- Says calls for suspension of arrested serving judges wrong
- DSS’ raiding of judges home breaches procedure
- What serving judges must do when litigants attempt to induce them to pervert justice
Second longest serving Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais has backed Justice Mahmud Mohammed-led National Judicial Council (NJC) over its insistence not to suspend serving judges whose houses were raided by operatives of the Department of State Service between October 7and 8, saying there was no basis for such decision.
Uwais who faulted the position of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on the suspension of the judges also dismissed the midnight raiding of the judges’ homes as strange to procedure and tradition.
In an exclusive interview with Bar and Bench Watch, the respected jurist also gave an insight into what serving judges or the captain of the judiciary must do when litigants visit their houses to pervert justice.
He also spoke about the challenges the prosecution might have in securing conviction with the evidence gathered by the DSS, a function he said they were not trained to perform and the over all implications of the sting operation on the judiciary.
On the raiding of the judges’ homes, Justice Uwais said it appeared things had changed in the country going by the account of how the operation was conducted as captured by newspaper reports.
He said if the newspaper account was true, he expressed worry that an agency of the executive arm of government would go into such operation without confiding in the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
Uwais who spent 27 years as a justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the longest ever and almost 11 years as the Chief Justice of Nigeria said the DSS approach in the instant case was not the way it used to be before, during and in fact, after his exit from the apex bench in 2006 until now.
His words: “Well, first of all, the way things used to be, I don’t know now because I am not there except what we read in the newspapers. Normally, when we had the police, if somebody, a judge or a member of parliament or a minister of state commits an offence and the police are going after him, what they usually do quietly is that they would go and see the head of the department.
“If he is a minister, they will let the president know about it that so, so minister is suspected to have committed so, so offence, and they will like to arrest him and interrogate him.
“If he is a Senator, they will notify the president of the senate before doing anything. If he is a member of House of Representatives, they will notify the Speaker.
“And if he is a judicial officer, they will notify the Chief Justice in confidence. That was how things were being done.
“But in this particular case, from what I read in the newspaper, the DSS decided to raid the houses of the justices and the chief justice was not informed .
“That is contrary to the laid down tradition. What do they have that they are hiding away from the Chief Justice? A whole Chief Justice! The head of the judiciary. They should have taken him into confidence and tell him that this is the report they have and that this is what they suspect and that they were going to look for evidence. That is how it was being done.
“But in this case, it has been breached. Normal procedure has not been followed. The Chief Justice has been making that point that they are trying to intimidate the judiciary. And it is wrong.
“Each arm of government has its own function. Although they are separate, they are supposed to work together for the betterment of the system.
“So, I quite agree with the Chief Justice there when he said the wrong procedure was used. And when it comes to prosecution, the DSS can’t go to court and prosecute. So, they have to fall back on either the police, or the EFCC or ICPC. So that is the situation as I see it,” he said.
Also commenting on the calls for either suspension or temporary compulsory leave for the affected judges, Justice Uwais said such suggestion was again unknown to procedure and was therefore wrong.
He said he was surprised that such advice would come from the Nigerian Bar Association.
Hear him again: “Yes, the NBA was wrong on that and even the SANs. This is because the National Judicial Council as a body has its own procedure.
“If a judge misbehaves, you are supposed to report to the NJC. When you report to the NJC, it will set up a committee of its own to investigate.
“And in the course of that investigation, they will invite the petitioner and the judge, each one to present his case, his own side of the story. And then, that body will report back to NJC their findings and their own recommendations, whether they feel the judge is guilty of the accusation or not.
“If the judge is guilty of the accusation, the NJC will decide which measure to take which may include dismissal or suspension or whatever.
“If he is not guilty, that is the end of the matter. That is the procedure known to the NJC.
“Now what the bar is saying is that without receiving petition, without investigation, they want NJC to say the justices should not sit. They should just go. It is not done! It is not proper,” he added.
The jurist who also spoke on why Supreme Court has never clamoured for appointment of more justices to the apex bench despite the fact that the constitution allowed a maximum of 22 justices including the CJN called for caution.
The full interview will be published next week Monday. Keep a data with us.