The Commissioner of Police, Rivers State Command, Mr. Francis Odesanya, is under fire for his role in the aborted arrest of a judge of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, in the early hours of Saturday, The PUNCH learnt on Sunday.
The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, was said to have rushed to No. 35, Forces Avenue, the GRA official residence of the judge and prevented operatives of the Department of State Services from arresting the judge.
Wike, who was said to have had a confrontation with the DSS officials, was said to have been joined at the scene by the police commissioner.
A highly-placed source, who spoke to The PUNCH on condition of anonymity, on Sunday, said preliminary report had shown that Odesanya prevented the security agencies from carrying out a legitimate order.
Based on the report, he said the police authorities as well as the Police Service Commission would sanction the police boss.
He, however, did not disclose the kind of punishment to be meted out to him.
The source stated, “The Rivers Commissioner of Police will be dealt with appropriately. It has been established that the DSS officials who were at the judge’s residence had with them duly signed search and arrest warrants.
“By stopping the security agents from doing their work, what he did was to obstruct justice. He stopped those people from carrying out a legitimate order.
“He will be sanctioned accordingly.”
The Public Relations Officer, Rivers State Command, Mr. Nnamdi Omoni, had told journalists that policemen were only at the judge’s residence to ensure there was no breakdown of law and order.
It was also learnt on Sunday that no fewer than 15 judges across the country were under investigation by the DSS.
It was gathered that the DSS was investigating the judges based on various petitions, which accused them of corruption.
A top Federal Government official, who confided in our correspondent on Sunday, said the 15 judges included seven that were arrested on Friday and Saturday.
The DSS had, in what it called a sting operation, arrested Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro, both of the Supreme Court; the suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Other arrested were a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, and Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division.
It was gathered that besides the judges, the DSS had invited three court registry staff across the country as part of the investigations into the alleged corruption in the judiciary.
“Currently, we are investigation 15 judges, including the seven that were arrested. Three court registry staff have been invited and quizzed. We have facts and figures,” the source stated.
The government official faulted a claim that the DSS acted unilaterally without carrying along the National Judicial Council.
He stated that the Service sent letters to the NJC and the Ministry of Justice concerning the investigations of the judges.
According to him, while the ministry responded, the NJC did not respond, adding that the DSS did not dramatise the arrest of the judges as alleged.
The government official also explained that the fact that the judges were under the authority of the NJC did not exclude them from investigation and prosecution.
He stated, “They have no immunity. Even those (governors), who have immunity, can be investigated. There are many professional groups, including the Nigeria Union of Journalists; if you commit a crime, besides facing disciplinary actions from your union, you should be investigated and prosecuted according to the law of the country.”
The source further explained the constitutional mandate of the DSS, adding that the service had not intervened in what did not concern it by investigating the judges.
Giving an insight into the allegation against some of the judges, he alleged that some of them received bribes to compromise judgments.
He also cited the case of a judge who had a N1.5bn estate, alleging that granting of bails to defendants had been turned into an avenue for making money by some judicial officers.
It was learnt that the government was not happy with way the police handled the investigation into the alleged Senate forgery involving the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.
Presidency backs clampdown on judges
The Presidency on Sunday backed the weekend’s raids on the residences of some judges and their arrest, saying due process was followed.
It, however, said the clampdown was not against the judiciary but against corruption.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said this in a statement made available to journalists.
Shehu said the Presidency had been told by the DSS that all due processes of the law, including the possession of search and arrest warrants, were obtained before the searches were carried out.
Describing the raids as “surgical operation”, he said to suggest that the government acted outside the law in a dictatorial manner, was therefore to breach the interest of the state.
The statement read, “The recent surgical operation against some judicial officers is specifically targeted at corruption and not at the judiciary as an institution.
“In a robust democracy such as ours, there is bound to be a plurality of opinions on any given issue, but there is a convergence of views that the country has a corruption problem that needs to be corrected.
“But reports by a section of the media are giving us cause for concern.
“To suggest that the government is acting outside the law, in a dictatorial manner, is to breach the interest of the state.”
Nigeria sliding into fascism, alleges PDP
The national leadership of the PDP said the arrest of the judges was unwarranted.
A statement by the spokesperson for the PDP, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye, in Abuja on Sunday, said, “This invasion is the latest in a series of actions taken by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration which revealed its disregard for the rule of law and its abject disdain for the principle of separation of powers.”
Adeyeye alleged that the country was sliding into what he called “inexorable fascism”, adding that it began with the alleged invasion of the Akwa Ibom State Government House by the DSS and the continued detention of several people despite courts ordering their release.
He said, “This slide into fascism has included sustained attacks on the leadership of the National Assembly as President Buhari has sought to break its independence and make it a rubberstamp to suit his will.
“It is worthy to note that never in the history of our country has any President attacked the judiciary in such a manner.
“Even the late dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, whose regime is remembered by many as the second worst regime in Nigerian history, did not carry out such Gestapo-style attacks on the members of the judiciary.”
But the APC said it was concerned about the desperation of the opposition PDP to drag the President into the raids by the DSS. Read More