One of the two Justices of the Supreme Court arrested last week by Department of State Services (DSS) operatives yesterday denied any wrongdoing and linked his travails to his refusal to assist the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the post-2015 governorship election dispute in Akwa Ibom State.
Justice Okoro alleged that Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi and the APC candidate in the election, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, came to him separately, begging for his support in winning the case at the Supreme Court.
Amaechi’s Media Office last night said: “This accusation from Justice Okoro against Amaechi is a figment of his imagination, concocted to obfuscate and politicize the real issues for his arrest and DSS investigation of allegations of corruption against him.
“The claims by Justice Okoro against Amaechi are blatant lies, bereft of any iota of truth or even logic. Amaechi did not, and has never approached Justice Okoro in respect of the cases Okoro mentioned or any other case. This is a cheap attempt, albeit, political move to drag the name of Amaechi into something he knows nothing about.
Justice Okoro should face his issues and leave Amaechi out of it. He will be hearing from our lawyers.”
Umana also denied ever visiting the Judge. In a statement last night from his office, Umana said:
“Justice Okoro’s claim is an afterthought and diversionary. For a man of his standing and knowledge of the law, he should have known the legal implications of such a visit if it took place at all.
“He should have reported to the appropriate authorities immediately. This he didn’t do.
“I did not visit the Judge. His story is a fiction. He should address himself to the facts of the case which is between him and the state and leave Umana out of it.”
Justice Okoro alleged that Amaechi claimed that he was working on President Muhammadu Buhari’s instruction.
The Judge said he reported the matter to the CJN on February 1, 2016. The Rivers’ case was decided on January 27, 2016. The Akwa Ibom case was decided on February 3, 2016. APC was not part of the Abia State case.
Justice Okoro, in his October 17 letter, addressed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, a copy of which The Nation sighted yesterday, gave details of his experience in the hands of the security personnel and what they took away from his residence.
Part of the letter reads:
“On Friday, the 7th day of October, 2016, at about 9.00 pm, I received a phone call from an unfamiliar caller. He introduced himself as an official from the Presidency. He told me he had a letter for me from Mr. President.
“I immediately left my study room and went to open the door. Upon the door being opened, l saw so many heavily armed men with an inscription ‘DSS’ on their uniform.
“One of them, who was in mufti, told me they were to search my house. I requested that I be allowed to inform the Chief Justice of Nigeria, but they rebuffed, rather they seized my phone from me.
“My Lord, the operatives of the Department of State Security searched all the rooms in the house meticulously. They also searched the boy’s quarters and my official vehicles parked outside.
“At the end of the search, which lasted till about 1.30am of 8th October, 2016, they took away the following items:
One (1) iPad
Three phones (only one active)
USD 38,800 (Thirty eight thousand, eight hundred dollars)
N3.5m (three million, five hundred thousand naira) only
Cheque books (Four in number)
“The above items were documented on the back page of the search warrant they produced and we signed. Also, the DSS operatives informed me that their Director-General wanted to see me that night.
“I requested to visit their office upon the break of the day, but they refused. In view of the presence of the heavily armed men, who accompanied them and who were pointing their gun at me from all angles, I had no choice than to follow them to their office that night.
“I was detained by them in their office till Sunday, 9th October, 2016 and upon your Lordship’s intervention that Sunday, they released me in the evening of that Sunday.
“My Lord, I noticed that they also brought other judicial officers serving and retired to their office. So, before releasing us, they asked me to make a statement concerning the money found in my house.
“I told them that having received the sum of USD24,000.00 (Twenty four thousand dollars) and £10,000 (Ten thousand pounds) a year for the past three years of my sojourn in this court as annual medical/vacation allowances, and having not spent more than £5,000 (Five thousand pounds) on each of three trips I have so far made abroad, I was entitled to have more than the amount recovered from me.
“Put differently, My Lord, the money was the balance of my estacode received from this court for the past three years. This is quite outside the estacodes I have received for the International Conferences I have so far attended since joining the bench of this court.
“My Lord, as at the time of writing this report, the DSS has not confronted me with any petition or complaint from any quarters whatsoever. Rather, they have grilled me, asking questions on some none existing properties around the country.
“They have also doubted the age of my children, alleging that they are toddlers. This is sad and unbelievable.
”My Lord, I strongly believe that this my travail is not unconnected with the verbal report I made to you on 1st February, 2016 about the visit to my official residence by HE, Rotimi Amaechi, former Governor of Rivers State and now Minister of Transportation.
“In that report, I told you My Lord, that Mr. Amaechi said that the President of Nigeria and the All Progressives Congress mandated him to inform me that they must win their election appeals in respect of Rivers State, Akwa Ibom State and Abia State at all costs.
“For Akwa Ibom State, he alleged that he sponsored Mr. Umana Umana, candidate of All Progressives Congress for that election and that if he lost Akwa Ibom appeal, he would have lost a fortune.
“Mr. Amaechi also said that he had already visited you and that you had agreed to make me a member of the panel that would hear the appeals.
“He further told me that Mr. Umana would be paying me millions of naira monthly if I co-operated with them. My response, as I told you on that date was that it does not lie within my power to grant his request and that I would do all within my power not to be in the panel for Akwa Ibom State. My Lord graciously left me out of the panel for Akwa Ibom State.
“That notwithstanding, the All Progressives Congress in Akwa Ibom State, which lost the appeal at the Supreme Court, believe that my presence in the Supreme Court made them to lose the appeal.
“Could I have resigned from the Supreme Court simply because people of Akwa Ibom State had a matter before it?
”My Lord will recall that I also reported that Mr. Umana Umana visited my residence before Amaechi’s visit.
“He also made the same request of assistance to win his appeal at the Supreme Court. Mr. Umana talked about ‘seeing’ the Justices who would hear the appeal.
“Pastor (Dr) Ebebe Ukpong, who led Mr. Umana Umana to my house, intercepted and said that the issue of ‘seeing’ the justices was not part of their visit and that as a Pastor, he would not be part of such a discussion.
“Mr. Umana apologised. I advised them to go and pray about the matter and get a good lawyer. That was how they left my house.
”My Lord, up till now, I do not know what I have done. Over the years, from the Magistracy till date, I have done my best to eschew all forms of corrupt practices.
“I have not received any bribe from anybody. My Lord is quite aware of my position as regards those who take bribe in the judiciary. I detest it and have no room for any adjustment. That is the truth.
I urge my Lord and the National Judicial Council to disregard all the lies and media campaign orchestrated by those who felt I purposely refused to help them win their election appeals in the Supreme Court.
“I am confident that God will vindicate me at the end of this ordeal. I take it as a temporary setback. I remain loyal to my oath of office and the need to be just and fair in handling matters before me,” Justice Okoro said.