NBA Has No Moral Right To Speak On Arrest Of Judges – Sagay | Independent Newspapers Limited
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NBA Has No Moral Right To Speak On Arrest Of Judges – Sagay

Posted: Oct 13, 2016 at 3:15 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), a renowned constitutional lawyer is the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption. In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, he spoke on the weekend raid by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) on residence of some senior judges last weekend. Excerpts:

There have been divergent opinions on the DSS raid on judges residence last week.  As a legal luminary who has been canvassing for reform in the judiciary for a long time, what is your take on that?

The searches of the premises of Judges by the DSS, is a sad development in our legal history brought about by inevitable circumstances.  Although no Judges had ever been subjected to search of premises and arrest, from the Colonial period until recently, this was not because there was any law protecting Judges’ immunity against arrest and criminal prosecution.  Rather it was based on a convention arising from the need to respect the dignity and sanctity of the Judiciary.  In other words, the practice of respect for members of the Judiciary was a convention, not a binding rule of law.  Members of the Judiciary do not enjoy immunity against searches, and arrests under any law.  Therefore the sustenance of sanctity of the person, office and residence of a Judge depended on the continued maintenance by the Judge of decorum, dignity, honesty and integrity.

The explosive and expanding epidemic of judicial corruption, which has taken an alarming character since the 2007 elections, has totally overturned the culture of respect and for the judiciary and brought the revered institution into disrepute and ignominy.

The epic and corrosive nature of the problem has made the system expressly laid down for dealing with judicial indiscipline, that is, the NJC System, totally ineffective.  The level of moral depravity and the enormous number of culprits engaged in aggressive or rampaging corruption was just too much for the orthodox system of discipline to deal with.  The amount of raw cash recovered in the process of the DSS searches is mind boggling.  We therefore have a situation in which a deadly disease was threatening the very existence of democracy and the Rule of Law.

In other words, ultimately, the very foundation of our democracy was in danger of collapsing.  For if elections are contested in the manner of a bloody conflict in which the victor is like a military conqueror, is then endorsed by the Judiciary,  then democracy has been abandoned, in favour of jungle culture where life will be nasty brutish  and short.  The endorsement of electoral victories, by violence, fraud and rigging is an abandonment of civilization and a descent into anarchy, disorder leading to a dysfunctional society.

What in your opinion do you think should be the concern of most Nigerians?

The question must be: do we take drastic and unprecedented steps to sanitize the judiciary and save the institution from those who are prepared to drag it and our democracy down for filthy lucre?  Or do we twiddle our fingers in despair and let the shameful erosion and retrogression of a once famous and revered institution to go on?

This is a country that once had one of the greatest judiciaries in the world.  It now seems unbelievable that our judicial benches were once graced by legendary figures, like J.I.C. Taylor, Louis Mbanefo, Joseph Adefarasin, Adetokunboh Ademola, Akinola Agudu, Anthony Aniagolu, Kayode Eso, Mohammed Bello, Chukwuweike Idigbe, Andrews Otutu Obaseki, Augustine Nnamani, Adolphos Karibi-Whyte and Chukwudifu Oputa.  Between 1980 and 1990, we had an outstanding group of Jurists in the Supreme Court who created the golden age of the Judiciary.

What has happened between that dreamlike era and now is a rapid descent into the world of mammon, where cash dictates justice. With that degeneration of our judicial standards, our judicial ‘gods’ have descended from mount Olympus and joined the ranks of ordinary men and thus are suffering the fate of ordinary men.

The Justices of the golden age decided cases like Governor of Lagos State v. Ojukwu, Bello v. Attorney-General of Oyo State., Garba v. Attorney-General of the Federation, Obeya Memorial Hospital v. Attorney-General of the Federation,  Wilson v. Attorney General of Bendel State – all of which were decisions against various Military Governments during the reign of the Military.  Because of the superior moral authority of the Justices who presided over those cases, their fearsome reputation as men of steely integrity and honour, those judgments where obeyed without question.  Even the military were afraid of these men of uncompromising integrity.  It was unthinkable that the DSS or its equivalent in the days could invite them for questioning, not to talk of searching and arrest.  Their strong moral armour protected then against executive adventures and gave then real power over the other arms of government.  Surely, we could be like that again if we rebuild our Judiciary and hold them up to the highest standards of morality, transparency and integrity.

But do you think it is lawful for the DSS to raid the residence of the judges?

The issue of lawfulness is not an issue at all.  Obviously, it was lawful because there are only two category of persons in this country who enjoy immunity. It is terrible because from then till now, particularly in 2007 when it peaked and then it went down again and then it peaked again, justice was being sold.  So, the situation has become an epidemic. As it stands now, I don’t think NJC is established and has the capacity to deal with the epidemic of this proportion.  The NJC doesn’t have the capacity at all.  It is supposed to deal with the normal issues, maybe one, two or three people have misconducted themselves and then the whole process of appointing a committee to hear the petitions and then make recommendations. All those things are for normalcy; not to deal with an epidemic which was going to bring the country down because if you shoot down or destroy democratic hopes that if a person goes into an election and the majority votes for him, he will be declared the winner. Once you destroy that, we are heading for civil war.  People are going to get to power by guns instead of by votes. Thankfully, the judges have been released on their own self-recognition which is very good.

The NBA in a press conference attended by some of its past presidents has declared a state of emergency in the judiciary over the arrest of the judges. What is your take on that?

As for the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), they have no moral right to speak. It sounds very bad in their mouths to condemn and to criticise because members of the NBA are the ones responsible for where we are today in judicial corruption and total corruption of our electoral systems and the whole criminal administration systems.  Members of the Nigerian Bar Association, especially the senior ones are the ones responsible for it.  So, it sounds very ill and very bad in their mouths to begin to protest and say certain things. They are the ones who carry billions of naira and millions of dollars to these poor judges. They are the ones who corrupted our judges. it is the lawyers who corrupted the judges.