- Says DSS never invited S’Court justices before invading their houses
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on Thursday took a swipe at the Department of State Service (DSS) over the arrest of two Justices of the Supreme Court in a commando like style when there was no formal complaint against them or any invitation for probe before the humiliating treatment.
The umbrella association of the Nigerian lawyers also dismissed as illegal and unconstitutional the invasion of the houses of five other serving and suspended judges at midnight under the guise of executing search warrant and warrant of arrest.
President of the NBA, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), who addressed a press conference in Abuja on Thursday said contrary to the claim by the DSS, the two judges of the apex court, Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro, were never invited and there was no formal complaint against them before their homes were raided.
He said, “We have engaged with the NJC and there was no evidence that has been made available to us that suggests that the two justices of the Supreme Court were ever invited or, if, indeed, there was any complaint by anybody against them.
“This is the information we got from the NJC and we don’t have any reason to doubt it. So, where no complaint has been made either by the DSS or by other citizens before this sort of very drastic measures were taken, we do not see any justification for that.
“The Supreme Court and, indeed, other superior courts in Nigeria are part of the judicial institutions of this country and we cannot denigrate them under the guise that we are fighting corruption.
“We must not destroy the institution or expose it to ridicule or disdain and humiliation both locally and internationally because of the allegations against them.
“But in this case, especially in the case of the two justices of the Supreme Court, we have been informed that there was no formal complaints against any of the two before this action was taken.
“With respect to the other five, we have been informed that at least cases of four of them have been dealt with by the NJC and they are being recommended for various disciplinary measures, both to the President and their various governors; and it is not the responsibility of the NJC to remove them as recommended by the NJC.
“The fifth case was pending before the NJC as of the time of this invasion. So, we do not see reason why this sort of military style approach should be adopted in respect of cases that have already been dealt with and disciplinary measures recommended.”
Mahmoud addressed and fielded questions from journalists after an expanded meeting of the association’s Crisis Management Committee set up by the leadership of the association after the incident.
The bar warned that the country’s judiciary should not be exposed to ridicule and disdain by security operatives under the guise of fighting corruption.
Mahmud however said that lawyers in the country would not condone any act of indiscipline among judges and will not shield any judge found to have contravened the law.
The NBA President told journalists that the justification of the action of the DSS by the Presidency was not tenable and asked the Presidency to always act within the ambit of the law.
He said the rule of law was compromised, in the way and manner the houses of the judges were invaded by the DSS operatives because under the constitution, they have no power to dabble into economic matters as they did in the arrest.
On the claim that the NJC did not act on the intelligence report by the DSS on the judges, the NBA president said that the NJC is not accountable or answerable to any organ of government including the DSS.
“It is not our view that the DSS should ask the NJC to make available to it the copies of disciplinary proceedings against judges for its vetting. The NJC is not answerable to the DSS, It is not under its control and supervision ”
He maintained that the NBA was and is still not against criminal investigation of judicial officers but that such action must be conducted in line with the rule law and that any judge found wanting should be subjected to the laws of the land , but we do not feel that the strategies of the DSS was proper”
The DSS had, in what it called a sting operation, arrested Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro, both of the Supreme Court; the suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Others arrested were a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike; and Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division.