Judges’ Arrest: Cold war between executive and judiciary escalates

buhari-and-cjn

  • Presidential C’ttee wants indicted judges suspended
  • We wont suspend them yet, says NJC

By Ise-Oluwa Ige

A cold war between the executive and the judiciary arms of government with serious implications for the nation’s fledgling democracy is escalating.

The institutional war arose from the penultimate weekend arrest of top judges in Abuja,  Port-Harcourt, Gombe and other locations by operatives of Department of State Service.

The judges’ houses were raided while huge sums of monies in different currencies were allegedly recovered from them before they were arrested and whisked away like common criminals to the Yellow House office of the DSS to obtain confessional statements from them.

The arrest had generated a global controversy for more reasons than one because it was unprecedented in the political annals of Nigeria.

The development had made the National Judicial Council (NJC) headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmoud Mohammed to summon an emergency meeting for Tuesday last week even as the DSS was moving to arraign the judges including two justices of the Supreme Court.

The DSS, it was learnt, was to obtain remand order to keep the affected judges in its custody for at least 21 days while its investigation lasted but wise counsel changed the course of events.

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The umbrella body of lawyers in Nigeria, even though it suffered a crack in trying to reach a position, had criticised the executive of not having regard for rule of law in the performance of its duties while some Nigerians had seen the development as an onslaught against the judiciary and not corruption as the Presidency would want Nigerians to believe.

The issue was so controversial that the Council (NJC) itself was divided at its meeting and could not reach a consensus on which position to take until after three days.

The meeting was supposed to last few hours but they could not arrive at any meaningful consensus until the third day.

Even though the NJC following emerging facts had refused to suspend the affected judges yet, two of the judicial officers had threatened to sue the executive arm of government over alleged illegal invasion of their houses and breach of their rights.

A lawyer had already slammed a N50billion suit against the executive over the matter while the two judges of the Federal high court bench threatening to sue had reportedly resumed sitting in their courts while the allegations still hung on their necks like the Sword of Damocles.

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Even with all of these, the DSS said it was still waiting on the National Judicial Council (NJC) to suspend the affected judges so that trial could commence.

The Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) has also waded in, calling on the National Judicial Council (NJC) to suspend judges indicted of corruption while they are on trial.

Executive Secretary of the Committee, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye made the call on Monday during an interactive session with newsmen in Abuja.

He noted that judges suspected of complicity in financial crimes should not preside over cases in court, adding that the honorable thing to do was for the NJC to give the judges the opportunity to defend themselves.

Owasanoye said: “The reason is because all over the world, if a Judge is appearing before another court on criminal charges, all cases before him should be shut.”

In his comment on the matter, Chairman of the committee, Professor Itse Sagey said “Any judge who is corrupt is committing a crime against humanity. He destroys our confidence on the State; it encourages people to resort to self-help.”

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He said those who had criticized the Department of State Services (DSS) did not look at the implications of judicial corruption, explaining “if an issue comes up, the judge is the ultimate.”

Sagey pointed out that: “There are some governors who did not win election, yet judges gave vent to that.

“If the judiciary is corrupt, it is the only body that has the power of life and death over Nigerians,” he added

But the judiciary was also of the view that it is the NJC that has the constitutional powers to discipline judges and where a judge had done something wrong, the discipline procedure should start with the NJC before arrest.

Although the executive had cited reluctance by the judiciary to deal with its own as reason for the arrest, both the judiciary and the executive are stuck to their positions which appears a war of superiority between the two arms of government.

Time will tell who will blink first.

But the development, definitely, is not for the good of the country as it has consequences for the nation’s fledgling democracy.