BODE GBADEBO and ADEBIYI ADEDAPO look into the interventions by the National Assembly over the recent arrests of some senior judges by the Department of State Services (DSS).
The polity still reels from impact of the raid and eventual arrest of some senior judges by the Department of State Services (DSS), penultimately Saturday.
The DSS had in the wee hours of that Saturday, stormed the residences of Justices John Okoro and Sylvester Nguta of the Supreme Court; Justices Namdi Dimgba and Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja; Justice Kabiru Auta of a Kano State High Court; Justice Muazu Pindiga of Gombe State High Court; and a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Innocent Umezulike.
Since then, the debate over the operation has taken various dimensions, along lines of those who suggest the anti-corruption war must be fought hard and fast. While all the commentators pledge support for anti-corruption war, those who support the DSS operation see nothing wrong as no law was broken.
For others, the move smacks of an assertive executive arm bent on emasculating other arms of government.
However, rising from an emergency meeting last week, the National Judicial Council (NJC) believes the operation by the DSS is a threat to independence of the judiciary.
According to their communique signed by their information director, Soji Oye, they expressed “grave concern on the recent invasion of the Residences and arrest of some serving and suspended Judicial Officers by the Department of State Services (“DSS”); and condemned the action in its entirety.
“Viewed the action as a threat to the Independence of the Judiciary, which portends great danger to our democracy; and also considered the action as a clear attempt by the DSS to humiliate, intimidate, denigrate and cow the Judiciary.”
But the controversy is not dying any time soon as another arm of government which had repeatedly accused of executive of also trying to muscle them down has decided to wade in.
For a National Assembly that had started off on a frosty note with the executive, it could not resist wading into the matter.
From the missing budget saga to the alleged senate rules forgery brouhaha, this National Assembly has not had the best relationship with the executive.
As such, for some analysts this scenario could afford them an opportunity to forge some kind of subtle alliance with the judiciary, by playing to their good side.
Upon resumption of plenary last Tuesday, the Senate condemned what it called “midnight invasion”, arrest and detention of the judges in some parts of the country last weekend.
Consequently, the Senate mandated its Standing Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to review the existing laws on security and anti-corruption agencies and get back to the House in four weeks time even as it urged President Muhammadu Buhari to call all security agencies to order and direct the full observance of the rule of law in the discharge of their duties.
The Red Chamber said it however supports the ongoing anti-corruption fight of President Buhari-led administration particularly efforts to sanitise the judiciary, adding that they must be carried out within the confines of the nation’s laws and respect for the principle of separation of powers.
The resolutions followed the adoption of a motion on a matter of urgent national importance moved by Senator Joshua Lidani (PDP, Gombe) at plenary.
Debating the motion, senators spoke in support of the motion, acknowledging the need to purge the judicial arm of government of corruption, even as they chided the DSS for acting outside its constitutional powers.
Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi) and Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi (APC, Kaduna) described the secret police’s action against the judges as a “misnomer” and illegal.
For his part, chairman Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu), said the development was “uncalled for” and condemnable, describing as a tyranny of the highest order, which should not have happened even under a military regime.
Also, contributing to the debate, the deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, reiterated that the Upper Chamber was “irrevocably” committed to anti-corruption fight of the government, noting that if the action of the DSS was compliance with the laws of the land, it will not have generated the aftermath outcry.
Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who described the incidence as “traumatic” for the judges and members of their households, also said that most of his colleagues were shying away from the debate for fear of raid on their homes by the DSS.
“I understands why many Senators went into toilet during debate…because they don’t want their houses to be invaded by DSS. The method of arrest should have been managed in such a way that it does not affect judiciary and Nigeria’s image.
“I support motion because if the DSS had acted in accordance with the law, there would have been no uproar,” Akpabio said.
Senate President Bukola Saraki also said the Senate was in total support of the anti-corruption war, insisting that it must be fought within the confines of the laws.
House joins in
Just as the Senate deliberated, the House of Representatives was also debating the issue.
They resolved to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the raids carried by DSS on the judges homes.
The committee is also expected to investigate all cases of invasion of property and arrest of persons for reasons outside the general duties of the DSS as prescribed by the National Securities Act, since May 29 2015 and report back to the House within six weeks.
The decision is sequel to a motion sponsored by the member representing Obio/ Akpor federal constituency of Rivers State, Hon. Kinsley Chinda, under Matters of Urgent Public Importance.
Although the motion attracted light opposition from some members, Speaker Yakubu Dogara saved the day, as he did not allow a general debate on the motion.
Dogara said the House would have to thoroughly investigate the matter as a basis for the deliberation.
Apparently, the motion would have generated furore, as some of the lawmakerswere of the opinion that the legislature should not interfere in matters within the powers of the Executive.
The member representing Ede North,South/Egbedero/Ejigbo federal constituency, Hon. Mojeed Alabi, interrupted Chinda, as he raised another Point of Order under Matters of Privilege. He suggested that the House should respect the principles of separation of powers and stay away from the matter.
Alabi’s position attracted chorus condemnation by members who seemed to support the motion.
Dogara in his intervention noted that the motion was premised on a call to investigate the law(s) that empowered the security agency to raid the homes of the judges as part of investigations into alleged corruption.
“Lawmakers should maintain fidelity to the laws. They are custodians to determine if the laws were breached,” he said.
The Speaker however ruled that the motion be heard, thereby allowing Chinda to continue with his motion.
Chinda in his presentation emphasised that although, corruption, bribe-taking and misconduct shouldn’t be condoned in any form, all actions taken to prevent financial crime must be done with reference to the Rule of Law.
According to him, it is important for the DSS to explain where it derived the powers it used to raid the home of the judges, more so that the judicial officers were never invited by the undercover police before the raid.
“The powers of the SSS as enumerated in sections (2) (3) and (6) of the national security agencies act 1986; which does not include the investigation and prosecution of corruption and abuse of office. The affected judicial officers had never been invited for questioning by the SSS before the sudden invasion and arrest was carried out,” he said.
He expressed dismay that neither the Attorney-General of the Federation nor the National Judicial Commission (NJC) were contacted before the raids were carried out.
Also, the chairman, House committee on federal judiciary, Aminu Shagari, observed that the DSS failed to follow due process by invading the homes of the judges and arresting them.
Leader of the PDP caucus, and Minority Leader of the House Hon. Leo Ogor, while condemning actions of the DSS, noted that the raid could not be justified in the National Security Agencies Act.
Ogor said the core mandate of the DSS borders on crime related to treasonable felony. Adding that it’s involvement in anti-corruption matters usurps the duty of Nigerian Police, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
“We condemn in its entirety, the said Gestapo invasion of the residences and arrests of the judges at those odd hours. It is not only unlawful but a threat to due process, usurpation of the responsibilities of the Nigeria Police, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission or the National Judicial Council.
“We have taken pains to further analyse the National Security Agencies Act, from where the State Security Service, under the provision of Section 3, derives its powers.
“We make bold to state that we could not find anything like the fight against corruption or financial crimes in the SSS mandate.
“Let it be known to Nigerians and the world at large that the core functions of SSS, border on treasonable crime and nothing more,” he said.
Meanwhile, the lower legislative chamber on Thursday passed for second reading a bill for an Act seeking to subject judicial personnel serving as head of courts established under section 6 (5) of the constitution be removable only upon the advice of the National Judicial Council (NJC) so as to ensure consistency in the process.
The bill seeks to Alter Section 292(1) (a) and (i) (ii) of the 1999 constitution to include the National Judicial Council (NJC) in the procedure for the Removal of Heads of Courts.
When enacted, it will guarantee that a the NJC must recommend the removal of head of courts before such removal can be legal.
The Lawmaker representing Sabon Gari Federal Constituency of Kaduna Hon. Garba Datti Muhammad, who sponsored the bill said it was meant to protect Judicial personnel from victimisation.
The proposed amendment is to ensure that judicial officers serving as heads of courts are not victimised through removal by executive fiat acting in concert with the legislature without any established or verifiable evidence.
“On many occasions, judicial personnel have been removed from office on trump of allegations without recourse to a body charged with the constitutional responsibility to investigate and recommended appropriate disciplinary action.
“Since the previous in the constitution did not give the NJC any role in the removal of Heads of Courts, it has left them at the mercy and whims of the Executive,” the bill reads.
Naturally, the relationship between the legislature, executive and judiciary in most presidential democracies are not cordial. And they are not necessarily expected to be as the concept of the check and balance should apply.
Still, it is yet to be seen what resolutions would come from the legislature which might be eager to put a firmer check on the executive.