9 October 2016
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is threatening fire and brimstone over weekend’s raid of residences of some court judges by men of the Department of State Services (DSS).
In the sting operations, 530,087 dollars, 25,970 Pounds Sterling, 5,680 Euro, N93.6 million, 1,010 Indian rupees, 380 dinars, 430 Gambian dalasi, 20 Ghana cedis, and four Argentinian notes were recovered from three of the judges.
Two of the judges were arrested just as the DSS confiscated some of their landed property.
Reacting to the exercise at Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, on Saturday, NBA President, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), declared a state of emergency in the judiciary and asked President Muhammadu Buhari to order the immediate release of the affected judges or there would be consequences.
“Given the unfolding nature of the event and the seriousness of the situation, the NBA hereby declares a state of emergency as it affects the affairs of the judiciary and I hereby constitute a crisis management team, comprising all past presidents of the association.
“I want to, on behalf of the association, make the very following clear and unequivocal demands: we demand the immediate and unconditional release of all the judges abducted from about 9 p.m. on Friday.
“The release must be done immediately and without any conditions. Two, we demand that the Department of State Services should limit itself to its statutory and constitutional responsibilities.
“I’ll be meeting with the Chief Justice of Nigeria later tonight or tomorrow. There will be consequences should these demands are not met,” Mahmoud said.
He added that two Supreme Court justices, Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta were “abducted’’, with their families, adding that he had yet to have the full detail of other judges who could have been involved.
Mahmoud said the NBA condemned what it termed the Gestapo-style operation of the DSS.
He announced the constitution of an emergency or crisis management team, comprising past NBA presidents to engage with the government.
Mahmoud, who said it was not the responsibility of the DSS to arrest judges, described the DSS action as an unconstitutional means of intimidating the judiciary and undermining its independence.
“I want to emphasise again that we are not under military rule and we cannot accept this unholy event and Gestapo-style operation.
“We, therefore, call on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately caution all the state security agencies and to respect the rule of law and to respect due process.
“Any issues affecting the judicial officers, there are established procedures for handling them and we demand that this constitutional process must be obeyed.
Mahmoud addressed the press alongside four past presidents of the association – Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Mr. J.B. Daudu (SAN) and Augustine Alegeh (SAN).
Also in attendance at the declaration, were Prof. Kayinsola Ajayi (SAN), Mr. Yusuf Ali (SAN), Mr. Dele Adesina (SAN) and Monday Ubani among others.
In its own reaction, the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) also condemned the arrest of and “assault’’ on some of the judges.
The night raid, according to LEDAP, was a flagrant assault on the rule of law and interference with the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
“It amounts to crass intimidation of judges, which is the first line of attack of dictatorships,” it said.
Its National Coordinator, Chino Obiagwu, called on all lawyers to “rise in unison to condemn this attack on the judiciary by the Executive.
“And in solidarity and in protest, to boycott the courts next week from Monday, October 10 to Friday, October 14 2016 in order to send strong message to President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime that the legal profession will not stand by and watch the desecration and denigration of the judiciary.
“It is to the detriment of the Bar and Bench in Nigeria for the security agencies to make spurious allegations and illegally try judges in the pages of newspapers. It raises wrong and unjustified public perception of the justice system, and impugns on public confidence in justice and governance.’’
For Access to Justice (AJ), another Non-Governmental Organisation, its director, Joseph Otteh, said that the raids attacked the independence of the Judiciary and denigrates the third arm of government.
“AJ condemns this unfortunate and contemptuous attack on the Nigerian Judiciary and the degrading invasion of Judges’ residences in the manner (and at the times of the day) the various raids occurred.
“It is despotic for officials of one branch of government to treat those of another branch in a manner that completely lacks respect and decorum: these attacks represent an invidious and insidious threat to the independence of the Judiciary”.
Otteh said: “Judges would be expected to honour any invitations from government agencies where an investigation is being done. This is the way anti-corruption agencies have treated many of those it is currently prosecuting. Why is the government denying judges this procedure?
“There is something yet more portentous about what these incidents represent: if judges can be treated in this way, what rights do ordinary citizens have?
“President Buhari’s government must respect the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and must rein in the excesses of its agencies. The government must denounce the actions of the SSS, investigate this assault on the Judiciary, express its regrets and reassurances to the Judiciary and ensure that those who authorised these assaults on judges and their households are disciplined.
In his reaction, Ebun Adegboroye said the raids were full blown dictatorship in action, adding that it is now a case of anarchists in power. He also called for the boycott of courts nationwide.
Adegboroye said: “the clampdown on judges has been on for a long time, through agents of government in the various institutions of oppression. We are now back to the 1984 jackboot system of intolerance, where all dissenting views and opinions must be silenced.
“It is condemnable for the DSS, which is an arm of the executive, to be breathing down on the judicial arm of government, under the guise of fighting corruption.
“It is now clear without any shadow of doubt that the so-called anti-corruption war is a hidden agenda to perpetuate the President Buhari-led regime in office beyond 2019. It is meant to silence the opposition and to cover the inefficiency and cluelessness of this administration.
“We do not advocate that those alleged to be corrupt should not face their due trial, but that should be done in an atmosphere of dignity and respect for the fundamental rights of the suspects. This is dangerous and condemnable since we are not under a military rule.”
Trouble started on Friday night till the wee hours on Saturday when armed detachments of the Department of State Service stormed the residences of a number of judges (and Justices of the Supreme Court) in Gombe, Abuja, Kano, Enugu, Sokoto and Port Harcourt, and, for several hours, ransacked their houses.
It was learnt that where they could not gain access to the houses, they reportedly broke down the houses’ doors.
DSS officials also reportedly physically manhandled and threatened to shoot residents who refused to give them access to particular houses.
A number of judges were arrested, as well as two Justices of the Supreme Court Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro.
Search warrants were reportedly secured for the search of the premises of some, as not all the justices whose homes were invaded were presented with arrest warrant.