Over the weekend, the Department of State Security, carried out what it called a ‘sting operation’ and raided homes of some judges alleged to have been involved in corrupt practices while performing their statutory duties on the bench. During the operation, millions of naira and hundreds of thousands in foreign currencies were found in the judges’ abodes.
Expectedly, the action has attracted mixed reactions from the polity, with many arguing in support of the DSS operation while many others, including the Nigerian Bar Association, have kicked against the operation, describing it as illegal and an affront on the Judiciary.
The NBA further threatened to declare a ‘state of emergency’ in the judiciary, in addition to boycotting the courts henceforth.
While we believe in the undeniable rights of every Nigerian to express himself and hold opinion on national issues, we are at a loss as to why the NBA failed in the past to react in like manner to issues that were perceived widely in the society as assaults on the same judiciary.
The NBA failed to declare a state of emergency when a judge granted perpetual injunction, restraining law enforcement agencies from arresting and prosecuting a former Governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, over alleged corrupt practices; when a former Governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion, was slapped on the wrist with a N3 million fine by a court for allegedly stealing N4 billion Edo people’s money; when some senior lawyers, especially Senior Advocates of Nigeria, flagrantly abused court processes, filed frivolous applications to delay and frustrate to no end corruption cases; and when Ekiti State Governor allegedly invaded courts in Ekiti and even beat up judges and judicial workers. The list is endless.
Perhaps, we need to remind those defending the alleged corrupt judges that no judicial officer has immunity against arrest, search, investigation and/or prosecution in respect of an allegation of crime; that, to date, only the incumbent President, vice president, governors and deputy governors enjoy immunity; and that the National Judicial Commission is responsible for the appointment, discipline/punishment of judicial officers only in respect of breach of judicial ethics, and not crime.
“it is important to let the public know that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 remains the procedural law that guides activities of all federal investigating and prosecutorial agencies. And in the Act, there is no time limit or time frame to when a person can be arrested”
Again, the senior lawyers who populate the NBA, perhaps, need to be reminded that even after sanction by the NJC, the state still reserves the right to prosecute any erring judge if his misconduct amounts to a crime.
For the avoidance of doubt, it is important to let the public know that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 remains the procedural law that guides the activities of all federal investigating and prosecutorial agencies like the Police, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and related offences Commission, DSS, as well as the Federal High Court, High Court of the FCT, National Industrial Court, and the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Under the ACJA 2015, Section 148, there is no time limit or time frame to when a person can be arrested, neither is there limitation on which day a person can be arrested.
Sections 12 (2) and 13 ACJA, 2015 give a law officer the power to break into and out of any house for the purpose of arresting a suspect who fails to let the arresting officer in.
Section 43 (1) ACJA, 2015 states: “A warrant of arrest may be executed on any day, including a Sunday or public holiday.”
Section 44 of ACJA 2015 also states that a person may be arrested, notwithstanding that the person arresting him is not in possession of an arrest warrant on demand, but can show the warrant as soon as practicable, while Section 47 states that “a warrant of arrest issued by a Federal High Court sitting anywhere may be executed in any part of Nigeria.”
Apart from these, it is an open secret that justice in Nigeria has become that of the highest bidder. Many people occupy elected political offices today, courtesy of controversial judgments delivered by many controversial judges across the country in election petition tribunals and appeal tribunals.
Years back, the Nigerian judiciary exported its finest brains to other parts of the African continent: Nigerians have at one time or the other occupied the highest judicial seats in Kenya, Uganda and even at the International Court in The Hague. The late Olu Onagoruwa wrote the constitution of another African country.
Sadly, today, no country on the continent wants to touch our judicial officers with a very long pole. And this is not unconnected with the desecration of the temple of justice in the country by some judges!
Ours is now a country where a hungry man goes to jail for seven years for stealing a loaf of bread, while an executive thief gets a slap on the wrist for stealing billions of naira from our commonwealth.
A former Governor of Delta State, James Ibori, was discharged and acquitted by a Nigerian judge on a 70-count charge bothering on corrupt practices and abuse of office, but was found guilty and sentenced on the same allegations in a British Court.
While we wish to call on the National Assembly not to dissipate energy on the propriety or otherwise of the DSS action, we give kudos to the DSS for a job well done.
The justice temple, which is said to be the last hope of the common man, must be sanitised to restore it to its rightful place.
We also implore the DSS to beam its searchlight on the Legislature and follow up with the Executive arm of government as part of efforts to rid our nation of corruption, which has brought it almost to its knees. But we must be sure that all actions in this regard are not politically motivated.