The International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, is resolute in its earlier position that the late night or ungodly hour invasion and attacks on the homes of serving Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and Justices and Judges of the Court of Appeal and Federal High Court by the operatives of the SSS; not only amounts to late night armed robbery, burglary and abduction, but it is also democratically disastrous and constitutionally catastrophic. All efforts by the Buhari Administration and the National Judicial Council led by retiring CJN, Hon. Mahmud Mohammed to justify the illegalities or probate and reprobate; are totally dead on arrival and efforts in futility.
While we totally submit that a corrupt Judge, morally speaking, is worst than a violent mad man running amok with a sharp dagger in a crowded market place; but catching the same corrupt Judge or roping in innocent others for political vendetta; without strictly following laid down procedures; is as worst as being a corrupt Judge; and a horrendous crime against the society, the victim and the constitution (1999 Constitution and its subsidiaries). Rescuing the Judiciary from further bastardization by the Buhari Administration is therefore a major task or challenge facing the incoming Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
As at the time of these violent raids, none of these Judges was under any criminal investigation in Nigeria or any part thereof. The only exception is that of Hon Justice Mauzu Pindiga of the Gombe State High Court. Hon Justice Pindiga had been having a running battle with the authorities of the SSS, whom he had earlier in the year (2016), openly accused of attempts to intimidate and influence him to derail from his sworn duty of being a serving Judge, as it concerns the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which he headed, but was politically removed and replaced.
He later spoke publicly and revealed how he was commanded and summoned by the SSS to “appear before it in connection with a matter he handled in Kaduna in 2009” and that the said communications between him and the said SSS officials took place while he was serving as the chairman of the Rivers State Governorship Election Tribunal; linking his political removal to his refusal to be influenced and intimidated from performing his job as a serving Judge.
For the avoidance of doubt, Hon Justice Mauzu Pindiga’s quoted revelation which he has not denied or recanted till date is as follows: “Two weeks before I was removed as chairman of the Tribunal, I got a call from an unknown number, asking for an appointment for us to meet in Kaduna. And I asked, what for? And the caller said, it’s on a need to know basis that the details of the meeting would be made known to me in Kaduna. And I declined. The next was a call from the DSS, saying they were all expecting me at meeting in Kaduna and demanded why I turned down the appointment.
And I said, I’m a chairman of a Tribunal, and do not have the luxury to attend meetings especially one without an agenda. And the caller from DSS said there was a petition of fraud against me, in a case I handled in Kaduna in 2009. And I asked him to charge me accordingly, in line with the extant laws. I was called again by another caller; who apologized to me, on behalf of the DSS and offered to compensate me for the harassment I received from the DSS, and rescheduled another meeting, in Kaduna. And I declined again. And the next was a letter removing me as the Chairman of the Rivers State governorship petitions tribunal, and replacing me with Justice (Suleiman) Ambursa.
As is the practice, I offered to brief Justice (Suleiman) Ambursa, on the proceedings so far, but he said that won’t be necessary that he has been following the case. Now, on the judgment delivered by Justice (Suleiman)Ambursa; it will be unethical and unprofessional to denigrate, or condemn the judgment of a contemporary colleague. However, the Supreme Court has said, that for an election to be annulled, the petitioner has to prove that elections didn’t hold at the polling units, where the winner was returned elected. And I’m not sure that (Justice Suleiman) Ambursa’s judgment arrived through that route.” Source:http://www.elombah.com/index.php/special-reports/breaking-news/1976-i-was-offered-bribe-threatened-removed-as-chairman-of-rivers-tribunal-justice-pindigi).
As recently disclosed by the NJC, Hon Justice Mauzu Pindiga has only one petition written against him by the SSS without accompanying affidavit as required. Yet when the SSS petitioners were invited to substantiate their petition, they declined, leading to exoneration of the serving Judge by the NJC. Also before the said unlawful invasion and violent attacks on Judges homes, none of them had been invited by the ICPC, the EFCC and the Nigeria Police Force or informed of pendency of any allegation against any of them bordering on corruption.
Apart from ungodly hour nature of the raids, the force applied by the SSS in breaking into the homes of the serving Judges is not only war-like, but also tantamount to that use in pursuit of fleeing terrorism, armed robbery, abduction, insurrection or coup suspects. An instant case here, as contained in the letters written by some of the attacked Judges to the CJN, involves the use of sledge hammers, suspected raw acids and digger tools in breaking into the homes of the serving senior Judicial Officers at the hours of the blue law.
The execution of the search warrants was also brazen and crooked; whereby the said “searches” were conducted behind the presence and consent of the affected Judges, after which the Judges were violently located in their sleeping rooms in the dead of the night and forced at gunpoint to sign inventories of items collected, if any, or most likely planted to rope them in.
The SSS which has no statutory power whatsoever to carry out law enforcement operations or arrests involving corruption allegations, except intelligence gathering and inter-agency intelligence exchanges; also deliberately and crookedly muddled up the unlawful invasion with the case of some Judges already sanctioned by the NJC for unethical conducts or corrupt practices; by using same to rope in innocent others named above. The three Judges so sanctioned by NJC are Hon Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya, Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division; Hon Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court and Hon Justice I.A. Umezurike, retired Chief Judge of Enugu State, retired by the NJC.
Some of the innocent Judges had in their letters to CJN credibly disclosed that they are being haunted, victimized and stigmatized by the Executive on account of their recent decisions and pronouncements which the Executive frowned at. They include Rivers and Akwa Ibom States Governorship judgments as well as those involving Nnamdi Kanu, Sambo Dasuki, EFCC and SSS related prosecutorial cases.
Under the 1999 Constitution and its subsidiaries including the EFCC, the ICPC and the Criminal and Penal Codes Acts of 2004 and the Access to Criminal Justice Procedure Act of 2015; suspicion, invitation, investigation, arrest, detention and prosecution or discharge of corruption related cases are within the powers of the Nigeria Police Force, the EFCC and the ICPC. In line with the said laws, too, the law enforcement aspect of the EFCC and the ICPC is provided by the authorities of the Nigeria Police Force.
Assuming, but not conceding that SSS operatives tracked the movement of cash to the homes of the serving Judges at ungodly hours, the laws of Nigeria led by the 1999 Constitution bar or forbid the SSS from invading their homes at that hour(s); but allow them to place such homes under intelligence and securitization surveillance and alert the Police until godly hours return when an enforcement operation can be legitimately carried out for the recovery of such “criminal proceeds”, if any.
Above all, offences involving corruption do not traditionally require violence to perpetrate or commit. For instance, use of firearms is not required to wire illicit cash into Judges’ bank accounts or to effect physical or cash movement of the illicit sums to the Judges homes, assuming but not conceding it is true. In the case of tracing of illicit cash to the Judges’ homes, assuming but not conceding it is true; what is required for purpose of recovering same is the use of legitimate and reasonable force; to be applied at legitimate or godly hours. Other than these, what is conventionally required to establish a case of corruption against any public office holder including a serving Judge, is electronic and paper-based evidence with insignificant amount of mental interrogation.
It is on the ground of the forgoing, therefore, that our total condemnation of raiding and violent attacks on homes of the five Judges is predicated. When a process is wrong, what it stands to produce becomes null and void. When a coupist, riotous and crooked procedure is recklessly used in the fight against corruption, corruption itself becomes escalated and compounded. Something can never be generated from nothing.
As for the three sanctioned Judges mentioned above, we do not have sympathy for them, other than the same faulty, crooked and illegitimate processes and procedures, under complaint, used against them by the SSS. The three Judges having been punished ethically by the NJC can be picked and put on criminal trial by the EFCC or the ICPC or the Nigeria Police Force, with ease and without cloaking it in utter crookedness and executive brigandage for sheer populism and alarmist intents.
For NJC to have allowed itself to be intimidated by the Executive into suspending the five innocent Judges above mentioned; ignoring the illegalities inherent in the operation as well as leaving out strong accusations by the Judges leveled against some Ministers in the Buhari Administration; the NJC has abandoned the Judicial Officers it swore to protect at all times and lent a hand in the lampooning and destruction of the country’s Judiciary. History will never be fair and kind to the NJC and the NBA for this broad day cowardice and wickedness.
It is a truism that by the oath of secrecy and nature of the appointment of Judicial Officers in Nigeria, the five Judges are statutorily limited and restricted from public media and right to be heard publicly, a loophole the Buhari Administration is maximally exploiting to destroy the personalities and characters of the Judges using procured and hostile media particularly print, audio, audio-visual and pro establishment Web media.
Other than the leaked letters written by some of the innocent Judges to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), the Judges have been treated with utter disdain with no further opportunities for them to speak or be heard. The Federal Ministry of Justice and the authorities of the SSS and the EFCC seemed to have relocated to the pages of newspaper where phantom charge sheets and other State sponsored false and bogus allegations are being run in series as days go by, instead of before a High Court of Justice, all in the name of fighting “corruption” and pursuit of political vendetta. Personal and biased views of some hired and conformist senior lawyers, some of them, go by title: “human rights activists or activist lawyers”, have taken a center stage and overthrown the 1999 Constitution.
With the NJC executively intimidated and NBA confused, biased and cowed, the innocent Judges have fully become victims of media propaganda and State sponsored campaign of calumny. They have been abandoned and enslaved by the NJC and NBA which ought to protect them when they are innocent and ensure their rights to be heard or tried fairly if credibly and legitimately indicted.
Totality of these, therefore, forms the core foundation or a major challenge facing the incoming or new Chief Justice of Nigeria, who doubles as the Chairman of the NJC. The present ordeal facing the said Judicial Officers is also seen by Intersociety as “what goes round comes around” for the Judicial Officers and others. They have in the course of their adjudicatory midwifery at the Bench, aided the Executive, till date, in denying common and uncommon citizens of Nigeria their constitutional safeguards or liberties.
It is still shocking and surprising to us at Intersociety as how a sitting or presiding Judge indulges callously in the imposition of a court bail of N500Million on an accused citizen charged for “corruptly enriching him/herself” to the tune of the same N500Million or a little more than that. How can a Magistrate assume jurisdiction and preside over an arraignment of a suspect accused of committing a federal crime or offence such as treason, or treasonable felony or terrorism by way of committal proceedings? Why should a Magistrate assume jurisdiction over a federal criminal law instead of State criminal law?
Why should a Magistrate grant a blanket detention remand (till investigations are concluded) to the SSS over a federal crime? How can a Magistrate allow the SSS or the Police, by way of remand order to detain suspects far beyond maximum periods allowed by the 1999 constitution? Why should a Federal High Court Judge allow trial to go on in the case of suspects detained without bail by SSS for four months and above, whose names and charges are smuggled into a pending criminal case of different citizens, by way of “amended charges”; without arraignment of the incarcerated and taking of plea by same?
Emeka Umeagbalasi, Board Chairman
International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (Intersociety)
Mobile Line: +2348174090052
Obianuju Igboeli, Esq.
Head, Civil Liberties & Rule of Law Program
Mobile Line: +2348180771506
Chinwe Umeche, Esq.
Head, Democracy & Good Governance Program
Mobile Line: +2347013238673