EBENEZER Adebajo, a retired judge of the high court of Lagos State, Femi Falana, SAN, a human rights lawyer based in Lagos and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, another lawyer in Lagos are among those who have reacted to the raids.
While Adebajo described the arrest of some judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and federal and state high courts at the weekend as an attempt to destroy the judiciary for which the National Judicial Commission, NJC, was partly responsible, Falana said the judiciary should take part of the blame for the plight of some judges and Adegboruwa said the action was acceptable.
Irked by the way and manner the raids were carried out, Adebayo said: “It is an attack on the judiciary itself. Not just on these judges, but an attack on the judiciary and the NJC is the party to blame.
“Once the NJC could have ‘agreed’ , I used the word ‘agreed’ in every sense of intention, to the crucifixion of Justice Olamide Oloyede, there was no doubt that the gate had been opened for the dogs of hell.
“What we are seeing is the attack of the dogs of hell. How can such a thing happen to a judge? What is the respectfulness for an institution of a state? Does the misconduct of a few people out of a thousand, does it represent the destruction of an institution? What has happened touches every judge, serving or retired”.
The retired judge submitted: “Whatever the merit or demerit of the conduct of the judges might be, it is stated in the Constitution that the first port of call for any complaint against a judge is the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“If there is a complaint against a judge, and we have been informed that in the last three weeks, they have been talking to the authority in respect of this, why can that complaint not be laid before the Judicial Council? And if the Judicial Council found them guilty of this misconduct, the NJC will on its own, turn them over to the civil authority for prosecution.”
Falana described the development as a matter of grave concern, but blamed members of the legal profession for allowing the denigration of the hallowed temple of justice because of the misconduct of a few corrupt judges.
The SAN noted that for several years, judges who committed grave criminal offences were not prosecuted but merely retired by the authorities on the recommendation of the NJC. Although the NJC recently recommended the dismissal and prosecution of a judge for extorting the sum of N197 million from a litigant, he noted that the authorities had paid lip service to the menace of judicial corruption in the country.
“About two years ago, an anti-graft agency found N2 billion in the account of a high court judge. As soon as the judge was invited for questioning she reported and made a statement and was granted bail.
“But as she could not defend the lodgement in her bank account she obtained an interlocutory injunction from one of the judges in the custody of the SSS.
“It is common knowledge that two Senior Advocates of Nigeria are standing trial in the Lagos High Court for allegedly bribing a judge. Even though it takes two to tango the judge has not been charged to court for allegedly receiving bribe,” Falana said.
He regretted that the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA which he said had information on all corrupt judges and lawyers in the country had continued to shield them “to the embarrassment of incorruptible members of the bar and the bench”.
“It is on record that when both the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offences Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission sent invitation letters to judges suspected of corruption they had rushed to the federal high court to obtain interlocutory injunctions to prevent their arrest, investigation and prosecution,” he said.
Falana argued that the legal profession had itself to blame for the harassment of judges by security forces “having failed to take advantage of the relevant statutory disciplinary bodies to purge the bar and the bench of corrupt elements within its ranks.”
He added: “it is on account of negligence on the part of the body that the DSS which screens candidates before they are recommended by the NJC for appointment as judges has now engaged in the arrest of judges for alleged corruption and abuse of office.”
To avoid further embarrassment, Falana advised the Bar and the Bench to immediately strengthen their disciplinary bodies with a view to removing “the few corrupt judges and lawyers whose criminal activities have continued to erode public confidence in the judiciary.”
Falana also pointed out that since the detained judges were presumed innocent until the contrary was proved by the State, they should be admitted to bail on self-recognisance.
In his own submission, Adegboruwa urged the NBA to boycott all the courts, saying the overnight invasion of judges’ homes by the DSS was wrong. He said: “It is now a case of anarchists in power. 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 meant to silence the opposition and to cover the inefficiency and cluelessness of this administration.”
— Oct 10, 2016 @ 15:25 GMT