The level at which corruption has penetrated down deep into our judiciary system is a major worry for President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government as fresh revelation suggest that money allegedly changed hands between some judges and agents of some serving governors on some election cases, before and after the 2015 general elections.
Angst by the development, the Federal Government, through the Department of State Security (DSS), is set to carry out more arrests of judges across the country.
Specifically, the DSS will soon go after judges who served on election petition tribunals., report according to Daily Sun suggests
An “investigations by security agencies showed that money allegedly changed hands between some judges and agents of some serving governors on some election cases, before and after the 2015 general elections, it was gathered yesterday by our source
“In the course of investigation, it was discovered that a serving governor allegedly paid N2 billion to judges who sat on the election petition tribunal and when the matter got to the Appeal Court, the same governor parted with N5 billion.
“The money was paid about three weeks ago.”
Meanwhile, rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana has said the arrested judges are not above the law.
Falana spoke on Television Continental (TVC) in Lagos, yesterday.
“I don’t support the illegal detention of anybody but it must not be limited to lawyers and that is why, unlike our colleagues now, who are shouting from the rooftops, whenever any citizen is detained illegally, we come out; whether you are a poor man, a big man or even a labourer, we don’t limit…
“We don’t discriminate. That was what I was telling my colleagues; let us have a common standard with respect to the treatment of criminal suspects in our country.
“Don’t shout yourself hoarse when big people are arrested or detained because that is discriminatory and that means you are only there to defend the rich and powerful people.”
Asked if the arrests undermined the independence of the Judiciary, Falana replied: “I do not agree with that because the majority of judges in Nigeria are decent, incorruptible and men and women of integrity.
“To that extent, I would not want to believe that the independence of the judiciary has been undermined in any way.
“What we should do very quickly now, as responsible people of the legal profession, is to tidy up our loose ends, strengthen our disciplinary mechanisms, both at the Bar and at the Bench and quickly move against those who are destroying the image of the profession; those denting the integrity of the Judiciary of our country.
“So, we should not engage in any generalisation.
“We shouldn’t hide under this incident to cover up those wallowing in corruption…” Falana said.
He also dismissed talks that the DSS cannot investigate judges for corruption and that the charges are byond the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“Judges are not above the law. With respect to the NJC, most of the allegations are beyond the powers of the NJC. It has no power to investigate allegations of corruption and money laundering.
“So, it is the business of the security services. They’ve forgotten that before any judge is appointed, such oerson is screened by the DSS. The screening is because of the nature of the judges’ work.
“You cannot now turn around and question its authority when such agency investigates you
Elsewhere, rights lawyer, Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa said any fight against corruption must be done in accordance with acceptable standards and principles of law.
“It is highly condemnable for the DSS to be breathing down on the judicial arm of government under the guise of fighting corruption.
“In a democracy, the rule of law prescribes the independence of the judiciary, whereby judges must be allowed the unfettered right of taking decision according to law and according to their consciences.
A constitutional lawyer, Mr Paul Umuzuruigo said the fight against corruption must follow due process.
“Any fight against corruption must be done under the rule of law, and there is no law that authorizes the invasion of the home of a judge at an unholy hour of the night.
“Being public officers, there is no way these judicial officers would have absconded or run away from normal arrest during the day, if need be.
“It is the height of lawlessness and gross intolerance to go about the arrest of judicial officers in the way and manner played out by the DSS,” he told NAN.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Ogun State chapter of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Mr Yinka Folarin told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the incident was a clampdown on the judiciary.
Folarin said the manner in which the DSS officials invaded and broke into the residences of the affected judges violated their fundamental human rights.
“I believe there are laid down rules to effect such arrests and suspect should be treated as such and not as a criminal before conviction,’’ he said.
Secretary of Abeokuta branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Samuel Obafemi also criticised the manner of arrest of the judges and insisted “proper procedure was not followed.
The DSS has not proven that the judges were invited and refused to honour the invitation.”
Similarly, Benson Enikuemehin, a lawyer and former commissioner who represented Ondo State on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) board said arrest of the judges was in tandem with the rule of law.