Arrest of judges: Call security agencies to order, Senate tells Buhari

Nobody above the law —AGF

Senators, on Tuesday, condemned the Department of State Services (DSS) for carrying out what was described as commando-like operations in the arrest of judges at the weekend.

The lawmakers, who resolved to amend the laws establishing some security outfits in the country, to bring them in line with the rule of law, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to call the security agencies to order.

The Senate condemned the arrests at the plenary, when the issue came up for debate, saying the methodology adopted by the DSS was “draconian.”

Senator Joshua Lidani, who raised  the motion under “matters or urgent national importance,” said the DSS went beyond its bounds when it usurped the powers of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to effect arrested of the judges.

Senator Dino Melaye, who seconded the motion said: “But while I support the fight against corruption, it is a misnomer, it is absurd for DSS to operate outside their mandate.”

The Senate, however, rejected one of the prayers in the motion seeking the invitation of the Director-General of the DSS, Mamman Daura, to appear before the lawmakers to explain reasons for the raid on the judges.

The senators resolved after the long debate to urge President  Buhari to call all security agencies to order and direct the full observance of the rule of law in the discharge of their duties.

They also observed that the DSS went beyond its bounds by usurping the powers of the NJC, which had statutory powers of handling matters of misconduct and indiscipline over judicial officers.

Senators also observed that the act of breaking into judges’ homes at night had further worsened the image of Nigeria among the comity of nations.

They claimed that the attack on the judges could erode the confidence in the judiciary, adding that it was inappropriate to turn the law upside down in the fight against corruption.

Senate Committee chairman on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, said the invasion of judges’ homes had painted Nigeria before the international community as a country that disrespected the rule of law.

“To go in the wee hours of the morning and use force to break into a judge’s house is condemnable. The whole world is watching the Senate to see how we will react. This is pure dictatorship and it should not happen. Enough is enough. This is unguarded dictatorship. We should not treat this issue likely,” he said.

Senate minority leader, Godswill Akpabio, said in his contribution, said the current anti-corruption war had painted former governors as corrupt people and warned that such toga should not be extended to the judiciary.

“We must not speak from both sides. While supporting the fight against corruption, we must bear in mind the need to safeguard our democracy. Today, it is hard for a former governor in Nigeria to be respected outside Nigeria. They believe that every former governor is corrupt.

“They have extended the toga to the judiciary and this means a lot. It means people will not take seriously any judgment from our courts. If this government fails, it means we have all failed,” he said.

Deputy Senate leader, Senator Bala Na’Allah, however, called for caution, adding that his colleagues must investigate the alleged invasion before taking a final position on the issue.

“There is a reason  the discipline of judges is domiciled with the NJC. If the framers of our constitution thought it wise to deal with the issue of judiciary misconduct, we should respect it. Something, somewhere has gone wrong. I will reluctantly support the move that we should condemn it,” he said.

In his ruling on the motion, Senate President, Bukola Saraki stated that the war against corruption must be fought with all fervour, but insisted that the rule of law must be followed always.”

Meanwhile, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on Tuesday, reacted to the arrest and detention of judges by operatives of the Department of State Service (DSS), pointing out that “no one is or should be above the law.”

The AGF disclosed this after he inaugurated an expert review committee on implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in Abuja.

When the AGF was asked of his view on the raid and subsequent arrest of the judges, including two justices of the Supreme Court, he asked if there was an allegation of crime?

“Was there relevant provision of criminal procedure responsible for investigation? Is there an allegation of corruption? If there is, nobody, no matter how highly-placed, will be spared.

“The right to investigate has not been taken away from the constitution. The allegation borders on criminality and no one is or should be above the law. Neither the judiciary or the executive will be exempted from investigation,” the AGF stated.

Malami, in his speech at the inauguration of the committee, said the Federal Government would put adequate facilities in place to ensure that recovered loot  were profitably managed.

According to him, “no doubt, the extant review focusing on Chapter II and V of UNCAC relating to preventive measures against corruption in public and private sectors and assets recovery, is both necessary and timely at this time of the annals of the country when endemic cum systemic corruption has created a great disconnect between our nation’s wealth and the quality of life of ordinary citizens.

“As we are all aware, Nigeria is a state-party to UNCAC which is the first globally and legally binding international anti-corruption instrument.

“Fortunately, the objectives of UNCAC is in absolute synergy and harmony with one of the cardinal objectives of the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, which is to fight corruption in all manifestation, including adopting effective preventive measures against corruption, recovery of stolen assets and putting in place systems and processes to profitably manage the stolen but recovered assets.

“It is, thus, necessary that members if this committee understands the important task of nation-building which is about to be committed into their hands. Your contributions will, no doubt, translate into massive political goodwill and will snowball into successes in place setting as it relates to the fight against corruption.”

Members of the committee were drawn from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Bureau of Public Service Reforms, Bureau of Public Procurement, Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Federal Ministry of Finance, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit, among other agencies.