Arrest of Judges: NBA must define its grievance and grounds of disputeWritten by The Neighbourhood
This is a COMMINIQUE Issued by LAWYERS FOR BETTER NIGERIA (LBN) at the close of its emergency meeting held at Nicon Luxury Hotel, Garki, Abuja on Sunday 9th of October, 2016 at 1100hours. LBN is a Non-Governmental Organisation of lawyers, (mainly young lawyers) who have come together to demand good governance from government and in particular fight against corruption in the Justice Delivery Sector (JDS).
Corruption in Nigeria cuts across sectors, and it is a major source of concern to every well meaning citizen of this great country, especially those of us in the Justice Delivery Sector. In our nation's Justice Delivery Sector, corruption has nearly eroded our system to the point where some lawyers would nearly always add to their service fees the cost of bribing a judge for favorable judgement; where litigants engage and retain lawyers not on the bases of what they have to offer legally but on the bases of their relationship with Judges; where judgements and orders are no longer granted on the bases of judicial precedents, but on the bases of payment (highest bidder wins it); where Judges no longer exercise discretion in or care about their partisan relationship with politicians or the public perception of their outside-the-courtroom relationship with litigants that appear before them.
As junior lawyers, who either have no competing powers or have resolved not to join the bandwagon, we are the most affected. We lose our clients daily, we lose our chances of growth, while the same persons use their proceeds of corruption to perpetuate their hold on the profession, planting their children, wives and cronies either as Judges or Senior Advocates of Nigeria even when their said children and wives have no real knowledge or values to add to the development of the Justice Delivery Sector.
It is on these notes that we have resolved to support the fight against corruption in the Justice Delivery Sector and and Nigeria in general in order to return Justice to the people. The Court used to be the last hope of the common man, but they have taken that away from the common man. WE THE PEOPLE MUST TAKE IT BACK.
Our attention, as LAWYERS FOR BETTER NIGERIA, is drawn to the trending issue concerning the arrest of some Judges, including Judges of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in what the Directorate of State Services (DSS) announced as a "move to rid the Judiciary of Corruption". As Lawyers in practice, we feel the corruption in the Judiciary, and beyond what we feel, we are aware that even the Head of the Judiciary in Nigeria in the person of the CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA (CJN), who is also the HEAD OF THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA (SCN) AND THE CHAIRMAN OF NATIONAL JUDICIAL COUNCIL (NJC) has come out publicly to confirm that just as in the other arms of Government, there is corruption also in the Judiciary.
The CJN did also confirm that the NJC is investigating some allegations and taking appropriate disciplinary actions against judges that are found culpable. Only recently, the NJC pursuant to this resolution and drive dismissed and retired some Judge as the case may be on account of corrupt practices and recommend them for prosecution by the appropriate Law Enforcement Agency
In the same vein, we are aware that it is the Policy of the Leadership of the present Executive Arm of Government to fight corruption at all levels, and it has done so commencing with the probe of government activities by Executive Arm, to the Legislature and now the Judiciary.
We want to unequivocally submit that as LAWYERS FOR BETTER NIGERIA, we support in totality the FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION initiated by the present EXECUTIVE ARM of GOVERNMENT and would therefore urge every well meaning Nigeria to commit to this uncommon resolve and will power.
It has also come to our attention that the NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION, our parent Association as Lawyers, has come out to question the arrest of these judges and demanded for their immediate release. We understand that the NBA is also planning a boycott of the Courts if these Judges are not release by today (Sunday 9th October 2016).
Much as were concede that the NBA has a professional duty to protect the Judiciary and the Justice Delivery Sector, we wish to remind the NBA that it has even a greater obligation which is to protect the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is on this note that we call on the leadership of the NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (NBA) to clearly define and clarify its area of disagreement and concern in the arrests of these Judges. This is in order to avoid internal frictions within the NBA that would create room for independent Associations such as ours to begin to make public statements as body (Association) of Lawyer for or against the official position of the NBA. We do not think that this would be in the best interest of the Bar.
Accordingly, we make our observations on the issue of the arrest of the Judges by the DSS as follow:
1. LBN appreciates that Nigeria operates a democracy that runs under the principle of Separation of Powers, which guarantees the independence of the various arms. By this principle, in simple terms, the Legislature makes the Laws, the Judiciary interprets the Laws and the Executive (executes) enforces the Laws, using statutorily established Law Enforcement Agencies such as the Police and the DSS, etc.
2. Each arm of Government is authorized to hire, discipline and fire it's employee. Just as the Executive relies on Civil Service Commission to do this, the Judiciary relies on the Judicial Service Commission or the National Judicial Council, as the case may be, to do the same.
3. Whereas, the various Arms of Government (Executive, Legislature, Judiciary) relies on its independent and appropriate Commission/Council to discipline its employees; NIGERIA AS A NATION RELIES ON HER CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM TO DISCIPLINE HER ERRING CITIZENS. The Nigerian Criminal Justice System is a process that includes Law Enforcement Agencies, the Judiciary, the Prisons, etc.
4. We emphasise that the responsibility to sanction or discipline or correct any citizen of Nigeria who is "suspected" to have violated any Law within Nigeria, who himself/herself may be a lawyer, Judge at any level, Doctor, Engineer, Banker, Capenter, Farmer, Trader or unemployed is that of the Criminal Justice System and NOT that of his Employer (such as NJC, FCSC, Hospital Management, Bank Council, Farmers Union, etc). It is clear that whereas NJC's sanction against an erring judge is limited to suspension or dismissal as the case maybe of that judge, but that of the Criminal Justice System extends to PROSECUTION in a competent court of law, FINE and/or IMPRISONMENT of that judge.
5. We note that the Nigerian Criminal Justice System is a process and this process admits and permits ARREST as one of the procedures of the process. These Judges have just been arrested, preparatory to prosecution.
6. LBN is not oblivious that the Criminal Justice System is also laced with corruption, which has resulted in Law Enforcement Agents arresting "suspected offenders" without the proper rules of engagement or procedure of arrest. LBN condemns the arrest of any Nigerian citizen that does not follow the law and will always do so.
7. In the present arrest of these Judges, apart from the fact that the search warrant was executed and the arrest made between 2300hours of Friday to 0330hours on Saturday morning, LBN could not find any other breach in this particular procedure of the Criminal Justice System. Another grouse seems to stem from the contention that it is not part of the responsibilities of the DSS to investigate corruption and so have no right to carry out the arrest. We wish to state unequivocally that based on the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act 2015, Law of the Federation of Nigeria, the DSS and indeed every law enforcement agent has the right and a duty to do so; and even a far higher duty derived from the Oath of Allegiance to protect the Constitution of Federal Republic Nigeria to make such arrest.
8. We need not remind Nigerians and indeed the NBA that every single Nigerian is equal before the law. This no doubt operates to subject a Judge, Senator, Minister, Lawyer, Artist, Terrorist, Militant, etc who is accused or suspected of any act that has been defined as crime to the same legal standard. We do not operate two legal systems in Nigeria: one for the rich and influential and the other for the poor and lowly.
1. Albeit, we recognize that the Nigerian legal system provides a robust grievance remedial process. We advise that should the Judges, as very respected citizens of Nigeria, feel very strongly that their human rights or integrity has been violated or bruised by the arrest made by the DSS, they should feel free to use any of the grievance remedial options. In the main, they should answer to the law and vindicate themselves.
In conclusion, we urge the NBA to allow those who have been cited for violation of the Nigerian Laws to answer to the Laws. Large sums of money were recovered from some of them; let them come before the law, perhaps they will be able to explain away the sources of the funds. These Judges must desire, more than anything else, to clear themselves of the allegations and until they do so they no longer have the moral standing to preside over any citizen accuse of crime. Therefore, NBA should not be seen as a vehicle for self protection against prosecution; for shielding these judges from prosecution. None of these Judges is arrested for delivering judgement against the Executive, but for indulging in corrupt practices. NBA has a lot to fight against, the unfriendly policies of government, the unfulfilled promises of the Executive, the insecurity in the country and the economic hardship.
Finally, LBN has resolved that its members will not boycott the courts but will rather JOIN OTHER NON-LAWYER BASED NGOs (bearing T-Shirt and placard) to call for the dismissal and prosecution of these Judges. This is for the NOTICE and ATTENTION of the NBA and the GENERAL PUBLIC.
Barr. Stanley Ibeawuchi Nwosu
Barr. Adamu Ibrahim
Coordinator, Zone 1
Barr. Olujide Olorunnimbe
Coordinator, Zone 2
Barr. Igbokwe Alphonus
Coordinator, Zone 3
Barr. Michael Diriya
Coordinator Zone 4
Barr. Aliyu Yahaya
Coordinator Zone 5
Barr. Timi Lake