**Citizens back action against corrupt judges
*Condemn NBA leadership’s threat to government over their arrests
*Say NBA’s action vindicates Buhari’s alarm of judiciary as hindrance to his anti-corruption war
By Kemi Kasumu with agency reports
The Department of State Service, DSS has released the seven judges arrested during a nationwide raid of their homes at the weekend.
DSS sources said the judges were released on administrative bail but would be required to report at the agency’s office when requested to, as the investigation and preparation to charge them to court continued.
The judges were accused of corruption and had been under investigation by the DSS.
A spokesman for the DSS, Abdullahi Garba, explained shortly after the raid on Saturday that the service embarked on raids of the Supreme, Appeal and High Courts judges’ homes based on allegations of corruption and other acts of professional misconduct.
He said, “The Service action is in line with its core mandate, as we have been monitoring the expensive and luxurious lifestyle of some of the Judges as well as complaints from the concerned public over judgment obtained fraudulently and on the basis of amounts of money paid.
“The judges involved were invited, upon which due diligence was exhibited and their premises searched.
“The searches have uncovered huge raw cash of various denominations, local and foreign currencies, with real estate worth several millions of Naira and documents affirming unholy acts by these Judges”.
The DSS spokesman further explained that some of the judges had made useful statements while a few declined even with the glaring evidences that were found against them in terms of material cash, documents and property recovered pointing to their compromise.
“In one of the States where the Service operations were conducted, credible intelligence revealed that the Judge had Two Million United States Dollars ($2,000,000 USD) stashed in his house.
“When he was approached for due search to be conducted, he in concert with the State Governor, mobilised thugs against the Service team.
“The team restrained itself in the face of unbridled provocative activities by those brought in by the Governor.
“Unfortunately, the Judge and Governor also engaged the tacit support of a sister security agency.
“The Service surveillance team noticed that upon frustrating the operation, the Judge with the active support of the Governor craftily moved the money to an unknown location which the Service is currently making effort to unravel,” the statement read, remaining silent about who the governor was.
Although the DSS’ statement did not mention the particular sister security agency and the governor that frustrated its effort to conduct a raid on the home of the judge in “one of the states”, reports on print and electronic media however showed since Saturday that Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, was involved in a face-off with DSS officials during one of the operations in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. Wike himself had been speaking on his involvement in the face-off even as he condemned the action by the Department of State Services (DSS).
Nigeria has serious ethical issues in the judiciary, bordering on corruption – Lawyer Ogunye
In the meantime, a Lagos-based activist lawyer, Mr. Jiti Ogunye, sees nothing wrong in the manner in which the DSS executed its arrest of three Nigerian judges carried out in the early hours of Saturday, October 8.
Speaking on a television programme Sunday night, Mr Ogunye explained the execution of the warrant of arrest, and quoted Section 148 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, which states that a search warrant can be issued and executed at any time of the day including a Sunday or a public holiday.
The legal practitioner was reacting to the claim by constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, who had earlier on the same television programme, described the arrest of the judges as “most condemnable by any right thinking member of the society”.
Ozhekhome faulted the timing and manner of the arrest, claiming that the law does not allow for homes of suspects to be searched during the night or for doors to be broken in order to gain access.
But Mr. Ogunye berated Ozekhome for quoting an old law which, according to him, has since seized to be relevant. He said, “People are not familiar with the law and those who should enlighten the public manipulate the law and they don’t disclose what the law has said.”
On the “gestapo” manner in which the arrest was done, he went further to read from Section 149 of the Act, where the law permits law enforcement agents to “break open any outer or inner door or window of any house or place of the suspect to be arrested” if access to such building cannot be obtained or is denied.
He argued that it has become impossible to deny that Nigeria has serious ethical issues in the judiciary, bordering on corruption.
In justifying the need to fight corruption, Mr. Ogunye noted that corruption was the bane of the Nigerian society, “it has affected our development, stunted our growth and destroyed our country”.
Ozekhome’s argument countered by Jiti Ogunye
Mr. Ozekhome had also earlier argued that democracy only thrives on its adherence to the rule of law and the Nigerian government, by allowing the arrests, has gone against the values of democracy and the DSS has gone beyond its constitutional mandate.
“The DSS by our constitutional organogram has its own functions and these are to take care of the internal security of the country.
“Its counterpart the DIA, Directorate of Intelligence Agency, is in charge of matters concerning military, while the NIA, Nigerian Intelligence Agency, is in charge of security matters that extend beyond the boundaries of Nigeria.
“The three legal entities that are allowed by our laws to go into corruption matters,” Ozekhome continued, “are the EFCC, the ICPC and the Nigerian Police, particularly under Section 4. So, their action is faulted fundamentally on the ground that they were going beyond their constitutional and statutory mandate,” he said.
This argument by Ozekhome was again vehemently countered as Ogunye disagreed with it.
Jiti Ogunye said, “This law was made during the military era and it has wide implications,” he argued, adding that the law also added that the DSS can be saddled with any issue the President feels affects the internal security of the country.
“The corruption of the judiciary that wants to destroy the third arm of government can be deemed, and in fact I will deem it, as something that is affecting the security of the country,” he said.
Nigerians back Buhari over arrest of judges
Those arguments were going on even as some Nigerians raced to the occasion expressing their support for the Buhari administration over the arrest of some judges for alleged corruption and professional misconduct..
In the same vein, they condemned the threat by the leadership of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) on the matter.
Those who made the call in interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Makurdi on Sunday, urged President Muhammadu Buhari not to succumb to pressure but to ensure that the judges faced the law.
The Department of State Services (DSS) on Friday night arrested some judges for alleged corruption.
The agency stated that it recovered huge sums in local and foreign currencies from the judges
Following their arrest, the leadership of NBA headed by Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN). at a news conference, demanded the judges’ immediate release on the ground that due process was not followed in their arrest.
The association said, “It is not the responsibility of DSS to arrest judges.’’
It described the action of the agency as unconstitutional and a way of intimidating the judiciary and undermining its independence.
“President Muhammadu Buhari should order immediate release of the affected judges or there would be consequences,” NBA said.
Some of those who responded to the threat accused NBA of encouraging corruption, adding that it was an indication that “corruption is fighting back” against the anti-corruption campaign of the government .
They said the action of NBA had vindicated the president, who had said that the judiciary was a major hindrance to the fight against corruption.
A resident of Makurdi, Mr. James Audu, wondered why NBA would ask the Federal Government to immediately release the judges.
“I am not sure I understand why the NBA is asking the Federal Government to order the immediate release of some judges that have been arrested over allegations of corruption.
“Were they arrested without warrants? Is it unlawful to investigate a judge on allegations of corruption? Or are our laws meant to be obeyed by some people while others breach them and go free?
“Do judges also enjoy immunity under our laws? Are judges not subject to our laws?
‘’Is there no rule of law here or are judges above the law?” he asked.
Another resident, Miss Shidoon Agbe, said the judges should be prosecuted according to the law.
Agbe said that it was a shame that a respected legal body, such as NBA, would allow itself to be used by corrupt politicians to achieve their goals.
“The Nigerian Constitution does not make provision for judges’ immunity neither does it exclude them from investigations.
‘’In fact, even the Mr President can be investigated while still in office,’’ she said.
Agbe said that in other parts of the world judges were arrested and tried like other citizens.
“Few months ago, South African President was investigated and tried even with his immunity and nobody complained about it.
‘’Examples of cases of this nature are too many to mention.
“This is a legal issue, all we expected of NBA during their press conference was for them to clearly quote the various sections of the constitution that prohibit security agencies from investigating and arresting judges,” she said.