Arrest, detention of judges: PDP, Wike, Ajulo, Ozekhome, SERAP kick

MORE reactions have continued to trail the forceful arrest of justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the Federal High Court across the country by the Department of State Security (DSS).

This came as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) threatened legal action, both locally and internationally, just as it wrote President Muhammadu Buhari, demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the judges.

The affected justices of the Supreme Court were Sylvanus Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro while judges of the Federal High Court affected were Muazu Pindiga, Adeniyi Ademola, Abdullahi Liman and Nnamdi Dimgba.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Rivers State governor, Mr Nyesom Wike; human rights lawyer, Mike Ozekhome; a legal practitioner, Mr Kayode Ajulo and others, on Sunday, condemned the act.

The PDP in a statement made available to newsmen in Abuja by its national publicity secretary, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, said by the attack on the judiciary, President the Federal Government “has shown that it has no desire to respect the pillars of our democracy.”

According to the party, “never in the history of the  country had the Federal Government attacked the judiciary in such a manner.”

It also lamented that the government had disregarded the orders of the ECOWAS Court and every other courts in the land on the case involving Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser (NSA).

The party said “the proper path to follow to discipline erring judges will be to forward a petition containing any wrongdoing to the NJC along with any evidence in support thereof.”

The PDP caucus in the House of Representatives also condemned the invasion of residences and arrest of judges on allegations of corruption.

In a statement by its leader, Honourable Leo Ogor, who is also the minority leader of the House, the caucus said the style of the invasion was not only an affront on the judiciary but also a threat to democracy.

It called on Nigerians and the international community to rise in defence of democracy and the rule of law in the country.

Wike, reacting on the development, accused the DSS of resorting to deliberate misinformation and concocted stories to justify its unconstitutional assault on the judiciary.

In a reaction to a statement by DSS that he led some thugs to thwart the attempt to effect the arrest of one of the judges under investigation, in Port Harcourt, said DSS was concocting figures to deceive the people.

In a statement issued by his media aide, Simeon Nwakaudu, the governor said “the weak blackmail of DSS will not lessen the crime they have committed against the Nigerian State by assaulting the judiciary.”

He insisted that DSS lacked the constitutional powers to be involved in the legal process to discipline a serving judicial official, pointing out that there was a legal process that must be followed.

The DSS had, in a statement by Abdullahi Garba, said “the judge, with the active support of the governor, craftily moved the money to an unknown location which the Service is currently making effort to unravel.”

However, Wike, whose name was not mentioned in the statement, said “their blackmail stories will not move me. They will concoct all kinds of stories to justify this undemocratic illegality perpetrated against the judiciary. It is really unfortunate that DSS would concoct a false defence that $2 million (that is N900 million), was found in the house of the judge. It is unfortunate that DSS is coming up with flimsy excuses.”

He also debunked the claim by DSS that he was at the scene of the incident with thugs, noting that he was with senior Rivers indigenes at the time of stopping the DSS in its unconstitutional  act.

Ozekhome, in his reaction, said the new onslaught against the judiciary signalled great danger to the nation’s democracy, freedom, liberties and human rights, independence of the judiciary and the doctrine of separation of powers.

In a statement made available to newsmen in Abuja, Ozekhome wondered why this was happening in a country operating a constitutional democracy.

Ajulo, a legal practitioner, condemned the act, calling for caution in order not to set a bad precedent with “the alleged extant despotic operations by the DSS.”

A former national secretary of Labour Party (LP), in a statement made available to the Nigerian Tribune, insisted that in cleansing the judiciary of corrupt judges, proper procedures must be followed.

Ajulo said he had all along been in the vanguard of calling for an overhaul of the country’s judiciary through separate letters he addressed to President Buhari and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, on same.

While expressing the belief that there was need for the Federal Government to follow proper procedures in cleansing the judiciary of corrupt judges, Ajulo, however, said it was pertinent to state that no arm of government had reviewed itself than the judiciary and should, therefore, be encouraged and not through the modus operanda employed by DSS that could bring the bench to disrepute or ridicule.

Meanwhile, in what it described as chilling and a mockery of the judiciary, SERAP has written President Buhari, demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the judges.

SERAP also stated that it had written the United Nations on the case, while also threatening to take legal action, both locally and internationally, against the president, should the arrested judges not be immediately freed.

Executive Director of SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, in a statement, stated that while it fully supported Buhari’s anti-corruption war, it viewed the clapdown on judges as a chilling blow on the independence of the judiciary and a dangerous precedent that should not be allowed to stand.

Mumuni added that if the development was allowed to stand or continue, it would make judges susceptible to pressure from the executive and spell the final collapse of judiciary’s independence.

Apart from asking the president to order the immediate release of the judges, SERAP also demanded a probe of the DSS over the development and punishment for everyone found culpable.

“Judges, like other constitutional functionaries, must face the law if they depart from or deceive the law, such as when they are suspected of engaging in corruption. But what the DSS has done is a blow to the independence of judiciary and a dangerous precedent that should not be allowed to stand.

“The value of the principle of judicial independence is that it protects judges from arbitrary sanctions by the government. The way this country dispenses justice and treats its judges will show the moral and legal character to which it can pretend,” the statement read.

SERAP noted that in the world over, the body that sanctions erring judges is usually independent of the government.