By Emman Ovuakporie & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA — THE Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, yesterday said the sting operation carried out by operatives of the Department of State Services, DSS, between October 7 and 8 was constitutional, saying he was satisfied with it.
The AGF, who appeared before the Garba Datti-led House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee investigating the arrest of judicial officers, told the committee that he approved the operation based on the plethora of petitions before him on some corrupt practices of some judicial officers.
He explained that the action was carried out in accordance with the provisions of Section 15 sub-section 5 of the Constitution, which stated that all institutions of government and, indeed, public officers operating in the country were barred from corrupt acts and that the three arms of government— the executive, the legislature and the judiciary— should take steps to abolish all forms of corrupt practices.
The AGF further told the committee that his office was in receipt of a motley of petitions of alleged corrupt practices by judicial officers and that there were agitations from the petitioners that if immediate steps were not taken, evidences against the suspects could be tampered with.
Malami said when the multiple petitions were sent to his office, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the DSS, he had the discretion to weigh the situation to determine the agency that could carry out the assignment.
He also stated that the EFCC didn’t have exclusive rights to any investigation, including financial crimes.
Besides, he said when he reported the allegations against some judges and justices to the National Judicial Council, NJC, requesting the council to take administrative steps to investigate the allegations, the NJC said it would not investigate unless there were supporting affidavits.
Contending that the DSS acted in accordance with the constitution in the search and arrest of some judges and justices, the AGF said there were reasonable ground for suspicion of the affected judges, as Section 15 (5) vested the state with a constitutional obligation to abolish all corrupt practices, using all its powers.
He said the constitution did not provide any special protection for judges, and that he was duly informed before and after the operation was carried out, stressing that as long as the National Assembly had not abrogated decrees promulgated by the military since 1966, the laws remained valid and subsisting.
He disagreed with suggestions that the law be amended to give issuing judges powers to determine what time warrant of arrest could be effected.
The Minister told the ad-hoc committee that some judges and justices had no asset declaration record with the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.
Malami said: “When we are talking about constitutional obligations, it goes without saying that all state instruments, Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDA, are under obligation, inclusive of the legislature and the judiciary, to take steps that will abolish corrupt practices.”
“It is in respect of that obligation that whatever issue arises from the search and arrest of the judicial officers were carried out.”
“The state was in receipt of multiple petitions of corrupt practices by the judicial officers and there was further apprehension that if immediate steps were not taken, the possibility of dissipating existing evidence that were believed to have been kept within their respective domain will eventually be tampered with.
“Arising from the responsibility created and established by Section 15 of the constitution, the state had to act.
‘’But the question of which agency has the responsibility of executing it, my response to that derives from the fact that multiple petitions were written to Office of the AGF, DSS, EFCC and a lot of other agencies of government and to my mind, I have a discretion to weigh the situation and decide which agency, against the background of the petition, will act for the purpose of ensuring that the obligation of the provisions of Section 15 (5) of the constitution are carried out.
“So whatever evolved from the search and arrest of the judicial officers revolved around the need to comply with the responsibility and obligation vested on them by provisions of the constitution and the need to ensure that the investigation is not in any way tampered with negatively.
“These were the circumstances that led to the operation. It was a clear exercise of the constitutional mandate in respect of what is expected of the state to abolish corrupt practices.”
Commenting on whose orders the DSS raided and arrested the judges, he said the raid and arrest of the judges followed the refusal of the NJC to act on petitions earlier sent to it by the AGF and other investigating agencies.
He said: “When we got the petitions, I had cause personally to write to NJC requesting that they take administrative steps to investigate the allegations contained in the petitions.
“A response was made to office that NJC can only act unless the petitions were accompanied with affidavits but I felt there was no reason the petitions cannot be looked on their own merit by placing sanctions on the AGF while it was a constitutional obligation.
“Incidentally, multiple petitions were also written to DSS and I requested that they equally write to NJC to look into the petitions but it was the same response DSS got from NJC that without a supporting affidavit, the petitions can’t be looked into.
“So we have a situation where there’s reasonable ground for suspicion for commission of corruption and we have a body saddle with the primary, administrative responsibility of looking at such things first but seems not to be cooperating in that respect.
“Meanwhile, when issue of commission of corrupt practice is established, the Executive has the responsibility of investigation without recourse to the judiciary. That is how the idea of taking the advantage of Section 15 (5) arose.
“I asked EFCC and DSS and another agency to investigate because they were in receipt of several petitions on the same subject and I was informed by the DSS before the search and arrest and I did not object.
“The DSS presented a formal report to me before and after effecting the search and arrest, they informed me that the operation will be done at any hour without restriction.
“I had no objection that the operation would be carried out at night because I have taken time to go through the administration of Criminal Justice Act and I was convinced that this operation can be conducted at any hour, any moment without restriction.
“I don’t have to inform the Inspector General of Police ( IGP ) or Commissioner of Police in the State about the FSS operation because they were also under the same constitutional obligation to act and one of the agencies had investigated, came up with a report and I was convinced.
“If any other agency came up with cogent reason for a search and arrest I will equally gve them the permission an they are not under any obligation to reverse back to me when searches are to be carried out, they are re independent and statutory mandate to Ao without recourse to me but only after the search and arrest they can make a report in order to aid further action on the matter.
“I was happy with the DSS operation simply because those allegations were established arising from the result of the searches and investigations that were carried out”.
He further argued that section 148 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act empowers any State instrument including DSS and other security agencies to make arrest at any period of the day, including on Sunday and even on public holidays, adding that there were reasonable proves on the allegation that warranted the steps taken.
Malami noted that those evidences obtained by the DSS operatives were being used in the ongoing prosecution before competent Court.
He said,m”I have no concern at all because those allegations confirmed the allegations by the outcome of the searches.”
In his remarks, Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee, Datti, who noted that the investigative hearing was to forestall undue infringement on the rights of ordinary Nigerians, assured that nobody was being put on trial.
He added that the House had the mandate to recommend for amendment of the relevant laws where there is lacuna in order to avoid conflict of interest among the security agencies.