Sleaze in the judiciary: Illicit funds discovered in judges’ accounts

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission , EFCC, has uncovered illicit funds in the accounts of some serving judges.
The probe of the affected judges, which sprang from petitions, led the EFCC operatives to vet their bank accounts and confirm ownership of multi-million naira assets traced to them.
A source close to the EFCC told National Mirror that some judges were discovered to have assets, which were over and beyond their legitimate income.
“EFCC got some petitions before moving in. The operatives of the agency who worked on the petitions were shocked. I think they spoke with some of these judges to explain how they came about the monies in their accounts and the immovable assets they already acquired but could not explain satisfactorily.
“Just wait and see, these trials when they begin will be the beginning of a new phase in the agency’s fight against corruption in the judiciary,” the source added.
Based on the indicting evidences against the judges, the anti-graft agency will soon arraign six judges serving in different jurisdictions over criminal offences.
The offences include corruption and acquisition of stupendous wealth which origin they could not explain.
The affected judges, National Mirror reliably learnt, were thoroughly investigated by the antigraft agency before they were pencilled down for prosecution.
Our correspondent, however, gathered that the anti-graft agency was not in a hurry to lodge charges against the indicted judges until it had sought audience with the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar on the development so as not to send wrong signals.
National Mirror also learnt at the weekend that the leadership of the EFCC planned last week to visit the CJN to discuss the issue and perhaps the modality for the prosecution but the CJN was out of the country.
Justice Mukhtar, the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Mr. Sunday Olorundahunsi, and a few judges are presently in the Republic of the Gambia for a workshop.
The planned trial of the affected judges, it was learnt, is to further sanitise the bench and put judges more on their toes.
Although the names of the affected judges were not released at the weekend, a source said that in few days time, the names of the accused judges would be unveiled.
National Mirror had exclusively reported in October 2011 how Justice Muhammad Lawal Uwaisled 28-member judiciary reform panel which sat in Abuja uncovered how desperate criminals and politicians in the country passed on multi-million naira bribes in both foreign and local currencies to compromise judges.
The bribery involving multi-million naira and above, it was learnt, were passed on by litigants to corrupt judge through value cards.
The use of value cards was to make it difficult for any anti-graft agency to trace details of such transactions.
A stored value card refers to monetary value on a card not in an externally recorded account and differs from prepaid cards where money is on deposit with the issuer similar to a debit card.
One major difference between stored value cards and prepaid debit cards is that prepaid debit cards are usually issued in the name of individual account holders while stored value cards are usually anonymous.
A strong member of theUwais panel had told National Mirror that what the criminal litigants do is to hand over the value card and the pin number to the judges “and the deal is sealed.”
The source said the value card is a technological device embraced by corrupt judges to beat anti-graft agencies like the ICPC, EFCC, and the Nigeria Police to their archaic method of investigating crimes through the use of Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, to access details of fund transfer from one person to another.
“The point being made is that judges have the courage of demanding and collecting mouth watering sums in bribes from litigants who approach them for one order or the other without being exposed or caught by crime bursting agencies.
“This is because monies exchanged through value card cannot be traced easily,” the source added.
Former President of NBA, Joseph Daudu (SAN) and member of Uwais panel had also confirmed the uncovering of the new method of passing on bribe to judges at a forum in Lagos.
He said Uwais panel acknowledged the fact that corruption is rooted at the bar and at the bench and that if judges had collected bribe through means that could not be traced by anti-graft agencies, he said people living around such judicial officers and who know the assets they own which are far above their incomes should be willing to blow the whistle.
He gave an example of a mansion in Owerri, the Imo State capital, very close to Concord Hotel purportedly belonging to a female Court of Appeal justice, saying no Nigerian judge could rely on his income to build such a mansion and that the house is itself a prima facie evidence against the affected judicial officer who purportedly owns the building.
Two years after the alleged smart means of collecting bribes was uncovered, the EFCC which had been working silently on petitions alleging corruption against judges said it is now set to prosecute some of judges already investigated and against whom prima facie evidence had been established.
The proposed arraignment of the indicted judges is coming at a time when the National Judicial Council, NJC, is said to be working round the clock to conclude on the cases of indolent and incompetent judges sitting on the bench.
It will be recalled that Justice Mukhtar had hinted that there was no longer space on the bench for incompetent and indolent judges.
She had said that the performance evaluation forms which fundamentally summarise the number of cases being handled by individual judges would be taken seriously.
She had noted that any judge who could not boast of delivering a certain number of judgements in a legal year had no business remaining on the bench.
National Mirror learnt that some serving judges would be weeded out soon on the account of under-performance and incompetency.
A source, who did not want his name mentioned, also told National Mirror yesterday that the consideration of the agelong tradition of seniority on the bench as number one factor to determine who becomes the head of a court might soon suffer a serious attack under the present administration.
“For you to become head of a court in this new dispensation, the number one criterion is no longer seniority factor. The agelong tradition of seniority on the bench to become head of a court has been replaced with impeccable record and integrity. If you don’t have it, you can’t get there.
“But I must add that the CJN though is not having it easy with the NJC members who recommend judges for appointments.
“For instance, at the last meeting of the NJC, the CJN wanted a justice of the Supreme Court to take over from Justice Salami as the head of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria.
“Specifically, she wanted Justice Kudirat Kekere- Ekun, who is known for her transparency, excellent knowledge of the law, humility and honesty to take over but her suggestion was met with stiff opposition at the meeting.
“If she had her way, that is what she wanted because she believes that the kind of leadership a system has will determine the kind of changes you can effect in the system,” the source added.

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