DSS crackdown on judges – Lawyers’ Unanimous condemnation

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It would appear that Legal Practitioners’ condemnation of the commando style of arrest carried out by the DSS over the weekend which saw the unbelievable arrest of Supreme Court Justices is unanimous and total.

All the lawyers who have spoken on the arrest condemned the manner it was carried out. Many saw the arrest as an affront on the third arm of Government. One of the senior lawyers said the crackdown was an impeachable offence, unless President Muhammadu Buhari could exonerate himself from the raid. A host of senior advocates of Nigeria (SANs) declared  it as a war against the Judiciary, the third arm of government and demanded immediate and unconditional release of the judges.

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.

Below are the views expressed by lawyers:
OZEKHOME – IT SIGNALS GREAT DANGER 

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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.”

UZTAZ – THIS CAN’T HAPPEN IN ANY CIVILISED SOCIETY

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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.

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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.

  QUAKERS –  IT IS A RAID ON THE CONSTITUTION

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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.”

OWONIKOKO – IT’S A COUP AGAINST THIRD ARM OF GOVT 

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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.

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AKINGBOLA – DSS SHOULD HAVE REPORTED JUDGES TO NJC 

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.

ABORISHADE – IT’S POLITICAL ACT OF IMPUNITY 

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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.”

FANI-KAYODE – IT’S ARCHAIC AND BARBARIC

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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.

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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.

AJULO – IT SHOULD BE DONE WITH DECENCY
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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.”

LEDAP -RAID IS A FLAGRANT ASSAULT ON THE RULE OF LAW

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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.

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