Lawyers have an unfounded pride and arrogance alien to other professionals in Nigeria. As members of the judiciary, the last arbiter of disputes, it confers on them the feeling of invincibility, as untouchables.
The controversy surrounding last week’s invasion of the homes of some Justices in Nigeria over allegations of corruption is yet to dissipate. Perceptions of Lawyers on the matter are varied. Separately, they either fault or endorse the actions of the DSS as lawfully executed and in compliance with due process.
Nigerian Bar Association’s (NBA) President Mr. Abubakar Mahmud (SAN) addressed another press conference within the week on the same issue. But the NBA vaguely harped on the illegality of the manner of the “raids”, without disclosing relevant laws the DSS contravened for clarity.
NBA’s insistence is coming, much as prominent lawyers in the country exonerated the DSS and the Presidency of compromising any law. Among them, a renowned legal luminary, Mr. Itsey Sagay, a professor of Constitutional Law, did not only agree with the alleged pervasive corruption in Nigeria’s judiciary, but directly accused senior Lawyers as the masterminds. The erudite Professor was specific that NBA is deprived of any rectitude to slam the DSS or President Muhammedu Buhari.
Regrettably, the NBA is doing nothing or little to counter this allegation. It prefers to grandstand, nurtured by the feeling that at worse, the matter would still terminate in courts or back to the judiciary.
They have continued to submit assertively that the DSS’s “arrests and detention of two Supreme Court Judges and five other Justices of the Federal High Courts was unlawful and unconstitutional.” The NBA is consistent that the raid on the homes of the judges at such ungodly hour of the night, by veiled security operatives was improper, “crude and uncivilized”.
The latest outbursts by NBA raised these concerns to wit: (1) constitutionally, the DSS has no mandate “to dabble into economic matters”. (2) The lawful duties of the DSS is confined to issues of internal security and terrorism.(3) The National Judicial Council (NJC) is not under the control and supervision of the DSS and its dissatisfaction with the outcome of NJC’s actions on the intelligence report sent to it or not, it is immaterial. (4) NBA’s investigation indicated that the two Supreme Court Justices were neither invited nor had any complaint lodged against them and (5) Complaints against the four Federal High Court judges have been handled by NJC and recommendations made for their punishment and the case of the Fifth Judge still pending with the NJC.
However, devoid of sentiments, there are fundamental issues the NBA’s sustained belligerence with the action of the DSS over the crackdown on judges. A Lawyer and convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD), Mr. Inibehe Effiong has extensively provided useful insights into the legalities or possible infringements of the law on the part of the DSS.
To start, the DSS or SSS’s functions are embedded in the National Security Agencies Act of 1986. Its main mandates as contained in Section 3 of the Act, is internal security, which the Section has outlined. But there is also a proviso that apart from detection and nipping threats to internal security, the SSS shall perform “Such other responsibilities affecting internal security within Nigeria as the National Assembly or the President, as the case may be, may deem necessary.”
Like His Holiness, Pope Francis said recently, Corruption is the worse form of terrorism on humanity. Once a judicial system is compromised by the corrupt acts of its members, it does not only erode public confidence in approaching the courts. It fails to offer prospects of consolation of remedial solace to aggrieved parties seeking legal redress.
In shunning the courts the masses could resort to lawlessness and anarchy to settle scores. And mass violence is a veritable means of threat to internal security. The President has the noble responsibility to cause the DSS to investigate any institution or individual, whose action is reasonably assessed as likely to cause such security breach.
Additionally, one must not be a lawyer to discern the difference between “economic matters,” as NBA qualifies it and corruption or financial crimes. NBA’s fluid explanation that the Constitution has not empowered the DSS to “dabble into economic matters,” betrays the desperation to side the judges’ alleged wrongdoings.
The Judges tribulation stems from the suspicion of collection of bribes to alter judgments, as the various huge sums of money in local and foreign currencies in their houses could possibly suggest. It is a crime alright; but not of any “economic matter” dimension as claimed by NBA.
The NBA’s claims that by law, NJC cannot subordinate itself to the scrutiny of the DSS might be true. But hence the NJC is not a court of law; can the NBA convince Nigerians that the NJC has powers to entertain matters of financial crimes or corruption over judges? The NBA admitted that the NJC received intelligence reports on four of the suspected judges; acted on it and recommended punishment to the appropriate authorities for action, while the case of the fifth judge is still pending with the council.
The bottom-line in the juxtapositions remain that it is extremely hard (but not impossible) to exculpate the suspected judges from culpability, as confirmed by the NJC and further reinforced by the evidence of amazing cash the DSS found in their houses. In other climes, suspected criminals are publicly despised.
Nonetheless, to seek to excuse the duo of Supreme Court Justices, His Lordships Sylvester Ngwuta and Iyang Okoro from suspicion on account that no invitation was extended to them or complaint lodged against them is a huge joke. By its nature, the DSS operate under cover and must not necessarily wait for public complaints before they perform their statutory duties. And some complaints could be secret to protect the informer.
Besides, assuming the DSS invited the Justices for interrogation, is it likely they would have responded with the questionable cash, DSS sting operations discovered in their houses?
The DSS has claimed it obtained a search warrant before embarking on the official duty, which must have been issued by a lawful court. In effect, the desperation by the NBA to fault the Presidency and the DSS, but throw generous support to the alleged misconduct of some judges is a dangerous blind solidarity and threat to democracy. The body of the Bar is creating an impression of judges as human beings who are too saintly and infallible. It is far from reality.
The judiciary is the last bastion of public law and order through impartial adjudications. In any nation, where its judiciary kowtows to pecuniary interests outside of justice, the state is on the route to perdition.
— Ibekwe, an anti-corruption crusader writes from Enugu State.