The raid of Justice Odili’s home is condemnable
When, in October 2016, operatives of the Directorate of State Services (DSS) stormed the residences of some judges at night like armed robbers, many justified the impunity on grounds of ‘fighting corruption’. Overlooked was the damage the raid did to rule of law and the threat to the independence of the judiciary. Exactly five years later, a combined team of ‘unknown’ security agents last Friday invaded the residence of Justice Mrs Mary Odili. The consensus now is that some operatives of the current administration seem desperate to destroy the judiciary in pursuit of sinister agenda.
The National Judicial Council (NJC) is yet to find its voice on this egregious act it described in 2016 as a crude attempt to coerce the judiciary into submission. Invasion of the residence of a Judge runs contrary to Section 158 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, which provides for the independence of the judiciary. But it came as no surprise under an administration in which security agencies whimsically disobey orders from the courts. Yet, what should not be lost on the authorities is that when a critical institution like judiciary is destroyed for political reasons, our democracy will be imperilled and everyone loses.
The growing recourse to lawlessness and brigandage should worry President Muhammadu Buhari. On 6th December 2019, a group of armed DSS officials invaded the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court presided over by the Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu while she was sitting. Apart from disrupting proceedings, the security personnel manhandled Omoyele Sowore in a desperate bid to arrest him in defiance of the orders of the court which had admitted him to bail. Those involved in that disgraceful conduct were not sanctioned. Even the Senate which investigated the attack on the court refused to release its report so as not to embarrass the federal government. But this sort of lawlessness cannot be allowed to continue.
It bears stating unequivocally that we are not opposed to investigating and prosecuting judges who may have infringed on the law. It is also true that the NJC has not done enough in fighting corruption. Merely retiring those found to have abused their oath without recommending them for criminal prosecution to serve as deterrence to others perhaps led to the current situation. However, the point being made is that rule of law is sacrosanct and must be observed in the fight against any crime. Breaking into judges houses at midnight in a country where unknown gunmen are killing people indiscriminately cannot be justified. Last Friday invasion of the residence of the second most senior justice of the Supreme Court is therefore not just bizarre, it is indeed criminal.
It is instructive that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, has denied any involvement. But his denial has been questioned by the Magistrate who issued the badly written search warrant. While revoking the warrant, the Magistrate blamed the Office of the Attorney-General for misleading him. This is a serious allegation that has not been denied evidently because it is true. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and DSS have also claimed non-involvement. Their denials lack believability. Besides, they may not be involved but they cannot claim not to know who authorised the raid.
Perhaps some high officials of the current administration who are abusing their powers do not understand that anyone can become a victim of impunity. Those who are issuing criminal orders today will become ordinary citizen tomorrow. The raid of Justice Odili’s home provides both the bar and the bench an opportunity to tell these power-mongers: Enough is enough!