Alleged Corruption: DSS Clampdown On Judges Divides Nigerians | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Alleged Corruption: DSS Clampdown On Judges Divides Nigerians

Posted: Oct 16, 2016 at 3:14 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

CJN Justice Mahmud Mohammed



OUR CORRESPONDENTS – The operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) last weekend swooped on the residents of some of the nation’s judges and arrested them over allegations bothering on corrupt activities in the discharge of their duties. Huge sums of money in both foreign and local currencies were reportedly recovered from residents of some of the judges.

The action, which was seen as part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade, came few months after the president had openly accused the judiciary of corruption and few days after the National Judicial Commission (NJC) relieved some of the judges of their services as they were found to have compromised.

At the last count, about seven judges across the country were nabbed by the DSS operatives on the charge of alleged corruption. But, they have been let off on bail, pending when they will be formally arraigned before competent courts of jurisdiction for possible trial.

They may also be brought before the National Judicial Council (NJC), which also has quasi judicial powers over matters relating to the appointment, discipline and dismissal of judges in the country.

But, since the action of the DSS operatives which took place simultaneously in parts of the country, opinions of Nigerians have been divided, with many backing the action of the security men while others condemn what they termed the highhandedness of the operation, as they see it as intimidating the judiciary, the third arm of the government.

Buhari Is Doing The Right Thing Wrongly, Says Activist

Comrade Chinedu Karl, the South-South Director of the Civil Liberty Organization (CLO), in his reaction, described the action of the security agents as an incident, maintaining that President Muhammadu Buhari was doing the right thing at a wrong time.

According to him, that the act of invading the privacy of judges at the dead of the night was unconstitutional, even as he enjoined Nigerians to rise up against the danger that is fast threatening the country’s nascent democracy following what he termed the dictatorial tendencies of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the party’s hard stance on the fundamental rights of the people.

Karl, a Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital-based activist, explained that the Act establishing the DSS is explicit and “does not permit them to carry out that kind of raid on any Nigerian not just the judges. It is the breach of the constitution and that portends a grave danger to our democracy.

“We will have no option than to call on all Nigerians to rise up and fight the coming monster, which is fast threatening our collective resolve as a people. The explanation given by the DSS as the reason for their action is, to say the least, unacceptable.

“We have a lot of agencies in this country that can fight corruption. As much as I am not holding brief for any corrupt judge or person, my position is that the Gestapo style of invasion of the judges’ houses is highly condemnable”.

Karl insinuated that some of the affected judges had in one time or the other passed judgments on the DSS and the APC government, adding, “I believe that this is an act of vendetta. They are arresting some of the judges whose judgments were not to the favour of the government and its DSS agent.

“Government should allow the agency that is responsible for the fight against corruption to do its work independently without undue interference. What we are seeing in the fight against corruption goes beyond that and it is dangerous to the democracy.”

Action Against Judges Divides Nigerians

Emeka Umeagbalasi, Board Chairman, International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (INTERSOCIETY) said there is no law supporting the action of DSS, except that they were acting on the orders of the President.

He said: “Our express questions to the authorities of the DSS and Gen Muhammadu Buhari are: Which law empowers the DSS to arrest, detain and prosecute corruption cases? Where are the EFCC, ICPC and the Nigeria Police Force? Who authorised such late night operations, invasion and breaking of the homes of serving Supreme Court Justices and other senior judicial officers?

“Do corruption offenses carry capital punishments in Nigeria or what are their penalties on conviction? Which law empowers the DSS to assault and reportedly injure a serving governor with constitutional immunity? When has it become an operational routine in Nigeria for security agencies to raid people’s homes at the hours of the blue law or late night and abduct them in their sleep?

“When did the law establishing the DSS change from gathering, processing and managing internal intelligence to law enforcement, corruption fighting and late night burglary or invasion? Was their late night abduction geared towards intimidating and silencing them for standing up against lawlessness of the DSS?

“Are they being hunted and haunted because they refused to allow DSS detainees to be arraigned after long period of unconstitutional detention without charge or asked to go and obey all the previous orders given but flouted with reckless abandon? If the senior judicial officers were abducted late night for corruption charges, have they been formally invited by EFCC, ICPC or the NPF?”

Okelo Madukaife, the State Secretary of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Anambra State, did not seem to border about whether the arrest followed the rule of law as he supported the action of the DSS given the rot in the judiciary.

He added: “In that light we are hopeful that the mission to clean the judiciary cannot be questioned by anyone who means well for Nigeria and has had a firsthand experience of the perversion of justice and the painful odium in and off the shores of our country, regarding this state of affairs.

“Our country men and women should be patient, studious, mature and circumspect in assessing the unfolding issues in this change that the nation must undergo to be healthy.”

Judges Do Not Enjoy Immunity – Obayuwana, Ex-Edo AG

Dr. Osagie Obayuwana, a human rights lawyer and Edo State former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, while reacting to the invasion of judges’ residence by DSS, said that in terms of constitutionalism, the judges do not enjoy immunity.

According to him, “there are three arms of government and only the head of one arm, which is the executive, enjoys immunity.

“So to answer your questions directly they are not protected by the constitution against arrest. The constitution that has been endorsed by the Supreme Court is that every citizen has a right to liberty and that liberty can only be interfered with where there is what you call legal clause, where there is a reason, a good reason for interference.

“As far as the law enforcement agencies, the police, are concerned you do not conduct investigation with arrest, you carry out investigation to some extent if the basis exists for the arrest before a particular offence, get a warrant of arrest and to interfere with the liberty of the citizen and the constitution is blind as far as the equal protection that it provides for all citizens.”

On whether the timing for the invasion of the judges’ houses at midnight was right, Obayuwana declared: “The law has been drawn with regards to the administration of criminal justice which no longer limits the hours within which search warrants can be executed.

“That given the difficult times in our country, and indeed the world, if such limitation were to still continue, a lot could be lost and as long as there was probable cause, the suspect cannot enjoy the privilege of being shielded from the operation of the law or under the pretext of the sanctity of his home or right to privacy.

“He pointed out that a suspect that barricades himself by locking his doors, is resisting arrest and reasonable force may be used to effect the arrest, even if this leads to the breaking down of doors. It must be said that all of the above does not take away from his presumption of innocence or his right to defend himself in court.”

DSS Crackdown On Judges Unconstitutional – Omotayo, Rights Lawyer

Olu Omotayo, an Enugu-based human rights lawyer, described the crackdown on the judges by the Department of State Services (DSS) as unconstitutional.

Omotayo, the President of Citizens Rights Realisation and Advancement Network (CRRAN), argued that whatever powers the DSS may be exercising under the federal laws, which established it, is subject to the constitutional powers given to the National Judicial Council (NJC) by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

According to him, for democracy to flourish, the doctrine of Separation of Powers should be respected. He stated: “Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary are distinct and independent of each other, though they work together for the progress of the nation.

“We condemn this grievous attack on the constitution of Nigeria, which clearly states the procedure and gives the absolute power to discipline and remove erring judges.

“The constitutional powers given to the National Judicial Council (NJC) have been grievously attacked and clear attempt has been made to be taken away these powers of National Judicial Council by ‘coup de dat’ on the judiciary by the DSS on the orders of the Executive.

“Similar powers exist in the United States, as Article 11, of the United States Constitution give the United States House of Representatives the sole power of impeachment, and assign the power to try impeachments to the United States Senate.

“In Nigeria the National Judicial Council exercises same powers and only need the assent of the Executive to give effect to any disciplinary decision taken, but not for the executive to take over the powers.

“It submitted that whatever powers the DSS may be exercising under the Federal laws which established it, is subject to the constitutional powers given to the National Judicial Council (NJC), by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“For democracy to flourish, the doctrine of Separation of Powers should be respected. Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary are distinct and independent of each other, though they work together for the progress of the nation.”

Crackdown On Judges, A Threat To Nigeria’s Democracy – PDP

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa Ibom State has called on Nigerians to resist attempts by the All Progressives Congress (APC) led Federal Government to scuttle democracy, which it said it had put up a hard fight to entrench and sustain.

Ini Ememobong, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Publicity Secretary in Akwa Ibom State, who spoke on the clampdown on some judges by DSS operatives, described their arrest as “burglary and kidnapping.”

According to him, Nigerians and professional bodies should rise up to defend democracy and judiciary, adding that once the judiciary is left undefended, democracy will be threatened to its roots.

He described what happened as the flagrant display of military action in a democratic dispensation, even as he lampooned the Vice President, Yomi Osinbajo, for being a Professor of Law, while such intimidation of judges takes place, describing it as shameful.

Ememobong added that every security agency is set up by law, and that the law, which sets up the DSS does not give it the kinds of powers it displayed in the arrest of judges.

According to him, “For us in PDP in Akwa Ibom State, for us as a people and as individuals, we must rise to defend this democracy. This democracy was hard won; we would strive to defend it. Therefore, I urge everybody to ensure that the judiciary as an arm of government is not left undefended.

“It is most shameful that a professor of law is the Vice President at the time this is happening. This, even in the height of Abacha’s regime, such a thing never happened. This same thing only happened when the incumbent president ruled this country as a military head of state.

“President Muhammadu Buhafi should know that this country is ruled by law and as Nigerians; we would defend those laws and democracy with all we have.

“If there were reasonable suspicions, the law creates the National Judiciary Council and gives it the responsibility to discipline judges.

“Recently, the Chief Judge of Enugu State was disciplined without the intervention of anybody: the act of burgling into their homes and kidnapping them is condemnable. The definition of arrest must have a lawful component.

“Every security agency is established by law. The law sets out the level of which they can act and the law establishing the DSS says, they shall be concerned with the detection and prevention of crimes that relate to internal security, not fraud, not bribery and corruption, which they are envisaging.”

Ememobong alleged that the action by the DSS might not be unconnected with the APC plans to intimidate judges not to give sound judgment when the Edo state election petition tribunal begins its sitting.

“But, I can assure you that, the judiciary will come out of this stronger and firmer and they will do justice according to the law, not according to the body language of anybody,” he added.

In Nigeria, Anything Goes – Veteran Politician

Chief Ejimkonye Iwumba, elder statesman and former state chairman of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) and now a community leader, in his reaction, said with the invasion of the judges’ residences, Nigeria is a country where anything goes.

According to him, “Personally, I had thought that having eventually entrenched democratic culture in our land and having had 17 years of unbroken and unprecedented democratic experiment, that we would have purged ourselves of all remnants of military despotism.

“How can anybody in his right senses just wake up one morning and storm the residence of our highly revered judges on the pretext of investigating them for what was believed to have gone wrong. This is completely illegal, uncivilised and a flagrant display of abuse of office and rascality.

“If anything is really amiss, why not invite them for proper interrogation instead of storming their residences? Do you know the position judges occupy in our society? Invading their residence to rectify an alleged anomaly is counter productive and would not achieve any positive result.”

Iwumba stressed that the DSS which he said must have acted on “orders from above”, erred and it is high time Nigerians stopped this kind of what he termed madness, because it will not lead the nation anywhere.

Invasion Of Judges’ Houses Was Unfortunate, Regrettable – Analyst

Pastor Uchechukwu Ibegbulam of Christ Redemption Ministries said the invasion of the judges’ homes was an unfortunate and regrettable incident, which should not have happened at all.

“What would have happened if there was an exchange of fire between the police orderlies, who guard the judges and the men of the DSS?” Ibegbulam, who also is an Owerri-based public opinion analyst and human right crusader, said.

He maintained that it is not only judges that suffer this kind of embarrassment, stressing that Nigerians as a whole should not be subjected to this kind of treatment. He stressed that the DSS should do everything with every sense of decency and responsibility.

Judges Are Not The First To Suffer This Kind Of Humiliation – Businessman

Dr. Vitus Anyanele, an Owerri-based businessman maintained that the invasion of the residence of judges by men of the DSS is condemnable. But, however, stressed that judges are not the first to suffer this kind of humiliation.

According to him, “many prominent politicians, particularly politicians of note, have had this kind of experience and yet nobody raised any eyebrow. Now, that it has happened to judges everywhere is vibrating. All of us are equal before the law. Nobody is more important than the other.

“No Nigerian, including judges, should suffer this, because it portrays us as people who are not civilised. It is unconstitutional and I believe that the judges will take the necessary legal steps to redeem their name and image.”

There Is No Petition Against Any Of The Judges – Bar. Jones

Barrister Usim O. Jones of  the Advocates Centre, Jos has condemned the recent arrest of some judges by the DSS operatives  over allegations of corruption, which he said is yet to be substantiated by anybody or court.

Jones who spoke from his Jos base, lamented that none of the arrested judges had any petition against them before any law court or before constituted bodies charged with the task of investigation.

According to him, what the DSS operatives were said to have relied on to forcefully invade the private residences of these judges were mere allegations that have not been substantiated

He said the nation’s constitution a presumed people to be innocent until proven guilty in the law court, adding that the judges are around every time and are not planning to travel, hence, there was no need for the DSS men to have invaded their homes at night.

“The action of DSS was wrong, unconstitutional and an abuse of due process of court, arguing that even if they obtained warrant to arrest the judges, there is still a procedure to be followed under the Nigerian law,” Jones stressed.

According to him, “what we saw in respect to the style used in arresting these judges were only seen during the era of Field Marshall Idi Amin of Uganda,” adding that Nigerians do not need this kind of rule because it can lead to a state of anarchy.

He stressed that if government suspects somebody of committing a crime, the proper thing is to invite such a person over, saying that the judges are gentlemen who are not less than 60 years each and have paid their dues in the service of the nation.