DSS arrest: It’s an abuse of power but… —Lawyers

SOME legal practitioners have spoken with one voice, condemning the reported attempts to arrest some judges in Rivers State describing it as an overzealous act that is beyond their purview of duty, adding that there are laid down rules on how erring judges should be treated.

Yet others expressed the belief that it is high time the judiciary was sanitised and corrupt judges called to order with their lawyer-collaborators, adding that there should, however, be concrete offences with proof against them.

In his reaction, constitution lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), described the development as a new onslaught against the judiciary which is raising danger signals.

“The new onslaught against the judiciary signals great danger to our hard won democracy, freedom, liberties and human rights, independence of the judiciary and the doctrine of separation of powers ably espoused in 1748 by the great French philosopher, Baron De Montesquieu. The last time I checked, we are supposed to be operating a constitutional democracy, not military dictatorship or tyrannical absolutism.

“Governor Wike’s “offence” was that he came to rescue a Federal High Court Judge who was being abducted in Kamikaze Gestapo style. Other serving judges who would ordinarily respond to a mere phone call are being humilated and rounded up in the ungodly wee hours of the night like common criminals,” Ozekhome said.

The former Solicitor General of Lagos state, Mr Lawal Pedro (SAN), feels it is a strange development. “This is strange and I don’t believe the story as it has not been confirmed by the DSS or has it been confirmed? However, I must state that judges are not above the law. If any judge is found to have committed an offence he can be arrested and prosecuted like any other citizen. All men and women are equal before the law.

“However, if it is still an allegation, a discreet invitation to the judge concerned and investigation will serve our sacred and jealously  guarded institution, the Judiciary, a lot of good for the image and benefit of the Nation.

“We should be wary of throwing caution into the wind and not indirectly desecrate our institutions by our actions. There are ways of dealing with matter of this nature and achieving desired result without sending a wrong signal to the public,” he said.

In his own reaction, Lagos-based lawyer and rights activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa decried the development, asking for a boycott of the courts to protest what he calls dictatorship in a democratic setting.

“I read with great amazement and total disbelief, the news of the invasion of the homes of judicial officers in Port Harcourt and in Abuja, by the executive arm of government through the Directorate of Security Services, DSS. In one particular case, it was said that sledge hammers were used to break down the wall of the home of a judge, with his domestic servants wickedly brutalised.

“This is full-blown dictatorship now in action. It is now a case of anarchists in power. The clampdown on judges has been on for a long time, through agents of government in the various institutions of oppression. We are now back to the 1984 jackboot system of intolerance, where all dissenting views and opinions must be silenced.

“It is condemnable for the DSS, which is an arm of the executive, to be breathing down on the judicial arm of government, under the guise of fighting corruption.

“We do not advocate that those alleged to be corrupt should not face their due trial, but that should be done in an atmosphere of dignity and respect for the fundamental rights of the suspects.

This is dangerous and condemnable since we are not under a military rule,” Adegboruwa said adding: “I call on the Nigerian Bar Association to declare an indefinite strike so that all courts of law in Nigeria will be boycotted until there is respect for the rule of law and the Constitution, commencing from Monday, October 10, 2016, until further notice.”

Another human rights lawyer, Ikechukwu Ikeji, said judges shouldn’t be arrested without charges filed against them.

“By the nature of their jobs, judges should not be arrested without making their alleged offences public. And the arrest ought to start with the police or EFCC or ICPC and after public disclosure of their alleged offence satisfying the public that the offence or offences border on national security would the DSS even attempt to ask the arresting agency to transfer them into its custody.

“DSS has no business arresting judges. Where are the Police, EFCC and ICPC? If the judges have allegedly committed an offence against national security, the DSS ought to have first invited them, even if publicly. This is simply tyrannical, unconstitutional, dictatorial and an attempt to intimidate and muzzle the judiciary to do the bidding of the executive. The DSS overreached the NJC whose duty it is, statutorily, to discipline judges,” Ikeji stated.

Dave Ajetomobi, the  former chairman of the Ikeja NBA in his reaction, however, agreed that it is time the judiciary was sanitised and erring judges and their lawyer collaborators brought to book, adding that this should, however, be done in line with laid down rules and procedures.