The Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) has condemned the arrest of and assault on some judges across Nigeria following the raid of their residences by the Department of State Services (DSS).
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.
Chino Obiagwu, National Coordinator LEDAP 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.
"LEDAP calls on the federal government to immediately investigate and punish security officials implicated in this unwholesome act. It was wrong to execute improperly issued and illegally executed search warrants at night on judges, and in any event, without prior recourse to the head of the judiciary. The constitutional principle of separation of powers is sacrosanct and once eroded, will drive Nigeria to a tyranny" Obiagwu said.
Joseph Otteh, Director, Access to Justice (AJ) said that the raids attacked the independence of 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", Otteh said.
According to him, the form which the raids and arrests took is degrading, abrasive and traumatizing.
"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".
The SSS said that the raids were part of corruption investigations even as major stakeholders have often expressed concerns about corruption in Judiciary and the slow progress being made to tackle it.
According to the AJ coordinator, if the government or its agencies have any suspicions against Judges, the government is entitled to pursue these complaints in a procedurally fair and legitimate way.
Otteh further 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? Is this government serving notice that it will not anymore observe restraints or protocols that regulate inter-branch relationships, but will ride rough-shod over everything in its way, including the due process rights afforded by the Constitution to anyone and for everyone?
"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 authorized these assaults on judges and their households are disciplined.
“The government must further address concerns that its agencies may be using the investigation of corruption allegations as a means to cowed judges, and cajole them into silence, or as a way to intimidate Judges who question the administration’s fledging respect for the rule of law and court orders. The President must assure Nigerians that the Judiciary will never again, during his administration, be denigrated in this manner."
In his reaction, Ebun Adegboroye said that this is full blown dictatorship now 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 yesterday (October 7) till the early hours of Saturday, when armed detachments of the State Security Service (“SSS”) reportedly stormed the residences of a number of Judges (and Justices of the Supreme Court) in various locations in Nigeria, (Gombe, FCT 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 as it has been witnessed by media footage.
SSS 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). The arrests occurred in the early hours of the morning of today.
Search warrants were reportedly secured for the search of the premises of some, as not all the Judges/Justices whose homes were invaded were presented with arrest warrant.