Justice John Inyang Okoro of the Nigerian Supreme Court has alleged that Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi and Umana Umana, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Akwa Ibom, tried on separate occasions to bribe him in order for him to invalidate the outcome of the 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom.
Justice Okoro, one of two justices of the Supreme Court targeted by agents of the Department of State Security (DSS) in a recent operation against allegedly corrupt judges, disclosed the effort to bribe him in a letter he wrote to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Justice Okoro wrote that his ordeal was likely tied to former Governor Amaechi’s visit to his residence, alleging that the minister “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.” Justice Okoro also claimed that Mr. Amaechi stated 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.”
He wrote: “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.”
According to Justice Okoro, he had told Mr. Amaechi “that it does not lie within my power to grant his request and that I would do all within my power not to be on the panel for Akwa Ibom State,” adding that the CJN “graciously left me out of the panel for Akwa Ibom State.”
Justice Okoro stated that Mr. Umana, the APC’s governorship candidate, later visited his residence in yet another attempt to offer a bribe. According to him, Mr. Umana “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 apologized. I advised them to go and pray about the matter and get a good lawyer. That was how they left my house.”
Dated October 17 and titled “Invasion of my official residence by operatives of the Department of State Security,” Justice Okoro’s letter offered an account of the raid on his residence. According to him, he received a phone call around 9 p.m. on Friday, October 7, 2016, the unknown caller claiming to be from the Presidency and to have a letter from President Muhammadu Buhari. However, on opening the door, the judge remarked that he “saw so many heavily armed men with an inscription ‘DSS’ on their uniform,” adding that one of them, dressed in mufti, announced that they had to search the house. Justice Okoro said the agents dismissed his appeal that he’s allowed to inform the Chief Justice of Nigeria, adding that the agents then seized his phone.
The account said the agents spent more than four hours searching his residence, including the boy’s quarters and all official vehicles. Justice Okoro said the search, which ended about 1.30 a.m., yielded one IPad, three telephones (only one active), $38,800, N3.5 million, and four cheque books.
“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,” wrote Justice Okoro. He remarked that the DSS agents also brought other serving and retired judicial officers to their office.
He disclosed that, before his eventual release, the DSS agents asked him to make a statement regarding the money found in his house. Justice Okoro explained that the foreign currency was the leftover from the sum of $24,000 and £10,000 a year he has received each of the past three years as annual medical/vacation allowances, explaining that he had not spent more than £5,000 on each of three trips 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,” said the judge.
He informed the Chief Justice of Nigeria that the DSS “has not confronted me with any petition or complaint from any quarters whatsoever. Rather, they have grilled me, asking questions on some non-existing properties around the country. They have also doubted the age of my children alleging that they are toddlers. This is sad and unbelievable.”
Justice Okoro said he was yet to be informed of what he did to merit the DSS invasion, adding that he had always eschewed all forms of corrupt practices and never “received any bribe from anybody.” He reminded the CJN that he had always detested “those who take bribe in the judiciary.”
Okoro urged the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the NJC “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.” He added, “I take it as a temporary set-back. I remain loyal to my oath of office and the need to be just and fair in handling matters before me.”