In the on-going controversy surrounding the raid of houses of some senior Judicial Officers and their arrest, let me add my voice.
First, it must be noted that the independence of the judiciary is a highly important element of a democracy such as ours and it’s absence means nothing but doom. It goes without saying that a shy, timid or intimidated judiciary will simple imply a total loss of hope of justice for the common man and the uncommon man.
It is for this reason that the independence of the judiciary must be carefully guarded. Any attempt to bully or intimidate the judiciary must be resisted through all lawful means available.
On the other hand, a corrupt judiciary is no less dangerous. It takes away the confidence of the people in the justice system and may lead to prevalence of self-help. It is true, that a corrupt judge is worse than a marauding criminal.
I am in total agreement with the Chief Justice of the Federation when he declared the arrest of the Judges as saddening, regrettable and distressing. It is so because indeed the office of a Judge is one that requires them to live above board thereby avoiding embarrasing situations as this. So whichever way the pendulum swings, it is indeed a sad testimony of how bad things are in this country.
In the current saga, we all must be careful so as not to quickly condemn and convict the suspect judges. The law presumes them innocent until they are proven guilty. The office the Judges occupy is a sensitive one and it will be foolhardy of the DSS if, as it is characteristic of security agencies in this clime, they went after these judges without hardcore unimpeachable evidence. It will be most unfortunate as it will not only do damage to the agency but also to the Government at large. Indeed, it will lend credence to the suspicion in many circles that the arrest of the Judges is aimed at making them cow and bow to the whims of the executive.
However, for those who quickly cast aspersions on the DSS, I also urge to exercise caution as there is really no cause for that. From the clear wording of our laws, save the President, his vice, Governors and their deputies, nobody is immune from arrest and prosecution, not even the judges. Therefore, as much as it is desirable to leave discipline of erring judicial officers to the NJC, if the security agencies have evidence of corrupt enrichment or any other crime at all against the judges, then nothing stops them from moving against the Judges as they have done.
We must be careful not to allow emotions to overtake reason. I think there is a near consensus that the prevalence of corruption in Nigeria is, and has always been the bane of our development. It is also commonly agreed that previous governments lacked the political will to tackle corruption heads on, so the monster remains untamed. If we now have a government that displays that will, albeit to an unsatisfactory level, then we should all rally and support the government to do its job and insist only that those who have been accused be given a fair trial and if found wanting to be punished. If it turns out that the charges are frivolous, then the suspects under our laws, will certainly get reprieve.
Fortuitously, the new ACJA has given much props to the fight against corruption and widened the powers of the security agencies. What is left is for the people’s mindset to change. The several press releases and statements from the NBA, Senior Advocates and other prominent people condemning the arrest is not only hasty, but preposterous. It is capable of undermining the slow but steady drive torwards cleansing the system of corruption. Imagine also, what damage will be done to the association of lawyers in Nigeria if after the condemnation, the DSS comes up with concrete evidence of wrongdoing against the judges, certainly, it’s legitimacy will be weakened. So I ask that we keep our fingers crossed, let the DSS do their work for now and watch the outcome of the entire process before anyone reaches any conclusions about the guilt of the accused judges or the propriety of the actions of the DSS.
God Bless Nigeria!