Judges Arrest: FG Not Afraid to Step on Toes, However Sensitive – Lai Muhammed

Judges Arrest: FG Not Afraid to Step on Toes, However Sensitive – Lai Muhammed

…Says DSS Duly Obtained Warrant of Arrest

Chris Steven, Abuja

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed on Wednesday defended Federal Government’s action of recent deployment of Department of State Services(DSS) officials to effect arrest on selected judges allegedly on corruption charges.

According to him,the present administration was not afraid to step on anybody’s toes,especially when its anti-corruption policy falls within the ambit of the law.

Recall that officials of the DSS allegedly on the orders of the Presidency went on a mission to arrest some high court judges at the wee hours of the weekend.

But a number of stakeholders including the National Judicial Council(NJC) and Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria(JUSUN) have kicked against the arrest.

The Information Minister who spoke on the sidelines of briefings given to State House correspondents, after the Federal Executive Council(FEC) meeting, chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari, said it was rather unfortunate that fifth columnists were already trying to rope in negative sentiments to the clampdown  of the judges that were arrested.

He argued that the intention of government was not to humiliate the judiciary or the judges,especially when the Presidency still believed in the principle of separation of powers.

He said,”In the process of fighting corruption its not unusual that you step on some very sensitive toes but the question to ask and I think these has been adequately answered by the Attorney General is that let’s remove emotion from facts.

“First, do judges have immunity? The answer is no. Can judges be arrested? The answer is yes. Have judges that are serving been arrested in the past in Nigeria? The answer is yes. Justice Okoli had been arrested and tried.

“Now the next question to ask is what is the proper procedure for arresting anybody, including judges,there must be properly executing search warrant. Was such presented? The answer again is yes.

“People have tried to muddle the facts about when do you search a person’s house, the truth of the matter is that under the new criminal justice law, you can search anybody’s house,anywhere,anytime”.

Apparently unable to contain his disgust for criticism which trailed the judges arrest at the weekend, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity,Garba Shehu had reacted to the development,insisting that the recent surgical operation against some judicial officers was specifically targeted at corruption and not at the judiciary as an institution.

Shehu had also argued that in a robust democracy such as ours, there was bound to be 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.

Muhammed in exonerating the Presidency said,”I think the Federal Government is being very careful with handling of this particular issue. I want to state clearly that this government believes very much in separation of powers, this government has a lot of respect for the judiciary and for obvious reasons,not just because the constitution says so, but I think probably this is one cabinet that has the highest number of lawyers as ministers.

“As at the last count about eleven or twelve council members who are lawyers are serving as ministers and we have female lawyers also in cabinet until death robbed us of late Ocholi we had five SANs in our cabinet and I think this is unique,therefore you can understand the kind of respect we have for the judiciary.

“Also look at Mr President himself three time,four times, he sought to be President,three times it was thwarted and all the three times he took his case to the judiciary, so I can say clearly that this administration has a lot of respect for the judiciary and I think I stand by what Mallam Garba Shehu said that please do not confuse the fight against corruption as a fight against judiciary, what the government is concerned and passionate about is to fight corruption.

“Again they have tried to muddle issues by trying to say that the NJC is the only authority that can attend to complain and discipline, the answer once again is no.

“There is a difference when a judge is accused of professional misconduct which is quite different from what is happening now. If you suspect anybody including Governors who have immunity they are still subject to investigations.

“So I want to make it clear, this government has the highest respect for judiciary and two we are not in anyway trying to ridicule the judiciary. Three we are not painting the whole of the judges with the same brush but we also have a duty to fight corruption at whatever level and in doing so, we will do so within the ambit of the law.

“Unfortunately people have even brought issues that are completely irrelevant to the matter,some people are saying oh, the reason why they went to some particular judges house is because the President wants somebody from one part of the country to be chief justice of the federation. I think that is preposterous.

“I want to assure you that this government has no intention to humiliate the judiciary and for those who are talking about separation of power, I think you are stretching it too far. I and members of the Executive, I can be invited by any arm of the government and I will go, so I think we should situate this thing in the right perspective.

“You were all witnesses in 2015 in Ghana here, 32 judges were caught on tape by journalists asking for bribe, 22 of them were dismissed in one day in Ghana. Yes its true that what is happening today is probably never happened at this level before.

“But frankly speaking and with all due respect we do not intend to humiliate any judges, we have no intention to humiliate the judiciary but believe me what we have done we have done within the ambits of the law”.

Meanwhile,Minister of Power,Works and Housing,Babatunde Fashola and his counterpart in the Ministry of Transport,Minister of State for Aviation,Hadi Sirika equally briefed journalists on other decisions reached at the FEC.

Fashola said the Federal Executive Council graciously approved N700million for the completion of abandoned Federal secretariats in Anambra, Bayelsa, Gombe, Nasarawa, Osun and Zamfara states.

He said that fund for the completion of the secretariat projects which were abandoned since 2012, were captured in the 2016 budget.

According to Fashola, the projects, when completed, would provide office spaces to staff of the Federal Government deployed to the affected states.

“The second memo has to do with the ongoing projects for the construction of Federal Secretariats to accommodate officers of the federal government posted to states in order to render service to them.

“Again, this is another ongoing projects which had stalled since 2012 or there about. They are in Anambra, Bayelsa, Gombe, Nasarawa, Osun and Zamfara states.

They are at various stages of completion. There have been changes in cost as a result of project designs, amendment, cases where original location and contract are changed and they have to be redesigned in such structure,’’ he said
He disclosed that the Council also approved the completion of the abandoned Katsina 10megawatts Wind Farm power project in Katsina state.

According to him,the wind farm project is part of government’s strategic plan for  renewable energy.

He explained that the project was a major component of the government’s road map towards achieving increased power output in the country.

Fashola also explained that the contract cost of the power project was escalated following the kidnapping of the contractor, who after being rescued abandoned the  project.

On his part,Minister of State for Aviation, Sirika, said the council approved an outline Business case for Industrial Port Development in Badagry, Lagos State.

He said the council also approved the relocation of simulator from Lagos to Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria in Kaduna state for training of pilots and engineers.