Abubakar Mahmoud, president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), has advised judges facing allegations of corruption to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is proven.
The judges are Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro (supreme court); Adeniyi Ademola and Nnamdi Dimgba (federal high court); Mohammed Tsamiya (appeal court, Ilorin); Kabri Auta (high court, Kano) and Muazu Pindiga (high court, Gombe).
On October 8, the Department of State Services arrested the judges after raiding their homes, claiming it recovered huge amounts of money, including foreign currencies from some of them.
The NBA had called for the release of the judges, threatening “consequences” if they were not released.
Speaking at a valedictory session held in honour of Sotonye Denton-West, a retiring appeal court judge, in Abuja, on Thursday, Mahmoud advised the accused judges to cease performing judicial functions until their innocence has been provedn.
“My Lords, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, permit me digress a little. I am sure that many here will be expecting me to make further statements on the ongoing events affecting the nation’s judiciary,” he said.
“I have, in the course of the last two weeks or so, made several statements and remarks on these developments. Our position is therefore well-known. We have emphasised our commitment to safeguarding the independence of the nation’s judiciary.
“That is corruption in the judiciary. On Thursday 13th of October at the meeting of bar leaders comprising past NBA presidents, past general secretaries and past attorneys-general of the federation, we reviewed very carefully the developments after listening to detailed briefings from both the attorney-general and minister of justice as well the secretary of the National Judicial Council.
“One of the resolutions we took was to set up a Task Force to urgently review the current developments and come up with clear specific recommendations on how best to clean up the nation’s judiciary and rebuild confidence of Nigerians in our law courts. I am expecting the report of that task force in two weeks.
“In the meantime, we have continued with our consultations and engagements. We will be coming up with bold and clear recommendations, which we will pass to the National Judicial Council and the Government.
“In the interim, however, particularly having regards to what appears to 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 recuse 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.”