The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, has admitted that his office ordered the sting operation carried out by operatives of the Department of State Services, DSS, on the homes of some judges.
Malami disclosed that the decision to arrest and invade residences of the judicial officers was premised on allegations of economic crimes, terrorism and narcotic crimes, adding that he was simply complying with Section 15(5) of the 1999 Constitution, which vests the state with the obligation to deploy all of its powers to abolish corruption.
It will be recalled that the DSS raided the homes and arrested some High Court judges and Supreme Court Justices happened between October 7 and 8.
The AGF who said this while he appeared before the House of Representatives ad hoc Committee investigating the DSS over the arrests, added that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) does not have exclusive rights to any investigation, including financial crimes.
The committee, which is chaired by Mr. Garba Dhatti, is investigating all cases of invasion of property and arrests of persons by the DSS from May 2015 till date.
While expressing satisfaction with the manner of the raid and arrest of the judicial officers, the Minister said he was duly informed before and after the operation was carried out.
He also said the state waded into the matter after the National Judicial Council was duly notified but was not willing to act.
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 arising from the search and arrest of the judicial officers were carried out.
“The State was in receipt of multiple petition 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 being 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 the 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 who 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”.
On who instructed the DSS to act , Malami explained that 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.
“When we got the petitions, I had cause to personally write to the NJC requesting that they take administrative steps to investigate the allegations contained in the petitions.
“A response was made to my office that the NJC can only act unless the petitions were accompanied with affidavits but I felt there were no reasons why 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 the issue of commission of corruption 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 DSS 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 give 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 act 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.”
His position was a clear reference to an earlier submission to the committee by the EFCC. The anti-graft agency had insisted that the DSS acted outside its jurisdiction since the alleged offence of the judges fell under financial crime and did not pose a threat to national security.