some judges across the country were arrested by officers of the Department of Security Services (DSS) for corruption charges in what has been largely regarded as a sting operation.
Although the jurists have been released on self recognition, the argument on whether or not there was any justification for their arrests and the method applied still rages. Our correspondent, Calista Ezeaku, went to town to speak to some Port Harcourt residents on the burning issue. Our photographer Ken Nwiueh captured their images. Here are some excerpts.
Mrs Mma Ezemba – Businesswoman
I think the way the DSS carried out the sting operation was not proper. These are reputable judges and I think that due process should have played out. First of all, they shouldn’t have even gone to their houses. They should have summoned them. In the military for instance, erring officers are first of all made to face an in-house trial, sanctioned by their own body before any other action is carried out. I want to believe the NJC does the same for judges. So I think they should have been allowed to handle the matter before any other action was taken.
Some school of thought will say, if you side what happened it means you are equally corrupt. I’m not saying what they did, if they did it, is right. If they actually stole money or if monies were paid to them for settlement of cases and all that, that is totally wrong and yes they should be prosecuted. But I still feel due process should have been followed. I feel the way it was done almost looked like a witch hunt. And you see, the effect of this could actually be that the judges will be scared. When they are about to pass judgement they will remember that the president can actually throw them in jail and they may no longer be objective.
So the arrest is not good for the judiciary. And there is separation of power among the three arms of government. Each arm should be allowed to function independently without any over bearing influence of another arm.
Mr. Mike Opukiri – Public Servant
I don’t think there is any justification for the arrest. How can the DSS storm the houses of judges in the midnight to arrest them? The whole thing just looks like a witch hunt. Nobody is saying that judges are immuned or above the law but due process should be followed in doing certain things so that we don’t create more problems trying to solve one.
However, I think the arrests will make some judges that think they are above the law to sit up. But the implication is that judges will not be free in delivering judgments for fear of being arrested.
Mr. Douglas Fubara – Public Servant
I don’t see anything wrong with the arrest, other than the timing. Going at that ungodly hour – 1.00am, to pick somebody who we know cannot evade arrest, somebody you can get any time you want him? That is where I am not happy with the arrest. It should have been done in a more dignified manner.
The judges are not above the law. If they committed any crime, they should be made to face the wrath of the law like every other Nigerian.
Mr. Olalekan Ige – Journalist
Well, there have been arguments to and fro, some in support, and some against. But for me the common denominator in all the arguments is that indeed, there is corruption in the judiciary. It is not contestable. Recently, the NJC sanctioned two judges over allegations of corruption – Justice Samia from Kano State who was accused of demanding N200 million bribe from a litigant. The other one was Justice Auta from Kogi State who collected N197 million from a litigant. He admitted before the NJC that he collected the money.
We also have the case of the Chief Judge of Enugu State who was accused of collecting money from a business man who had vested interest in two cases before the Chief Judge.
So the NJC has actually confirmed that there is corruption in the judiciary. Several judges have been sanctioned by the NJC on account of corruption. Now, how do you go about fighting that corruption? I think that is the bone of contention. The NJC has just ended its meeting and clearly stated that they have the power to sanction any erring judge and that the DSS does not possess the power to storm the houses of judges and justices of the Supreme Court at that time of the night. My own submission is that in the amended version of the administration of Criminal Justice Act, it says you can search anybody’s house at any time of the day at any hour, at any day of the week as long as you have the search warrant. Now, was it right for the DSS to have stormed the house of the judges at that time of the night? DSS has her reasons and only DSS can justify that. If what the DSS did was wrong, then the judges could become billionaires because they can sue the DSS and the federal government and get money for damages. The other side of it is, did the DSS find anything incriminating on them? Are they guilty? Then it means that DSS will also have its own day in court to prove that their action was right. And at the end of the day either of the two sides will certainly get justice.
Couldn’t the arrest have been carried out in a more dignified manner considering the calibre of people involved? Well, we live in a society that has given status to certain class of people. My argument is this: We are all human beings and we are equal before God. Everybody has one soul and because we have one soul each, we should be treated equally. I’m not trying to denigrate the judiciary or the judges but if we have those who have gone against the laws of the land, they should be treated the way they should be treated. Daily, poor innocent Nigerians are arrested and nobody speaks for them, because they have no godfather, because they do not occupy high positions in the society, because they know nobody.
I think we need to have a society that recognises that everybody is equal before the law. I’m sure, if the DSS had gone to the house of a common man nobody would have been crying.
Having said that, let me comment on some peoples’ view that the arrests were a way of trying to cow the judiciary. I don’t think so. The judiciary is still made up of men of integrity, men who are fearless, men who have their sense of dignity, men who know what it means to be in the hallowed chambers of the judiciary. I don’t think it is an attempt to cow them. Only those who are afraid might say this is an attempt to cow the judiciary. To me, I think it will even strengthen the judiciary, No judge worth his salt will be afraid of giving judgement as long as his conscience is clear.
Emeka Onyeka – Lawyer
Well, the justification for the arrest will depend on who wants to analyse the situation, from what standpoint he intends to look at the national disgrace that was perpetuated by an arm of the security agency. Now the legal profession which the judges involved are part and parcel of, has a clearly defined mechanism for dealing with one of their own. If a judge is found to have misconducted himself or have been involved in any criminal activity, the first port of call is the NJC who has the authority to discipline and apply every mechanism as provided in their policy guideline in dealing with one of their own. Now, the judge will be investigated and if found liable for whatever offence, he will be disciplined as appropriate. A good example is what happened in Kano. Justice Auta was suspected to have been involved in duping somebody of certain amount of money. He was investigated, found to be liable. He was dismissed and the NJC even ordered that he should be submitted for prosecution. It means that event, the NJC is not out, at all cost, to defend and protect one of their own who has done something, particularly a criminal offence against the law of the land.
So what is my take on this? The DSS having said they had an in-tell that certain amount of money in local and foreign currencies were in those judges’ possession, what did they need to do? Why didn’t they invite or involve or even make a complain to the NJC? I’m not saying that the judges’ going to negotiate or get money from litigants or anybody to sell justice is nice. I’m totally against that but there are procedures. What they have done bringing cameras, publicising it is what I’m totally against.
On the issue of the time, the new law says they can execute arrest warrant and search warrant any time. That’s the problem, because anytime could mean any hour within the 24 hours of the day. But before now, search warrant was executed between 6 am and 6 pm. Now, if we go by the old provisions of the law, one would have said, why didn’t they wait, lay a siege, keep your surveillance on the alert. There is no way the judge or judges will be in their chambers by 6 a.m or even 6.30 am. Once the day is out, you can just swoop on them. And mind you the people you are doing this to are people who are well experienced. You are not doing it just to any other person. You will have three times the effort to prove what you say you have seen in their places, particularly those of them that were not at home when the so-called money was found on their property. And of cause you can’t do any search without the person being there. So whoever you say you find certain amount of money in his premises and he was not there, can’t it be planted on that person?
And it can’t be wrong entirely to believe that the arrest is a way of cowing the judiciary. We all in this country have seen a lot of judges giving some very contradictory and conflicting judgements. And one would have wondered that this same person who felt that those that have given judgements were induced, why will it be out of place for any other person to think that those giving conflicting judgements to favour the present government were equally induced. I mean it’s a two way thing. If you feel I’m biased for giving a particular position, why wouldn’t I also think you are biased for opposing my own position?
Like I said before I’m all in for anything that will give us a same society. I’m not given to merchandising of justice, you buy and sell justice particularly to the highest bidder. But again, there is the saying that before you come to my eye to remove a speck, you should also think of the lug in your own eyes. Now we are all Nigerians. Those in the judiciary, executive and the legislature, are all Nigerian. Now the question you ask yourself is this, is corruption peculiar or predominant in the judiciary?
The answer is no. What about the executive? The entire members of the cabinet, are they all holy? What has the President done to purge his cabinet of well known corrupt persons?