The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on Friday, ordered President Muhammadu Buhari and the Director-General of the Department of State Service, DSS, Mr. Lawal Daura, to appear on November 15 to show cause why seven judges arrested between October 7 and 8 should be prosecuted.
Others equally summoned to appear before the court were the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and the National Judicial Council, NJC.
They were all cited as Respondents in a legal action that was instituted before the high court by a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Olukoya Ogungbeje.
Though President Buhari will not appear in person, he is expected to brief a lawyer to represent him before the court on that date.
The plaintiff had in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/809/16, applied for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Respondents from arresting, inviting, intimidating, or harassing any of the judges whose homes were raided in the “sting operation” conducted by the DSS.
He contended that the arrest and detention of the judges without recourse to the NJC, was not only unconstitutional, but also aimed at ridiculing the judiciary arm of government.
According to him, the action of the DSS was in gross violation of rights of the judges as enshrined in sections 33, 34, 35, 36, and 41 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Consequently, Ogungbeje sought ten separate reliefs from the court, including award of N50billion as general and exemplary damages against the Respondents, as well as another N2million as cost of the suit.
He equally prayed the court for an order compelling the DSS to return to the judges, money that were seized from their homes.
Meanwhile, in a bench ruling on Friday, Justice Gabriel Kolawole directed that copies of the relevant court processes be served on all the Respondents.
The Judge held that the Respondents are entitled to within seven days, respond to the suit.
However, Justice Kolawole refused an ex-parte motion the plaintiff filed with a view to securing an interim order stopping the Respondents from taking “any untoward action” against the embattled Judges, pending determination of the suit.
The Judge said he needed to resolve a number of issues, including the locus-standi of the plaintiff, before he could make a pronouncement on the prayer.
He said such resolution could only be made in an inter-party hearing involving all the Respondents.
Specifically, the plaintiff had through his counsel, Mr. Ayo Ogundele, sought, “An order of interim injunction restraining the respondents, their agents, servants, privies, men, officers or anybody deriving authority from them by whatever name called from further arresting, intimidating, arresting, inviting, seizing or taking any untoward action against the arrested and affected honourable judges and judicial officers pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.”
In a 39-paragraph affidavit he deposed in support of the substantive suit, the plaintiff averred: “That the 1st (President Buhari), 2nd (DG of DSS), 3rd (DSS), 4th (AGF), and 5th (Inspector-General of Police) respondents never filed any petition against the affected judges the 6th respondent (NJC).
“That the 6th respondent is the only body empowered by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to discipline judges and judicial officers in Nigeria.
“That the judiciary is an independent arm of government in Nigeria and separate from the executive and the legislature.
“That this illegal and unconstitutional action by the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th respondents have been roundly condemned by the Nigerian Bar Association.
“That the 2nd (DG of DSS), 3rd (DSS), and 5th (IGP) respondents carried out their action which brazenly infringed upon the rights of the affected five judges without lawful excuse or recourse to the 6th respondent”.
Though seven judges were arrested, the plaintiff said he instituted the action on behalf of five of them who are still serving.
The judges the plaintiff is fighting for are Justices Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court, Adeniyi Ademola and Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court Abuja, as well as Justice Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division.
Among the five judges, only Justice Dimgba was not arrested, though his house was thoroughly searched.
Other Judges who though arrested but not covered by the suit are former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; and judge of the Kano State High Court, Justice Kabiru Auta.
All the arrested judges are currently under administrative bail from the DSS, pending their trial.