On Saturday morning we woke to rumours and then news of the arrests of judges including two Justices of the Supreme Court. Lawyers were enraged, the Nigerian Bar Association declared a state of emergency in the legal profession, the National Judicial Council the body constitutionally mandated to discipline judges called an emergency meeting. The Presidency laid low while the State Security Services (SSS) which carried out the raid released a statement indicating alleged cash recoveries from the “sting.”
However a few hours ago, on Sunday, the Presidency broke its silence to reassure both the legal community and the entire nation that the raids were well meaning attempts to rid the nation of corruption, particularly that of the judicial branch.
I will take my point of departure from the President’s press statement. According to the statement the President has received assurances from the SSS that all due processes of law were followed. There was no mention of the concerns of the NBA rather there was a push back against the media, the statement made reference to reports by a section of the media which were giving the Presidency cause for concern.
These causes for concern were not highlighted. I take omission to be deliberate; Mr Garba Shehu is not any body’s novice in the fine arts of media presentation. If something is left out – it is for a reason.
Since Mr. Shehu will not tell us what the Presidency found troubling, we should tell him what any law abiding citizen would find troubling in the midnight raids by the SSS which the Presidency described as a ‘surgical operation against some judicial officers’ which “is targeted at corruption and not at the judiciary as an institution.” Permit me to pause a moment to ponder that.
If this was surgery it was carried out by a roadside butcher. How come the SSS who were allegedly conducting a sting, went to the wrong house. Hon Justice Dimgba’s house. Armed with a search warrant for Hon Justice Okoro and yet, being unable to produce a search warrant for Justice Dimgba and being told they were in the wrong house proceeded to search it any way and stole his draft judgments? Is that how trained surgeons operate? Where is the apology of the SSS or the Presidency for this bungling? If it were an actual surgery, it would amount to cutting a vital organ without sewing it up; the patient would have bled to death.
The same surgical strike arrested judges who had already been disciplined by the National Judicial Council. It would seem somewhat disingenuous to say the least. These judges had already been suspended by the Council with recommendation in the case of the federal judges for the President to sack and prosecute them. They were not on the run. Rather the Presidency preferred to arrest them in the middle of the night when they could have been arrested at any time of day. Two quick questions here and we’ll move on; what kind of sting operation targets a man who has already been suspended for the exact conduct that the sting hopes to entrap him in? Incompetent, if you ask me.
Question number two, what did the Presidency do when the National Judicial Council recommend these judges for dismissal and prosecution. Is there any Government pronouncement whereby the Council’s recommendationa were accepted and action taken by the Government? So why arrest people who could have been invited? Was it a cover for something more sinister?
It is these questions that raise doubts about the conduct of the so-called sting. Anyone familiar with law enforcement operations would know that a sting is a form of entrapment. You lure your suspect to compromise himself with irrefutable evidence. Recently, over there in neighbouring Ghana, Anas Aremayaw Anas an award winning investigative journalist “stinged” more than 34 judges of the Ghanaian High Court when he went to them with offers of money to purchase judgements. The tapes are on the internet for all to watch. That is a sting. Not scaling fences and breaking down doors.
There is a proverb that you do not test the sharpness of a knife on your testes. The Judiciary is a sensitive organ and it is intended to be so. That is why the symbol of the judiciary is a hand holding a pair of scales. Any slight pressure registers on the scales. When a Justice Dimgba tells you (the SSS) on Friday that you should not come to his court again unless you produce a suspect or obey an order of his court and you (the same SSS) knock on his door on Saturday morning at 1am and harass his family unlawfully WITHOUT a warrant, even after his protests, you are loading the scales on one side. You are telling him and others like him that you are able to deal with unpleasant judges if not in the day then at night, if not on real allegations then on fictitious ones. And that is a dangerous sign. Are you telling me that the SSS had placed judges under surveillance but did not even know their addresses?
When the Presidency relies on the SSS (not the Attorney General) for assurances that due process was followed in attacking the Supreme Court, it is worrisome. When the President whom the NJC has requested to dismiss corrupt judges fails or neglects to do so, but instead use the concluded investigation of the NJC as cover for arresting many judges in the middle of the night, it is even more worrisome.
The so-called sting was no sting, it was a mere slap in the face meant to disorientate the judiciary. That is what intelligence officers are trained to do – disorientate the victim in the hope of that something useful will fall from him. It was a fishing expedition. Anas’ foray in Ghana is a classic sting, it took six months and yielded loads of audio and video feeds. Most of the Ghanaian judges were sacked based on incontrovertible evidence. The SSS slap will only provide a long drawn ding dong affair in court, if it ever goest to court and everyone will be able take the side that suits his fancy. The cause of the fight against corruption will not be advanced, instead timid judges will be intimidated to defer to the state.
There is no question that there is corruption in the judiciary as in there is presidency or the legislative branch, but Buhari’s surgery has simply cut a vital artery without identifying what organ it supplies.
Emmanuel Jakpa, is a legal practitioner based in Warri.