Gen. Idada Don Ikponmwen (rtd) was the Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, and a legal practitioner based in Benin City. He was a delegate to the last National Conference. Idada who had participated in the arrest and prosecution of high profile Nigerians over corrupt practices spoke with PATRICK OCHOGA on the recent arrest of some Judges by the Department State Services (DSS).
Looking at your background as a legal practitioner of many decades, what was your initial reaction when operatives of the Department of State Services, (DSS) arrested some Judges on alleged corrupt practices?
I will tell you very frankly that it was a shocking and disappointing news but it was not surprising to me .I had over the years raised this issue at a lecture hosted by the Nigeria Bar Association, Benin Branch, lecture at the alumni association of Obafemi Awolowo University two years ago and in other functions where I was invited as guest speaker, that there are a lot of problems with our Judiciary and that the Judiciary ,more than any organ of government ,should not accommodate corrupt practices or corrupt judges being the last hope of the common man. I have no problem in pointing out or exposing corrupt judges, it is a duty that must be performed by any government that wants to cleanse the society and put it on a path of progress and when we say that it is wrong for judges to accept bribe and pervert Justice, it is not an attack on the judiciary as an institution. We are attacking individuals who are behaving in a perfidious manner. I am surprised how some Nigerians will abandon substance and be pursuing the shadow. What is the substance? If a judge of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal can stoop so low as to accept and accumulate money to the tune of hundreds of millions in their houses, then, what are we stressing the issue of when and how they were arrested? As a trained detection investigation manager, arrest is an exercise of force, you don’t beg people to submit to arrest and they must be in many cases the element of surprise because if you lose the surprise you lose the case. Do you tell a man who has accumulated money in his house that you are coming? In doing so, you lose the case.
I was a crack detective in the Army, I headed the SIB in the Army, I was provost Marshal, during my period as the commander in the SIB. We arrested so many so called untouchables in the Army, Police and banks and some of these period coincided with President Buhari’s earlier tenure and we contributed seriously to the no nonsense posture of the first Buhari’s administration. We invaded their houses and got important evidence for their prosecution through that surprise raid, those are normal and it has nothing to do with the rule of law. What is rule of law? This is the problem over the years, different people use rule of law to justify their action, good people use it, and bad people use it. But the rule of law that I know is that is everybody is subject to the same law. The law in its making is predictable and known. In Nigeria who doesn’t know about the existence of the State Security Service, who doesn’t know that the officer of the DSS exercise the same power of superior police officer including the power of arrest, power of investigation. Even though it is known that their job is mainly security based, you and I know that security is capable of wider meaning than criminal actions, large scale crime that affect the nation’s economic health, fraud that endangers the Justice administration in Nigeria. How do you differentiate between those type of cases. The ordinary person is seeing it as strictly security, they are not. The establishment of DSS by the National security Act in Nigeria which was enacted in 2004 is such that the President can use the DSS to investigate any security breach, and he can assign any other duty to the DSS, the command of the DSS has direct access to the President and the other way round.
If the President has the power to use the DSS and power to investigate, much as I am not against the clarity or delineation of roles for the various law enforcement agencies at the same time to be dwelling on the fact that DSS did it or that they went there at midnight, are not issues of the moment, Nigerians should be happy, that for once, government has lived up to its expectation by picking up people in high places who got involved in very unwholesome transactions. And if at the end of the investigation the allegation is not true, good luck to those involved. But I cannot for one minute imagine that a state organ like DSS will want to victimize any or couple of Judges. Why didn’t they come to arrest Judge in Benin here whom I know is upright and can’t be influenced. We have been hearing some of the subterranean activities of these Judges before now. Is it not in Nigeria that they say Ibori had no case to answer? Is it not in Nigeria that the Supreme Court interpreted the resource control law and defined the territorial boundary of state to be the water mark which was completely unknown to Nigeria legal lexicon? We have angrily watched at some of these happenings. We have some good Judges no doubt and we have the bad ones too and they must be fished out and dealt with if the society must genuinely fight corruption. Kudo’s to Buhari. I believe that Nigerian must give useful meaning to the interpretation of the rule of law
But some of your colleagues have argued that the clampdown on corrupt members of the Judiciary was an attempt to arm-twist and intimidate another arm of government to get favorable court rulings?
That is an absolutely unattainable argument. The only thing that I know and I have said so many times, is that the pursuit for the battle against corruption must not have sacred cows , it must be applied to everybody regardless of which ever political party; whether they are friends to the President or his brothers or sisters. I was glad to hear the Vice President say this week that even the President’s friends found to be involved in fraud will not be spared, I urged this government to continue this fight against corruption without looking at anybody’s face. I don’t believe it is selective.
The National Judicial Commission has been blamed for shielding some of these corrupt Judges, what is your reaction?
Yes, the NJC has been too accommodating in my view. There is no way the NJC will not know the bad eggs in its fold. Sometime in the past, late Gen. Sani Abacha fished out some of these Judges and dealt with them. I have the greatest respect for the Judiciary as an institution but I believe they have not done enough at the same time and I must urge them even as senior lawyer of over 36 years, to do more than they have done in the past.
Could that be why we are seeing some conflicting Judgements, especially on the PDP crisis?
I can’t say that for every conflicting judgement money must have been given out. But I can tell you that when money starts changing hands truth becomes evasive. You can’t take money from litigants and still go ahead and have the conscience to make pronouncements against them. So, once you are influenced, you are influenced and if a judge who is influenced makes a judgement which has no justification or legal basis then you are bound to have another conflicting judgement from another judge. I will say yes some of the conflicting judgment we have been getting in this country can be due to some judges soiling their hands.
Where will you say the Judiciary got it wrong?
Well, I joined the Army in 1968, I was commissioned into the regular Army in 1971, and military regime started in 1966. Even during military regime, Nigerian courts were known to be effective and fearless. I remembered clearly the case of Lakumi and other cases where the Judiciary came down on the executive to say what they did was not right. Lakumi was a classic case. I think this corruption has continued to build up especially after handing over to the civilian. Judiciary is part of the society and if corruption has become pervasive little wonder Judges have become corrupt. This is a problem that even in Africa corruption has become a cankerworm. That is why people are saying corruption must be fought from the root.
The Federal House of Representative has called for a declaration of state of emergency on kidnapping. What is your take?
State of emergency simply means get back on track and take decisive action by dealing with the problem. It is a welcomed call. The security and welfare of the people are the primary purpose of government and I am beginning to think that our criminal Justice system should be more relaxed; this burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt in criminal cases, has become necessary to be looked into as they do hold much weight in civil law countries. Let the accused person prove that he is not guilty; perhaps we should be able to look at such things. I totally support the call for a declaration of state of emergency.