Residents of the South-South have reacted to the arrest of some judges by the Department of State Services (DSS) over alleged corrupt practices.
Some of the residents said the fight against corruption was good but that due process must be followed while effecting the arrest of corrupt people, while some questioned the timing of the arrest.
A section of the respondents said since the fight against corruption had been extended to politicians and ex-service chiefs, the judiciary should not be an exception.
But Mr Nimi Walson-Jack, a former National General- Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), described the crackdown on the judiciary as an infringement on extant laws of the land.
Walson-Jack said that the law was explicit as to how the judiciary should operate ,noting that not even under the military dictatorships in Nigeria had judicial officers been arrested.
“The Department of State Security (DSS) cannot under any existing laws in the country arrest members of the judiciary.
“The judiciary is self-regulating, and the executive understands the limits of its powers, and should endeavour not to exceed such limits,” he said.
Walson-Jack said that the police was a department recognised under the executive with the responsibility of investigation and prosecution.
“Within the executive, the police is what is recognised; the DSS was set up with specific goals under the law.
“So, if a judicial officer commits an offence, it is the function of the police to step in and investigate and that is after exhausting all internal mechanisms within the judiciary,’’ he said.
He said that there was a total misuse of language and constitution in the issues surrounding the arrests as it was clearly contrary to the definition of a “sting operation”.
“They call it a sting operation, but that is not the definition of a sting operation; what the DSS has done, be it crackdown or whatever, it is completely illegal.
“My advice is that everybody has to wake up; laws are made to guide the citizenry; government needs to support the liberty and freedom of the people,’’ he said.
On his part, Port Harcourt-based Lawyer and former Publicity Secretary of Port Harcourt branch of the NBA, Mr Angus Chukuka, said there was nothing wrong with security agencies discharging their responsibilities.
Chukuka, however said, “it is also good to understand that the judiciary is an independent arm of government which has a duty.
“The procedure to be adopted in handling persons that represent the judiciary must be impeccable, so that this particular procedure by the DSS leaves much to be desired,” he said.
He described the processes and means surrounding the arrests as an attack on the judiciary, saying, “ there is need for caution; all arms of government should ensure respect for the constitutional independence of the other arms of government.
But Oby Ndukwe, a Port Harcourt- based publisher and public issues analyst, said nothing was wrong with the timing of the arrests of judges across the country.
Ndukwe added that the action taken by the Department of State Security (DSS) was fully backed by the constitution.
According to her, the security agencies that went for the arrests had arrest warrants with them, and operated within the ambit of the law.
“Don’t forget that the law allows for forceful entry if the suspect tries to evade arrest or fails to comply, so I have yet to see anything wrong with both the timing and approach.
“There is no specific time or timing for arrests to be made, especially when the material evidence is certain to be there,’’ she said.
Ndukwe further said that the threat by the NBA was capable of sending the wrong signals to the public in a matter that was purely constitutional and legal.
“ The threat by the NBA is controversial; it is sending the association away as one that is obviously aiding and abetting corruption instead of fighting it.
“How can any well-meaning organisation make comments that appear opposed to the current anti-corruption campaign; travel to even the next-door Ghana and see how Nigerians are perceived,’’ she said.
She called on Nigerians to muster the courage of resisting the threat issued by the NBA.
According to her, such threat is against the direction Nigeria is swinging.
“ I think Nigerians should resist such threat because the ordinary Nigerians are those directly bearing the brunt of the corruption by public officers,” Ndukwe added.
Chief Ben Awuse, a Port Harcourt-based lawyer, said he was in support of the crackdown in the judiciary if it was aimed at sanitising the system and put the institution in its good state.
Awuse said that there was nothing wrong if the DSS was acting within the law to arrest alleged corrupt judges for investigation.
“They know best on how to manage information. But if the action is with ulterior motive, then it is witch-hunting.
The lawyer said he was in support of President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign as the fight against corruption “is needed to get the nation back on the right track”.
Awuse described the NBA’s reaction as a normal thing, adding that, “corruption must have its way of fighting back; that is just it.
Obioma Jacob, a University Lecturer at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, said though fighting corruption was a good thing, doing so should not undermine the rule of law.
“ I know that Nigerians are in desperate need of a genuine fight against corruption; my worry is that in fighting corruption, the rule of law should not be compromised.
“The fight against corruption should be made to comply with the extant laws. If the searchlight of corruption has been beamed on the judiciary, it should be holistic and not targeted at a few judges,’’ he said.
Jacobs said that the timing of the arrests was wrong and capable of sending the wrong impression of witch-hunt instead of genuine fight against corruption.
“I see the timing for the arrest as wrong and capable of sending the wrong signals.
“It would have still been called anti-corruption war if the judges were invited in the day time, questioned and charged before competent courts in the land.
“I also think that it is hugely the role of the police to arrest and prosecute, and not that of the DSS.
“I see the entire scenario as capable of making us a laughing stock before the international community because we are clearly miles away from internationally accepted ways of doing things,’’ he said.
Mr Emmanuel Igbini, National President, Vanguard for Transparent Leadership and Democracy, (VATLAD), a Warri- based Non–Governmental Organisation (NGO), supported the crack down on corrupt judicial officers.
According to him, it is sad that some of the nation’s judges
“have descended to this level of insanity’’.
“ It is highly regrettable. For those Nigerians who have suffered serious negative effects of this cash-and-carry judgments delivered by some judges, the DSS action is welcome, even though, long overdue.
Igbini insisted that the solution to the nation`s political and socio-economic problems should be with winning the war against corruption.
“ But sadly, all Nigerian governments since 1960 till date have waged war on corruption, but none has ever won it. For me, we need to change strategy and modus operandi, if we must win this war,” he said.
Similarly, a Bayelsa-based lawyer, Tarilayefa Debekeme, said that the constitution had provided ways to
deal with the erring judicial officers.
According to him, if there is any allegation of professional misconduct, it is the duty of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to investigate and discipline such erring judges.
“When the NJC establishes case against them, it is either they are dismissed or forced to retire and the judicial immunity will have been removed in this regard.
“I am in support of President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against corruption, but the fight must follow due process,” he said
Another lawyer, Mr Boma Jack, said that there were better ways to handle cases of corruption and professional misconduct as alleged by the DSS.
He said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should have been the one to come into this matter and not the DSS.
“This is very bad for the current leadership of the DSS and does not speak good of the current administration.
“The DSS has no business in invading the justices’ houses based on the allegations they got because that is not their core mandate,” Jack said.
Another lawyer, Mr James Sunday, who described the DSS action as a step in the right direction, however, said the fight against corruption in the judiciary should not be selective at all.
“Let this fight against corruption in the judiciary be fought with honesty and sincerity of purpose.
“Everyone involved in corruption must pass through the sword of justice and if found wanting should be treated in accordance with the rule of law,” he said.
In Akwa Ibom, a legal practitioner, Mr Clifford Thomas, said that he would like the Judges treated with decorum by applying due process in their arrest.
Thomas, who is also the state coordinator of the Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO), said that he was opposed to intimidation and as such, the judges should not be intimidated but should be properly invited and investigated.
He called on the DSS to release the Judges and follow due process in carrying out their duties.
Another lawyer, Mr Okwong Otioro, said that Judges were not above the law, adding that the DSS had invaded many houses of Nigerians in the course of its duty.
Otioro said that the Judges were not immune to investigation and arrest and that there was nothing wrong with the DSS action.
“The court is the holy temple of justice; the judges are expected to live above board if they administer justice rightly.
“No arm of government has immunity against corruption, if there is any evidence against the Judges, they should be investigated,” Otioro said.
In her reaction, a schoolteacher, Mrs Glory Bassey, said that the Judges deserved to be investigated and the bad eggs purged from the system.
Bassey said that the DSS action should be properly guided to clean the judiciary of all allegations of corruption as peddled during the 2015 general elections.
She also advised that the DSS action should not be selective but holistic to cover all the accomplices in corrupt practices in the judiciary. (NAN)