The National Human Rights Commission has expressed concern on recent ‘unwarranted attacks and harassment’ of judicial officers in the legitimate and constitutional exercise of their functions.
In a communique by its Director of Corporate Affairs and External Linkages, Lambert Oparah, the NHRC noted that the situation is further accentuated by the increasing lack of safety for Nigerians while pursuing their legitimate duties or businesses due to acts of hoodlums, criminal-minded elements, banditry, kidnapping, insurgency and others thereby undermining human security to abysmal levels.
Mr Lambert Oparah quoted the Executive Secretary of the Commission Tony Ojukwu Esq as stating that “Judicial independence is greatly undermined when judges are no longer able to exercise their functions without fear of reprisals, kidnappings, reprimand or attack on their persons, immediate family and property”.
He (Ojukwu) further stated that the recent attacks on the person and private property of Honourable Justice Mary Odili of the Supreme Court, the kidnapping of Justice Ijeoma Iheme of the Court of Appeal Benin Division and other judicial officers are but a few cases amongst a host of others.
“It is worse where such attacks on judicial officials result from the performance of official duties following the delivery of judgments in election-related cases.
Such are highly condemnable and portend great danger for Nigeria’s democracy and the enjoyment of the human rights especially the rights to life, freedom from fear of personal security, dignity of human persons, privacy and ownership of property as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary” he said.
The rule of law and the realization of human rights he posited can only be attained when judges and our courts are able to dispense justice without any inclination to fear, bias and intimidation.
According to him, it may seem fashionable today to criticize judgments and judges when cases go for or against us but such exercise of rights must be within the law by respecting the rights of the judicial officers and the judiciary as a key institution of government, the destruction of which will uproot the very foundations of our democracy and do no one any good.
“We acknowledge the right of every Nigerian to fair comment on judgments of courts, freedom of expression and to hold and impart opinions as guaranteed by the Constitution. However, the enjoyment of these rights does not extend to, or encourage violent acts, invasion of privacy and destruction of private properties which also violate the human rights of others and are crimes against the state.”
Consequently, the National Human Rights Commission said it wishes to appeal to all political actors and their supporters to:
a. Respect the human rights of citizens to express fair comments on the judgments of courts without personalizing any issues arising therefrom or infringing on the rights of others.
b. Observe and respect the human rights of judicial officers in the exercise of their lawful duties. This extends to their personal and official properties and privacy.
c. Respect the right of other Nigerians who hold divergent political or legal opinions as the basis for a free, just and democratic society.
The Commission further calls on security agencies to ensure the rights and security of Nigerians and especially judicial officers performing their official duties are protected and should bring those responsible for the attack on Justice Mary Odili’s home as well as other judicial officers who have suffered similar attacks are brought to book in accordance with the law.