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Outrage, condemnation trail DSS crackdown on judges



OUTRAGE, yesterday, continued to greet the Department of State Service, DSS, crackdown on judges across the country, with a host of senior advocates of Nigeria (SANs) declaring it as a war against the Judiciary, the third arm of government and demanded immediate and unconditional release of the judges. One of the senior lawyers said the crackdown was an impeachable offence, unless President Muhammadu Buhari could exonerate himself from the raid. The Presidency, last night, said the Executive arm of the government was not at war with the Judiciary but corruption. This came as Judiciary workers summoned an emergency meeting for tomorrow to take a decision on the issue and ensure that the sanctity of the judiciary is not destroyed. In the early hours of Saturday, DSS operatives invaded the homes of a number of Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the Federal High Court, arrested them and recovered about N360 million the agency alleged was proceeds of graft. The affected Justices of the Supreme Court were, Sylvanus Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro.

The affected Judges of the Federal High Court were Muazu Pindiga, Adeniyi Ademola, Abdullahi Liman and Nnamdi Dimgba. Corruption, not judiciary under attack—Presidency Reacting to the arrest of the judges by the operatives of  the DSS, Friday night, through the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu in a statement, the Presidency said it was the aim of government to stamp out corruption and not to attack judicial officers. Shehu said the President had high regards for the Judiciary and would never undermine its independence. The statement read: “The Presidency assures that the President reserves his highest respect for the institution of the judiciary as the third arm of government. To this end, the President will not do anything to undermine its independence.

“President Buhari remains a committed democrat in words and in his actions, and will not take any action in violation of the constitution. The recent surgical operation against some judicial officers is specifically targeted at corruption and not at the judiciary as an institution. “In a robust democracy such as ours, there is bound to be a plurality of opinions on any given issue, but there is a convergence of views that the country has a corruption problem that needs to be corrected. “But reports by a section of the media are giving us cause for concern.  In undertaking the task of reporting, the media should be careful about the fault lines they open. It is wrong to present this incident as a confrontation between the executive and judicial arms of government. “The Presidency has received assurances from the DSS that all due processes of the law, including the possession of search and arrest warrants, were obtained before the searches. “To suggest that the government is acting outside the law in a dictatorial manner is to breach the interest of the state.”

Judiciary workers summon emergency meeting Judiciary workers under the aegis of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, described the arrest of some judges, accused of corruption by the DSS as ‘uncivilised’ and called for their unconditional release. JUSUN has also summoned an emergency National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting for tomorrow to have a holistic view of the action of the DSS so as to take a position to protect the sanctity of the Judiciary as an arm of government. National President of JUSUN, Comrade Marwan Mustapha Adamu, in a statement in Abuja, said though the union was in support of  the anti-corruption war of the current administration, the rule of law must be respected. Comrade Adamu, in the statement signed by the National Public Relations Officer of the union, Comrade Koin Selepreye, decried the alleged gestapo style of the DSS in the matter, stressing that the secret police should have forwarded names of the suspected corrupt officers to NJC. According to the union, NJC is the statutory body that can punish or dismiss any erring judicial officer. While calling on members of the union to remain calm on what he described as “invasion of the Judiciary,” Comrade Marwan said that at the emergency meeting tomorrow, decision would be taken to ensure the right thing was done. It signals great danger – Ozekhome Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said:

“The new onslaught against the Judiciary signals great danger to our hard won democracy, freedom, liberties, human rights, independence of the Judiciary and the doctrine of separation of powers ably espoused in 1748 by the great French philosopher, Baron De Montesquieu. The last time I checked, we were supposed to be operating a constitutional democracy not military dictatorship or tyrannical absolutism. Governor Wike, a sitting governor, was almost shot dead by fully armed gun-totting DSS and Policemen in Port Harcourt, led by the Director and Commissioner of Police, respectively. His “offence” was that he came to rescue a Federal High Court Judge, who was being abducted in Kamikaze Gestapo style. Other serving judges, who would ordinarily respond to a mere phone call are being humiliated and rounded up in the ungodly wee hours of the night, like common criminals.” This can’t happen in any civilised society – Uztaz To Yunus Uztaz, SAN, “the action the DSS took against these judges was very bad.

You cannot go and arrest a judge in his house at 1 am. This is not a military era. Nobody is saying that if a judge committed an offence he should not be questioned. We operate a democratic system that is based on the principle of the rule of law. Going to waylay judicial officers in their homes around 1am cannot be an example of the rule of law in action. It is not done in any civilised society. It is a raid on the Constitution — Quakers In his reaction, Mr Norris Quakers, SAN, said what has taken place is an affront, act of intimidation and a raid on the judiciary. “I support fully what the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has said. The Constitution, which is the legal document binding all of us talks about separation of powers. So, one arm of the government cannot encroach on the other. If a judge is corrupt, there is a body in place to investigate and prosecute such judge. “The National Judicial Commission, NJC, had been put in place to prosecute any judge found to be corrupt and eventually handed over to the security operatives. At least, Justice Auta, was dismissed by the NJC. So it shows the Judiciary is cleaning its own house itself. Whatever the situation is, we must learn to follow due process.

There is no country of the world where what happened over the weekend can ever happen.” It’s a coup against third arm of govt – Owonikoko To Mr Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN, the development is “a tragic misadventure and pogrom on the institution of the judiciary. It is a coup against the third arm of government. The manner of the operation betrays a calculated design to progress the onslaught against lawyers and judges started by the EFCC earlier in the year. There is no associational or group liability for individuals, who commit offence in their own personal capacity. “Unless there’s a clear path to legally setting up military tribunals to try these suspected judicial officers, the whole exercise smacks of impatience with constitutional due process to achieve dubious moral crusade of the executive. The only body contemplated to try and sanction erring judicial officers for misconduct in the course of performing judicial functions is the National Judicial Council, NJC. That power is not shared with any other organ of government. The rationale is to safeguard the independence of the judicial system and thereby guarantee trust in its proper functioning. As we now see, a needless constitutional crisis, has been deliberately foisted on the polity by the executive. You cannot arraign a serving justice of the Supreme Court, who has not been suspended from office, before a court of law in Nigeria for offence of professional misconduct, which includes official corruption.

That was the explanation by DSS for their action . As a creation of statute it can only act within the powers vested in it by law. DSS should have reported judges to NJC – Akingbola A lawyer, Mr. George Akingbola,  said the DSS acted beyond its powers and should have reported the judges to the NJC. “If a judge is suspected of engaging in corrupt practices, the proper procedure is to report him to the NJC. In the instant case, the DSS should have reported them to the NJC. In addition, since it feels strongly that the judges are corrupt, it could have informed the NJC that it wants to directly investigate the judges for corruption and it is going to invite the judges for investigation. I am very sure the NJC would have given them full support. It’s political act of impunity– Aborishade

In like manner, Femi Aborisade, said the DSS went about the war against graft in a crude manner. He said: “It is really the crude manner by which the security agency(ies), as the case may be, went about the invasion that is wrong. From constitutional provisions, nothing stops anti-graft agencies from bringing to book, by following due process, any person, public officer or not, in the alleged commission of a crime, where the relevant control bodies, such as the NJC fails, neglects or refuses to exercise disciplinary control. But the failure of NJC to act does not justify SSS/DSS from usurping the roles of regular Police and/or the anti graft agencies created more or less out of the NPF. The reported roles of the DSS/SSS merely confirm hat the invasion is more a political act of impunity than a demonstration of commitment to the fight against corruption.”

APC Reps divided Members of the House of Representatives elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, yesterday, shared divergent views on the issue. A former Deputy Minority Whip in the 7th House and a serving member, Rep Garba Datti, APC, Kaduna said: “Buhari is on the right course because who knows that judges do keep such large amount of money at home. If Ghana can jail 30 judges not too long ago for corruption charges, then the presidency is doing the right thing. Let us watch the trend as the manner the judiciary handled election petition tribunals and dealt with electoral cases were highly questionable.” However, Rep Zakari Mohammed, APC, Kwara, had a contrary view saying: “It’s a dangerous development to the survival of democracy,which men of good will especially the legislature must resist because we may be sliding to militocracy.” DSS’s claim of $2 million in judge’s house ridiculous – Wike Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, described as ridiculous, allegation by DSS operatives that they found $2 million (N900 million) in the residence of a Federal High Court Judge in Port Harcourt even when they could not gain access into the Judge’s residence. Wike, who spoke, weekend, at a state banquet in Government House, Port Harcourt for players of Rivers United, said he would not succumb to the lies and blackmail of the DSS. “Their blackmail stories will not move me. They will concoct all kinds of stories to justify this undemocratic illegality perpetrated against the judiciary. It is really unfortunate that DSS would concoct a false defence that $2million USD (that is N900million) was found in the house of the judge. It is unfortunate that the DSS is coming up with flimsy excuses. It is, therefore, ridiculous that the DSS remained outside  to declare that N900million was found in the residence.

This impunity must stop. I am not in support of any judicial officer being involved in corruption. What we are saying is that the right things must be done. We must not do things that will jeopardise our hard earned democracy,” he said. While advocating respect for rule of law the governor said if the DSS had succeeded with the game plan to abduct the judge and had gone ahead to murder the judge, it would have tarnished the image of the state. “If they had abducted the judge, they may go ahead to kill the judge and they will say that Rivers State is insecure.” Wike dismissed as lies, allegation that he foiled the DSS attempt to whisk the judge away with thugs, adding that he went there with senior citizens of the state. “I was there with our State and National Assembly members, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon. Austin Opara; the PDP Chairman, Bro Felix Obuah and some caretaker chairmen. When they said I was with thugs I just laughed.” Release the judges now — SERAP The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, yesterday, sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, requesting him to use his “good offices and leadership to urgently instruct the DSS to immediately and unconditionally release all the judges it arrested and end continuing intimidation and harassment of the judiciary.

In the letter by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the group told Buhari: “If following the receipt and/or publication of this letter, your government fails or refuses to immediately and unconditionally release the judges as requested, SERAP would promptly consider appropriate legal options nationally and internationally to ensure the full and effective implementation of our requests.” It said: “We are seriously concerned about the wave of arrests, intimidation and harassment of judges across the country by the DSS. While we fully support the government’s efforts to eradicate judicial corruption, we cannot accept anti-corruption strategies and methods, which patently offend the rule of law and undermine the authority, integrity, sanctity and independence of the judiciary.”

The letter copied to both Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Ms Monica Pinto, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, also urged the president to “publicly commit that your government will not seek to undermine the integrity, sanctity, authority and independence of the judiciary in its efforts to combat judicial corruption; avoid any action that tends to weaken judiciary independence and public confidence in the judiciary; ensure that justice is not only done, but must also appear to be done in the fight against judicial corruption; and promptly, thoroughly, transparently and impartially investigate attacks against judges by DSS and bring to justice anyone responsible.” President awaits report of DSS sting operation A detailed report of weekend’s arrest of the   judges by the DSS, was being awaited by President  Buhari, authoritative sources have said. Although the President was said to have expressed concern about reports on the manner of the operation, he was said to have been shocked by alleged huge cash recovered from the judges’ homes in the sting operations.

A Presidency source confirmed, last night, that President Buhari was awaiting a formal report on the matter. But the official said the Presidency had contacted  DSS officials regarding how future operations should be carried out in a more democratic manner without downplaying the fight against graft. It’s archaic and barbaric, —Fani- Kayode Former Spokesperson to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s Presidential Campaign Organisation, Chief Femi Fani- Kayode, described the DSS action as both barbaric and archaic. In a statement titled- “Cash found in Judges homes- trust not the DSS,” Fani- Kayode said: “The Greek tragic dramatis and philosopher Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC) said ‘in war, truth is the first casualty.’ “It is in this context that one has to view the absurd claims by the DSS that massive sums of cash ranging from 2 million USD to hundreds of thousands of Euros and Pounds Sterling were found in the homes of all the judges that were arrested in the early hours of Saturday morning. “If anyone honestly believes that such large sums of cash were found in the homes of any of those judges, then that person needs to have his head examined.

“The DSS has to say these outrageous things and tell these shameful lies in order to attempt to justify their illegal actions before the world. It is called disinformation and misinformation and that is their stock in trade. “That is what intelligence and security agencies all over the world are paid to do. They destroy their victims before the world with lies and baseless allegations knowing that most Nigerians will believe anything and everything that the government says. It is sickening and pathetic. In any case nothing can possibly justify the gestapo tactics that the state has employed in this matter. “The storming of peoples homes in the middle of the night and the brutalisation and traumatisation of their families, loved ones and households is archaic and barbaric. It should be done with decency—Ajulo A legal practitioner, Mr Kayode Ajulo threw his weight behind the investigation of corrupt judges but insisted that it should be done without bringing the bench to disrepute. In a statement, Ajulo, who faulted the actions of the DSS, said:

“I, however, believe that in cleansing the judiciary of corrupt judges, proper procedures must be followed. “No arm of government has reviewed itself than the judiciary and this ought to be encouraged. I believe there are procedures to be followed for any disciplinary measure against serving judges. Such procedure should be adhered to so as not to set a bad precedent. “I am completely against the modus operandi employed by DSS. The duties and function of the service as provided by law must be looked into, they’re not conventional policemen or economic and financial crimes fighters, neither are they the anti-corruption agency. The alarming commando-style of breaking the door of a serving judge to effect an arrest is completely out of order.

It is inglorious, repugnant, and lacks common sense. Trial through the media should be abated and any evidence against errant judges should be presented to the appropriate quarters for proper determination.” CSOs, others speak A host of civil society organisations also criticised the DSS and asked for immediate release of the judges. The Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP, in a statement by its National Coordinator, Chino Obiagwu, said “the night raid is a flagrant assault on the rule of law and interference with the integrity and independence of judges.” Other people and groups, who condemned the move and sought immediate freedom for the arrested judges included Mr Joseph Otteh, a Lagos lawyer and director of Access to Justice;  President of the National Youth Council of Nigeria, NYCN, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere; President of the Aka-Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike; Mr. Johnbull Okoro and Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice, CHRSJ.Vanguard