Thewill Editorial: Matters Arising From Dss’ Arrest Of Judges
BEVERLY HILLS, October 17, (THEWILL) – The recent arrest of some senior justices in Nigeria by operatives of the Department of State Services, DSS, has, as expected, continued to generate ripples from across the country.
The arrest began with the midnight raid of the homes of two justices of the Supreme Court, Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro at their Judicial Officers' Quarters in Abuja. The DSS also went after the suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya, and arrested Muazu Pindiga, Adeniyi Ademola and Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court. Not spared were Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court and a former Chief Judge of Enugu state, Justice I. A. Umezulike.
While reactions have continued to trail the unprecedented development, the DSS had explained that the judges were arrested based on petitions alleging corruption against them. Their flamboyant lifestyles were also cited. It has even announced that more judicial officials have been marked for arrest and prosecution.
While THEWILL has consistently supported the anti-corruption crusade of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Gestapo style in which the judges were abducted is a clear breach of protocol and suggestive of a culture of dictatorship.
It is worrisome for the DSS, which should concern itself with issues of state security, to present itself as dancing to the gallery in what amounted to usurping the powers of other arms of government, and indeed specialised agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC.
We recall vividly that the same DSS had raided the Akwa Ibom State Government House on allegations of corruption, after which nothing more was heard of it. It had carried out a similar action in Ekiti State, where it invaded its state House of Assembly and abducted some lawmakers, also on allegations of corruption.
It is worrisome that the secret police under the current administration has been used to carry out these operations where civil agencies, including the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, which is charged with these statutory responsibilities are left out.
The DSS action should have tasked the National Judicial Commission, NJC, to act on the petitions it based the operations on. In worst case scenario, it could have invited the judges to come for questioning since there is a search warrant, without having to barge in the justices' homes in the dead of the night.
In saner climes, it is after the council had found such judges guilty, especially in matters that breached state security that law enforcement agencies can step in. In a democratic society like ours, there are separations of powers, which must be respected for smooth governance to be attained.
It has been argued that the DSS could not have acted without the prompting of a higher power. The reactions by the minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu lend credence to this insinuation.
While Mohammed stated that it was not unusual to step on sensitive toes in the current fight against corruption, Shehu said “To suggest that the government is acting outside the law in a dictatorial manner is to breach the interest of the state.”
But if the President had high regard for the judiciary as claimed by both aides, permitting the DSS to breach laid down procedures was at variance with the explanations offered.
The DSS' operation, which bypassed the NJC, was a vote of no confidence on the judiciary. Rightly, the council had alluded to it in a statement credited to it. It had in the past demonstrated that it is capable of checking the excesses of its erring members, though the sanctions slammed on erring members have been dismissed as a slap on the wrist.
Without prejudice to the prosecution, the information alleging bias against the DSS, calls for serious concern. One of the judges had alleged that he was being unduly vilified because he had ruled against the DSS in the case of embattled National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki and leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu. There are also similar insinuations that question the altruism of the controversial operation.
However, if the judges are indeed corrupt, THEWILL recommends that they be prosecuted within the bounds of law. The gravity of the allegations is reinforced by the staggering amount in local and foreign currencies purportedly recovered from them. We urge the parties to be transparent in the trial, so that in the end, justice would be seen to have been done.
Neither party should allow the matter to be swept under the carpet because in the long run, they would be worse off for that. We believe that the accused justices should be eager to have their day in court, if only to clear the reputation damage they may have suffered by this arrest, particularly in view of the media trial that seems to be holding sway.
Be that as it may, THEWILL is averse to any dictatorial tendencies that run afoul of the constitution. It is feared that the controversy ignited by the raid can make the common man lose confidence in the judiciary. We therefore urge the NJC to be more alive to its responsibilities, while calling on government to allow specialised agencies handle perceived infractions against the law.