[dropcap]I[/dropcap] have read of the suggestion by the president of the Nigerian Bar Association to the extent that judges who are currently being investigated for alleged corruption should step aside. The NBA comment is a “suggestion”, because constitutionally, the NBA has no power of discipline over judges and it is not within the aims and objectives of the NBA to assume the power of discipline over judges.
In the case of My Lord, the Hon Justice Ngwuta, he has deposed to an oath, barring the details of the disgusting attempts made by members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to pervert the course of justice, involving two of the party’s serving ministers. Do we ask such a judge to step aside so that the ruling party will laugh over him, or what?
Now, section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution states that every person charged with a criminal offense is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. This presumption of innocence, offered to all citizens of Nigeria, is even in relation to when the citizen has been charged to court, and not speculations and half truths, based on ‘sting’ operations.
In the case of the judges, not a single charge has been filed in court yet, with some proof of evidence, showing some prima facie evidence of the allegations.
Very recently, the ruling APC bared its wicked fangs against the legislative arm, by accusing the leadership of the Senate, of forging its own rules. Eventually, a very frivolous charge was filed in court, with all the fanfare and media hype. The charge has now been withdrawn, for want of evidence. One would have imagined the crisis in the Senate had the leadership bowed to pressure from the APC, for its leadership to step aside, on account of the manifestly frivolous case.
Now it is the turn of judges and all that the NBA can do is to seek to railroad them into compulsory resignation, even without trial.
The NBA is already privy to the decision and stand point of the National Judicial Council, to the extent that the judges will not be suspended based on mere unproven allegations from the DSS, which has now become the security wing of the ruling APC. This decision is binding on the NBA, whose accredited representatives were in attendance at the various sessions of the NJC when its decision was taken.
I noticed that the NBA executives recently visited Aso Rock Villa and they were hosted by the Presidency, and so the latest turn around by the NBA President in capitulating to pressure from politicians and the ruling APC, to disown the judges, who by tradition, are unofficial members of the Bar, bears no justification whatsoever.
The Motto of the NBA is to promote the rule of law and due process, and so, I cannot see how judges who have only been accused of corruption without any proof or criminal charge, can be asked to abandon their constitutional duties because they refused to do the bidding of the ruling APC government and its members.
The NBA is indirectly advocating a system of presumption of innocence, which is contrary to our Constitution. For instance, there have been several allegations arising from the recently concluded NBA elections. There are even cases pending in court. Do we then say that based on these allegations, the NBA President should step aside? Indeed it was after these allegations and court cases that the NBA executives were sworn in and inaugurated.
There is no basis for the suggestion by the NBA President for judges who are being investigated to step aside. It will only open a floodgate for frivolous allegations and petitions against even innocent judicial officers, by litigants who may not be pleased with certain decisions of the judges.
Rather than ask the judges to step aside, the NBA should proceed to constitute a legal team for judges who are presently under trial and then to demand for an independent commission of inquiry, into the weighty allegations of indictment and persecution, made by judges.
We cannot afford a situation whereby politicians who have lost cases before judges would turn around to instigate the law against those judges as a way of punishing them or to get rid of them, to pave the way for their preferred decisions, in political cases. As things are now, judges across the land dare not give decisions unfavorable to the ruling party, or the powers that be, contrary to the established norm that everyone is equal before the law.
The NBA cannot be seen to condone or indeed encourage the intimidation of judges, or the harassment and ridiculing of the judiciary by politicians who have lost cases in the open court, after failing to have their way through attempted corrupt enrichment, of the judges.
The incongruity of NBA’s suggestion is made more manifest when it sees nothing wrong in the Ministers indicted by the judges continuing in office whereas the judges are to step aside. Already, Hon Justice Adeniyi Ademola has withdrawn from the Dasuki case, thus helping to achieve the ultimate design of the APC and the DSS.
The sudden turn around by the NBA does not represent the aggregate opinion of all reasonable lawyers who are lovers of equity, justice, rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
The NBA should be at the forefront of the campaign to ensure that decisions of our courts are not based on or influenced by nocturnal manipulations of politicians and litigants. And with the appeals of States like Abia and Cross River pending for determination in the Supreme Court, one can guess the kind of pressure that My Lords the justices of the Supreme Court will be battling with.
Whereas I support and hold the executives of the NBA in very high regards, there is however no basis for the call for judges being investigated to step aside, given all the circumstances of the cases.
The NBA should rise up to rescue the judiciary from manipulators, from monsters and from predators. The APC will not be the first political party to rule Nigeria, whereby all institutions and persons perceived to be in opposition must be cowed, destroyed and silenced.
And I’m praying fervently and hoping that the NBA will one day brace up to ask the president and his executive team to step aside, for failing to fulfill their campaign promises, for running the economy of Nigeria into recession, for disobedience to orders of courts, for the brutal massacre of innocent Shi’ite and IPOB (Biafra) members, and for several other dictatorial policies of the government.
Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa is a leading human rights lawyer and activist. He is also a clergy with the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Connect with him on Facebook.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.