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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Crackdown On Judges: Why I Will Not Run With The Cheering Crowd 

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[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ations are built by leaders but nations can be destroyed by leaders. For leaders to build or destroy a nation, they will have the tacit support of a critical segment of society. History is replete with leaders who build their nations and also leaders who destroyed their nations. As citizens of our great country, it is within our control to support our leaders to either build Nigeria or destroy our nation. The choice is ours.

Nigeria is under a democratic leadership, the type that requires a president to belong to a political party. In one party systems issues are less complex but in a multi-party system like ours, leadership becomes more complicated, especially as members of a ruling party do not see anything wrong with the government. Whatever the government does is right. The common parlance is “It is our government”.

Is the president, or indeed, the government always right? The answer is no, but the government must be supported at all cost because “it is our government”. There is no doubt that Nigeria is reeling under the burden of “it is our government” mentality.

Dictators that have destroyed their nations always start with subtle intrigues. They take one step after the other, trampling on the rights of citizens. At the beginning, they are usually supported by the people because beautiful reasons are always advanced. With time, they grow out of proportion and become a problem to the society, consuming even those that support them.

Following the State Secret Service, SSS or DSS, arrest of senior judicial officers, a number of people have appeared on television to justify the arrest. Although some of them are experienced lawyers, their discussion of the issue has been so absurd. They even deliberately change the narrative. Even those who present TV programmes have been recruited to change the narrative. They generate lead questions to discussants and sometimes even suggest suitable words for them. They have all joined in the bizarre newspaper trials of Nigerians.

As far as they are concerned, the Judges are corrupt Q.E.D. The SSS are the investigators, prosecutors, and have also delivered the judgement.

I listened to some members of the federal government’s committee on corruption and I was extremely sad. I was saddened not because of what they said, after all they are working for the government; but because some of them are about 70-years-old, professors, and senior advocates of Nigeria, SAN. One expects that they will look the president eyeball to eyeball and tell him to start the corruption war with some of his ministers and Senior Aides that have had reports and serious allegations made against them.

A Judicial Commission of Inquiry has indicted Amaechi, the former governor of Rivers State and present minister of transportation. There is the issue of MTN bribing allegation hanging on the neck of a top officer of Government working in the State House. There are also reports of N250m used to clear grass in IDP Camps when the IDPs have no food to eat.

These and many other issues are in the air but a member of the committee proudly told Nigerians on an AIT morning programme on Wednesday, October 12, 2016 that until two judges are sentenced for corruption, Nigerians will not take the government serious. If such senior citizens cannot tell Mr. President that until he clears his house, Nigerians cannot take his anti-corruption war serious then they should resign.

Are they there because of the allowances or they are on that committee to help reduce corruption in Nigeria?
This government has cleared a chief of army staff who owns properties in Nigeria and Dubai, claiming that they were procured from savings and sales from a snake farm but a Supreme Court Justice is under arrest for possessing €5,600 in his house?

An online newspaper mentioned properties owned by one minister in Abuja and the US, but there was no query for the minister who just left government. Charity begins at home. The corruption war must also start at home.

No one is saying judges enjoy immunity. Nigerians know that the constitution provides immunity for only holders of four offices in the land – the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors. If a judge while travelling out of this country is caught with hard drugs, surely the NDLEA will arrest him. They will not need the permission of the NJC to arrest him. Judges know that they will subject themselves to searches at the airports.

Also while coming back to the country if a judge is found with contraband goods, the customs service will apprehend him. If a judge wakes up and uses a stick to club his house help to death, surely he will be arrested by the police without any kind of clearance from the NJC.

What Nigerians are against is the circumstances and manner of the arrest and the nature of cases these judges have been presiding over before their arrest. It is extremely embarrassing and ridiculous for Abdullahi Garba, a director in the SSS who spoke to the nation to describe the incident as a “sting operation”.

Is the SSS trying to deceive Nigerians or calling us illiterates? Or could it be that the director of the SSS does not know what to classify as “sting operation”?

In law enforcement, a sting operation is a deceptive but carefully researched operation designed to catch a person committing a crime. Generally, a law enforcement officer or co-operative member of the public play a role as a criminal partner or potential victim and go along with a suspect’s wrongdoing. A common example is the issue of marked money.

One gets worried when journalists and lawyers also continue to describe it as a “sting operation”. It is like Adolf Hitler’s belief that when you say a lie one thousand times it becomes the truth. No matter how the DSS describes their operation, there are basic questions they must answer for the citizens of this country to understand the motive behind the operation.

Those hired to speak for them and the believers of “it is our government” must also provide the answers.
The issues include:

1. Why was it better to arrest them in the night between 9pm and 4am?

2. Why must all the Judges and Justices be arrested on the same day across the country?

3. Why did the SSS mention the total amount recovered from the judges but refused to mention how much was found with individual Judges?

4. In Port-Harcourt, the SSS knew the total amount of money the judge had even when they did not gain access into his house.

5. Why were the arrests effected on a Friday night?

6. Can the SSS tell us that all the judges that have been giving favourable judgements to the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, are not corrupt?

This government should know that not all Nigerians suffer from amnesia or are oblivious of what is happening around us. There are so many questions begging for answers in this saga.

The SSS claimed it was a sting operation, that means they knew the movement of the judges. Why arrest them at such ungodly hour? Whether there is an allegation of corruption against them or not, these people live in their homes. They are not armed robbers who hide or move from one brothel to another. Whether judges or ordinary citizens, is it right to arrest them at such ungodly hour?

In all civilised nations this kind of treatment is given only to suspected armed robbers, drug cartels and bandits not to ordinary people who live in their houses. Anyone who justifies this act by the SSS is manifestly justifying a civil and social wrong.

This is a nation that criminals wearing uniforms of security personnel have been raiding people in the night claiming to be government officers sent to search houses alleged to have drugs. Through that process foreigners and Nigerians have been robbed. If the SSS will also operate at that time how will people tell the difference between criminals and law enforcement agents.

In addition, going by the claims of the SSS, one is left with the impression that in Port Harcourt, an insider must have informed them that $2 million was taken to the house of the Judge. Since the SSS carried out the raids across the country simultaneously, did they also get similar information as regards the other judges?

The SSS also insinuated that one of the judges was caught by the CCTV in a supermarket collecting bribe. Was the bribe collected that same day of the raid?

And if the SSS has evidence as clear as a judge caught on camera why not approach the NJC? The SSS proudly announced to Nigerians how they recovered €5,600 from a justice. Is that reasonable? Anyone who undergoes several oversea trips will have some foreign currencies in his house. These judges travel abroad during their vacations and they attend various meetings and conferences abroad. Some have children working abroad and doing well, so what is €5,600!

A friend told me that he was on a British Airways flight in which three children of a top SSS operative travelled first class. What is the cost of a first class BA ticket and how much will each child carry as travel allowance? This same person is definitely one of those in the SSS who authorised the arrest of a judge for having €5,600 in his residence with his wife and other grown-ups.

If some people cannot see this as an intimidation gravitating towards dictatorship, then they should go and read the history of dictators. The report of the commission of inquiry into the violation of Human Rights in Uganda from October 9, 1962 to January 25, 1986 under Idi Amin is an interesting document to start with. There is even an interesting coincidence, in that the chief justice of Uganda, Hon. Justice Kiwanuka was kidnapped and killed .

I believe one day, one government will also set up a commission of inquiry into the Human Rights abuses from May 29, 1999 to a date in the future. That is why those in power must know that they may have a date with history.

Some people continue to justify the way these judges were brutalised because of allegation of corruption against them. I beg to disagree. The SSS does not need to break down the walls of a house in the night to arrest any citizen. I will be very surprised if the government under-rates the impact of this arrest on the image of this country and the attendant effect on the economy.

No one wants to live or invest in a country where if armed robbers do not break into your home at night, law enforcement operatives will break your walls and arrest you as if you are a bandit or drug lord. Even if we are under the spell of “it is our government”, we should try to help our leaders build a Nation we will all be proud of. The three arms of government must complement each other for our Nation to develop. Unfortunately, the National Assembly is not up to the task.

Aristotle believed that man is a political animal so I am not expecting a man to be politically inert irrespective of the office he holds but it is only in Nigeria that a card carrying member of a political party will be appointed to head a sensitive and serious intelligence service such as the DSS. When that appointment was made, some Nigerians expected members of the National Assembly to react but they kept mute. The DSS operatives have been breaking into houses across the country at will.

In most cases, nothing was found in these houses yet they leave behind a myriad of broken suitcases, boxes, cabinets, any door and anything locked by the homeowners. Is this the way the DSS should operate?

By law, the Senate screens the prospective holders of some offices but even for offices not expressly provided by law, the National Assembly can raise issues if the President appoints someone that is not competent or not expected to hold the office. Unfortunately, the Nigerian Senate is under the spell of “it is our government”.

People have been appointed to hold offices that required Senate screening but assume such offices before names are sent to the Senate and nothing happens. In a normal society, if there is a vacancy, someone within the organisation acts pending parliamentary clearance. We have a minister in the federal cabinet who does not possess the “ordinary level” qualification, the minimum academic requirement to be a minister of the Federal Republic but the Senate cleared the individual without due diligence to be a minister. It is only the Nigerian Senate that can permit this kind of appointment.

When one wrong step is taken and it is allowed, it gives room for the second, third wrong steps to be taken then one is directly encouraging dictatorship that will consume us as a nation in the long run. People have been complaining that the SSS and the EFCC are operating as departments of the ruling party.

The Federal High Court and Supreme Court justices and judges houses have been invaded by the SSS at night and the walls and doors broken to arrest them and some people are saying that it is acceptable and good. For these people, I am praying that one day in their lives these agencies should break into their homes at 1am to arrest them or a relation staying with them on the suspicion of stolen money or some other crime.

In all that we do, we must follow our laws and due process. A nation that does not follow her laws will not develop and will not be respected among the committee of nations.

In Nigeria today, if you are a politician, irrespective of your atrocities as long as you cross over to the APC you become a saint.

Let be clear that I abhor corruption in the judiciary because what is being sold is justice.We must kick bribe takers out of our justice system through due process of law.

Yinka Odumakin is a political activist and national publicity secretary of Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afrenifere.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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