- Chart a way out for the judiciary
One-time President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Joseph Bodunrin Daudu (SAN) and a former Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Prof Epiphany Azinge (SAN) on Wednesday raised the alarm that last weekend nationwide raiding of judges’ homes and their subsequent arrest constituted a serious threat to the independence of the judiciary and the nation’s democracy.
The duo who took turn to dissect the development on a popular NTA programme called Good Morning Nigeria said that the ignominious raiding and arrest of serving judges like common criminals by operatives of the Department of State Service (DSS) had deflated the judiciary of its air of honour and damaged its sanctity and legitimacy to pronounce on issues.
They argued that while fighting graft in the judiciary is important and crucial to the survival of the nation’s democracy, they said it could be done with tact so that the independence of the judiciary, its integrity and legitimacy would not suffer.
According to former Director-General of NIALS, Prof Azinge (SAN), he said it would have been better to allow NJC conclude on a matter before law enforcement agency is allowed to come in “because the sanctity of the judiciary is very dear to us.
“What is at issue now is the consequences of the DSS’ action. My point is: With the arrest of serving judges and justices of the Supreme Court and their release pending conclusion of investigations, will they still return to the bench and sit as honourable judges and justices?
“After investigation, if you establish guilt, fine. But where you cannot establish any guilt, what happens to those judges and justices?
“To go back to the bench? If they do, they must have lost all the moral authority to sit on the bench. It is a serious matter.
“So, I think the internal mechanism which has been set out using the NJC is a better way of handling this kind of matter rather than using the DSS,” he said
Continued he: “With the recent development, public perception of the judiciary is at its lowest and ebb in the recent times.
“Again, the situation on our hands may create a fearful judiciary in such a way that judges will now be sitting with fear as they will not know what may happen to them next.
“Let us not kill an ant with sledge manner. When the judiciary is destroyed, there is nothing left again.
“Judges can be investigated and prosecuted by following the procedure but let us not destroy the judiciary institution,” Azinge (SAN) said.
On his part, former NBA boss, J. B Daudu (SAN) who shared the opinion of Azinge said it was not in dispute that there has been corruption in the judiciary.
“I was one of the first persons to state that there is corruption in the judiciary. In any event, the judiciary is part of the Nigerian system.
“Nigeria has been recently described as fantastically corrupt. Judiciary is a microcosm of the larger society and corruption is not limited to cash and carry issue alone.
“It extends to even appointment of judges which is predicated on various factors other than merit,” he alleged.
Daudu (SAN) who said the judiciary is presently at the crossroads suggested that “we should go back to the drawing board.
“In the light of the desecration of the judiciary, relevant law should be amended to allow a serving judge to choose to return to the practice,” he said