC.
He said further that on the day the panel heard the Rivers State election case, and after members of the panel took a break, Amaechi called him on telephone while he was in his chambers, stressing that he switched off his mobile before the conversation went far.
Justice Ngwuta stated, “He (Amaechi) begged me to ensure that Fayose’s election was set aside and another election ordered for his friend, Fayemi, to contest. I told him I would not help him and that even if I am on the panel, I have only my one vote.
“After the Rivers State Governorship election was determined by the Court of Appeal, he called to tell me his ears were full and he would like to tell me what he heard. I told him I was out of Abuja at the time.
“On my return, he came in the evening and even before he sat down he barked, “You have seen Wike!”
“I asked him whether that was a question or a statement. Then he made a call and asked me to speak with someone. The man he called said he was a DSS man. We exchanged greetings and I handed the telephone to him. Next, he said ‘Oga is not happy’. I asked him who is the unhappy Oga and he answered ‘Buhari’.
“I retorted ‘go and talk to his wife’. He got very angry and left, remarking ‘we shall see’ several times.
“Your Lordship may recall one morning when I pleaded not be on the panel for Rivers Appeal.
“Your Lordship said I was already on the panel and asked me to explain why I made the request to be excluded. When I explained what transpired the previous night, Your Lordship told me Amaechi had also attempted to influence other Justices.”
‘How Onu invited me over Ebonyi poll appeal’
In a related development, Justice Ngwuta said Onu invited him and he honoured the invitation during which the Minister of Science and Technology sought his help to influence the decision of the Court of Appeal on the Ebonyi State governorship election case last year.
He stated, “The incident I will narrate below may or may not bear on this case. When the governorship election appeal from my state, Ebonyi, came to the Court of Appeal, one Mr. Igwenyi, a senior staff member of the Federal Judicial Service Commission came to my chambers and told me that the former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, had pleaded with him to convince me to see him, Onu.
“I asked him to call Dr. Onu; he did and I wanted to know why he wanted to see me. He said it was confidential. I asked when he wanted to see me and he said he would like me to come in the evening.
“I told Igwenyi that he would have to take me to Dr. Onu in his car and bring me back. I had wanted him to listen to what Dr. Onu had to say but when we arrived, Dr Onu put him in a different room.
“He asked me whether I know the Hon. President of the Court of Appeal and I told him that His Lordship was my Presiding Justice in the Court of Appeal, Benin Division. He asked of my relationship with the PJA and I said it was cordial. He nodded his head several times in apparent satisfaction.
“He told me the candidate of the Labour Party was ready to switch over to APC if he could help him win the appeal in the Court of Appeal and that in appreciation of the undertaking to come over to his party, he had obtained the services of three Justices of the Court of Appeal to ensure victory for the Labour Party.
“He said he needed one to convince the PJA to include his three Justices of the Court of Appeal in the five-man panel to hear the appeal. I told him I would not help him and that I could not, in good conscience, convey such request even to a Customary Court Judge.
“He was disappointed and asked me whether I knew the husband of the PJA. I told him I did not know the man. I bid him good night and left.
“Igwenyi joined me in the passage and when he drove me back to my home, I told him what Dr. Onu wanted. Igwenyi apologised to me and assured me that he would not have bothered me if he had known what Dr. Onu wanted me to do.”
The Justice of the apex court also alleged that the operatives of the DSS planted some amounts of money in his house during the raid on his home to incriminate him.
He said apart from the $25,000, £10 and a brown envelope containing the sum of N710,000 which was a monthly allowance paid to him for September 2016 and another N300,000 and some loose change contained in the bag he usually took to the office, he had no explanation for the large sum of money allegedly recovered from his house.
But he said he signed a document said to be containing the list of items recovered from his house under a life-threatening situation.
He said, “One of them came to where I was lying down and ordered me to sit up. One of the gunmen, who stood a few feet from me, came and stood next to me with his gun drawn.
“I was ordered to sign a paper which they said contained a list of what they were taking away.
“Confronted with the life-threatening situation, I made an instant mental decision that it was better for me to comply with their orders and stay alive to tell my story rather than get shot and killed on the pretext that I attacked them or that I tried to escape.
“I signed the paper and wrote my name as ordered. No one told me what offence I was alleged to have committed. No one told me of any petition or allegation against me.
“I do not know how they came about the huge sums of money I saw for the first time in my parlour on the early hours of Saturday, October 8, 2016.
“The various sums of money alleged to have been recovered from me were said to be in the social media in the early hours of Saturday, October 8, 2016, when the invaders were yet to complete their search.”
He added, “My Noble Lord, I am a victim of my own resolve never to violate my sacred oath of office as a judicial officer. Politicians and their collaborators have been hunting me on that account.
“It started in Ebonyi State where I was falsely accused before a panel, set up by the NJC in August 2000. It was replicated in 2009 when I was pulled from my Division, Calabar, to preside over a motion filed by Senator Andy Uba, seeking to be a Governor without going through the process of election. In each case, I was exonerated.”
NBA asks NJC to suspend arrested judges
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association on Thursday called on the National Judicial Council to suspend some serving judges recently arrested by the operatives of DSS on allegations of corruption.
Four of the seven judges, arrested by the DSS in different parts of the country between October 7 and 8, are still serving while the rest of the three had been recommended for compulsory retirement and dismissal by the NJC before the arrest.
In what appeared to be a departure from its initial position of outright condemnation of the raid and arrest of the judges, the NBA called on the NJC to take the step in the interim to protect the sanctity and integrity of the judiciary.
The NBA President, Mr. Abubakar Mahmud (SAN), made the call at a valedictory court session in honour of retiring Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Sotonye Denton-West.
Justice Denton-West was, until her retirement, the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Akure Division.
Mahmud, who barely a week ago described the arrest of the judges as unconstitutional, unlawful, bereft of due process and clearly outside the mandate of the DSS, said affected judges should be made to withdraw themselves from all judicial activities until they proved their innocence.
He said in view of the accusation and counter-accusation between the affected judicial officers and some politicians and government agencies, following the October 7 and 8 incidents, the National Judicial Council must take urgent steps to salvage the image of the judiciary.
The NBA President said, “In the interim, however, particularly having regard to what appears to be an ongoing accusations and counter-accusations between some of the judges and other personalities or agencies, it appears to the NBA that it is extremely important that the NJC takes very urgent steps to safeguard the public image and sanctity of the courts.
“We therefore strongly recommend that, without prejudice to the innocence or otherwise of the judges involved in the ongoing investigations, 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.
“We believe this will be necessary in order to protect the sanctity and integrity of judicial processes that may involve the judges concerned and safeguard the public image of the institution.”
Denton-West agreed with the Chairman, NBA, Ondo State branch, Adetunji Oso, who had contended that the judiciary was not immune to corruption that was pervading the Nigerian society.
Denton-West said she was once a victim of corruption in the judiciary.
She said, “Indeed, I know and believe that there is corruption, unfortunately even in the folds of the judiciary. I have personally been a victim of corrupt act from the judiciary on some occasions.
“The Nigerian judiciary in the past had been one of the greatest in the world, but it is time to relive and embrace the rule of law in its entirety. It seems only lip service is paid to this great doctrine. It is essential that the rule of law must be observed in order for society to run smoothly, otherwise, the beauty of democracy will elude us.”
Oso advised that rather than argue about the level of corruption in the judicial system, efforts should be directed at curbing it.
Oso suggested that any judge, accused of corruption, should first be dealt with internally/administratively by the NJC before he or she was released to be prosecuted in the regular court.
Other speakers, including the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa; Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (who was represented by the Solicitor General of the Federation, Taiwo Abidogun); Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN) of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria; and Mrs. Hairat Balogun (SAN), who spoke for the Body of Benchers, eulogised Justice Denton-West.
EFCC quizzes female judge in Lagos
Also, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia on Thursday reported to the Lagos Office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The source added that the judge, who was expected to report to the commission’s office on Wednesday, did not honour the agency’s invitation as scheduled.
The source stated, “Honourabe Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogoboa has reported to the EFCC today.
“She came to the Lagos office of the commission by 6pm.”
On Wednesday, Honourable Justice Musa Haruna Kurya of the Federal High Court reported to the commission’s office in Lagos.
Two other judges, Mohammed Yunusa and Nganjiwa Hyledzira, had reported to Lagos office of the commission on Monday. Ngwuta’s allegation, unadulterated fallacy, says Amaechi
Ngwuta’s allegation, unadulterated fallacy, says Amaechi
Amaechi, in his response to the latest allegation on Thursday, described the allegation against him by Justice Ngwuta as pure fiction.
He stated this in a statement he personally signed in Abuja on Thursday.
Amaechi said that he did not and had never tried to lobby, induce or make Justice Ngwuta to influence the outcome of any matter before the Supreme Court or any other court.
He said, “The Hon. Justice Ngwuta’s narrative as it concerns me is simply not true, an unadulterated fallacy, designed to deceive and distract from the real issues of DSS investigation of acts of corruption against him.
“It’s indeed very sad and most unfortunate that the Hon. Justice Ngwuta had decided to drag the name of the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria into his fabricated allegations.”
The former governor insisted that he did not and had never lobbied, approached or attempted to make the CJN or any other Justice of the apex court to influence the Supreme Court judgments on the Rivers State and Ekiti State governorship elections appeals or any other matter before the apex court or any other court.
He lamented that within a space of 48 hours, he had observed a carefully planned and coordinated political attempt to drag him into the DSS arrest and investigation of judges in Nigeria.
“The aim of the plot is two-fold: to smear and politically destroy the image and reputation of Amaechi, and deceitfully portray me as the person behind the arrest of judges. This is indeed most ridiculous and callous,” he added.