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DSS invasion: Lawyers protest in Abuja, condemn calls on judges to step aside

Lawyers defending the integrity of the judiciary in a protest, in Abuja, on Monday. PHOTO: SUNDAY OSUNRAYI.

Lawyers under the auspices of Lawyers in Defence of Democracy, on Monday,  protested on the streets of Abuja, over the arrest of judges by operatives of the Department of State Service (DSS) few weeks ago.

In their protest letter, the lawyers, in partnership with Citizens for Good Governance (CGG), called on the governments of the United Nations, United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom (UK) the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Amnesty International and the international community, to call  President Muhammadu Buhari to order and save the nation’s democracy from drifting into anarchy.

The groups equally called on the National Judicial Council (NJC)]and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) to direct all judges in the country not to hear any applications from the DSS and other agencies, except bail applications until there was obedience to all pending orders against them.

The DSS had, between October 7 and 8, 2016, arrested Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court; Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, and Justice Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division.

Another Judge of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba’s residence was also searched, but was not arrested.

The aggrieved lawyers further called on the judges whose homes were invaded by the DSS not to step aside as doing so would amount to victory and gradual return to Kokoma democracy.

Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission(NHRC), Professor Ben Angwe, said the commission would not take side or take orders in handling the arrest and alleged clampdown of some judges over corruption.

The commission said it was waiting for petitions from the public on the alleged arrest of the judges and violation of the human rights.

Addressing the protesters at the commission, Angwe said the petition by the group, would enable the commission to move into action, adding that the commission would be fair to all parties.

A statement by the joint convener of the groups, Ikenga Ugochinyere, faulted the clampdown of judges, noting that the independence and integrity of the bench could not be sacrificed under the guise of anti- corruption crusade.

“That is why we view the call by the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Abubakar Mahmoud, after a private visit to the presidential villa as prejudicial to the innocence of the judges and contrary to the 1014 Revised Judicial Discipline Regulations formulated by the NJC, pursuant to Section 160 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended]).

“The unilateral call by Abubakar Mahmoud asking judges to step aside without weighing the limitations and the possibility of an overbearing executive using same loophole to get at other judges not willing to dance to their tune is unacceptable, hasty and counter-productive. We still stand on the initial declaration of emergency in the judiciary by the NBA and reject the call for judges to step aside.”

The group passed a vote of confidence on the NJC and their decision taken that the arrested judges should not resign till proper investigation and proof of evidence shown to establish prima facie case of corruption.

The protesters marched from Merit House to the NHRC, the Federal High Court, the Federal Ministry of Justice and the National Assembly.