Arrest of judges: SERAP threatens to sue Buhari, DSS

President Muhammadu Buhari

FOLLOWING what it described as “chilling and a mockery of the judiciary,” the  Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, has written President Muhammadu Buhari, demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Nigerian judges arrested on Saturday by operatives of the Department of State Services.

SERAP also stated that it has 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.

The Executive Director of SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, in a statement on Sunday stated that while it fully supported Buhari’s anti-corruption war, it viewed the clampdown 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.

“We are seriously concerned about the wave of arrests, intimidation and harassment of judges across the country by the DSS. While we fully support the government’s efforts to eradicate judicial corruption, we cannot accept anti-corruption strategies and methods, which patently offend the rule of law and undermine the authority, integrity, sanctity and independence of the judiciary.

“SERAP believes that strategies and methods to sanction suspected corrupt judges must never have an inhibiting or chilling effect on the authority, sanctity, integrity and independence of the judiciary.

“The uncertainty of the processes and grounds on which suspected corrupt judges can be sanctioned would affect the capacity of all judges to act independently, and the public confidence in the judiciary.

“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 reads.

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

It stressed that without a judiciary that is independent, the concept of rule of law would become a mockery.