A lot of hue and cry has followed the arrest of some Judges by the men of the Department of State Security Services, DSS, with several divergent opinions and views emerging ranging from the deep and circumspective approach to very shallow and illogical perspectives.
From outright condemnation to commendations, from some agreeing with the step taken by the Federal government through the DSS while having reservations about method/procedure to some being totally indifferent or seeing the whole scenario as another abracadabra show often orchestrated by the political class.
Without mincing words, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL unequivocally assert that there is need for circumspection in approaching the arrest of the suspected corrupt Judges in order be able to do an objective analysis of the whole situation.
All the hue and cry of anarchism, abuse of rule of law, discard of procedures, selective fight against corruption and co betray the reality that some Nigerians claim they want real change or like some say, revolution, yet they fail to realize that achieving change necessitates taking drastic steps.
This is based on the reality of the existence of a situation that has thrown up the need to take bold and daring steps to right the wrongs of the extant order. And unarguably, one of the things most Nigerians are united on is the fact that ‘corruption’ as a monstrous bane has impeded the development of the country for a long time. Arising from this, apparently, majority of Nigerians agree on the need to kill corruption before it kills the country!
We assert also that, there cannot be halfway measures and undue pampering of corruption suspects whether they are Judges, lawyers, Presidents, Governors, legislators or whatever, as long as they are Nigerians they are bound by the so-called ‘rule of law’ of the country.
It is either we want to collectively fight corruption and understand the consequences of confronting the monster or we do not! There is no doubt that the incurably corrupt elements reside in all the Arms of government and they perpetrate their sharp practices with bare-faced impunity, indeed corruption has been institutionalized in every aspect of the body polity.
It is within this ambit it becomes necessary to act in desperate and expedited manner, based on the desperate situation corruption have put our country into. The criticisms that have greeted the arrest of the suspected Judges can only help those who are hell-bent on sustaining the decadent status quo along with its inept champions and their underbellies. The vast majority of Nigerians that are the victims prefer that all suspected corruption criminals should be treated equally before the laws regardless of whoever is involved, to them Judges are not gods unlike some intend to impose on them.
THE ISSUES AND TISSUES
The loudest condemnations of the arrest of the suspected corrupt Judges have been from the angles of the ‘rule of law’ and procedures, while some have raised the question of civility in the manner the DSS used to carry out their operation.
Consequent upon the reality that had been and still confronting us as a country; they all pile up almost to naught if what the country stand to gain on the long run is put in central focus!
For one, the perpetrators of corruption have never considered the ‘rule of law’ before plunging the country into the subsisting catastrophe that we are in as a people. A culture of impunity has also been established alongside the foisting of corruption on National consciousness by these elements.
Those that are narrowing the arrest of the Judges down to legalism are not only been over-legalistic, they are hypocritical and probably beneficiaries of sharp practices. It is pathetic that people who studied law refuse to realize that the ‘law is an ass’ basically.
Talking about the Judiciary itself, CACOL believes the arrest of the suspected corrupt Judges does not represent an attack on that Arm of government by the Executive because we know that hitherto, sharp practices of unimaginable dimensions within the rank and file of the Bar and Bench had been perpetrated times without number.
Since 2007, CACOL has through petitions, protests and other legitimate means of agitating for the trial of some suspected corruption criminals but have been faced with frustrations of different kinds because of the antics and profile of the persons involved.
A few examples will suffice, former Governor James Ibori’s case for instance, members went on behalf of our Coalition to submit a petition to the trial Judge on his crimes and got attacked by thugs. They get exposed to the hazards in the task we had set for ourselves, but our members were attacked within the court premises when Ibori’s case came up in Kaduna in 2007.
We barely survived being kidnapped when we went to submit CACOL’s petition to the trial Judge, Mr. Justice Marcel Awokulehin in Asaba, Delta state, Ibori’s thugs who wore suits and pretended to be security agents stabbed our members in early 2010 when we went to protest against his giving Business Hallmark lecture on corruption in Lagos.
We did four different petitions to the National Judicial Council, NJC for the Council to apply disciplinary action against Awokulehin but practically nothing was done!
Dr. Peter Odili’s case is another example when we talk of corruption in the Judiciary. The former Governor of Rivers state got a perpetual injunction which forever froze his case till now. The EFCC began moves to swoop on Rivers state officials in late 2006 when it issued a report of investigation into the state’s finances in which it said over N100 billion was diverted during Odili’s two terms. The report contained allegations of large-scale fraud, conspiracy, conversion of public funds, foreign exchange malpractice, money laundering, stealing and abuse of oath of office against the former governor. To stave off impeding prosecution of officials, the then Rivers state Attorney General went to court and got a perpetual injunction in March 2007 restraining the EFCC from investigating the state government.
A year later, months after he had left office in May 2007, Odili himself went to court and asked to be made to benefit from the injunction and the court granted his prayers, making him perpetually immune from arrest, investigation or prosecution. The perpetual injunction awarded to Peter Odili effectively made him a ‘legal fugitive’. This is another case of unconstitutional ‘immunity’ orchestrated with the active connivance of the corrupt elements in the Judiciary!
The Joshua Dariye episode still lives; a former Governor of Plateau State, currently representing Plateau Central Senatorial Constituency in the National Assembly whom the EFCC, in 2007, preferred money laundering and charges bordering on the diversion of the Ecological funds against. Nine years after preferring the charges EFCC only recently re-opened its case before a Federal Capital Territory High Court in Gudu, Abuja.
All these were achieved hand in gloves with the corrupt elements in the Bar and the Bench.
As for lawyers, it is unfortunate that most Nigerians cannot differentiate between the conscientious lawyers and the incurably corrupt ones who are aiders and abettors of corruption. But the history of the anti-corruption fight have revealed severally a clear pattern where the corrupt elements loot as much as they can, and then get the services of a Senior Advocate of Nigerian, SAN or more who in turn coach and help the crook on how to escape justice at very astronomical charges that commensurate with the loot.
Mr. Rickey Tarfa, SAN is a shining example along this line. He paid a bribe to tune of N225, 000 into the account of a Lagos Federal High Court Judge; Justice Mohammed Yunusa to subvert justice in favour of suspects under prosecution by the EFCC. He practically hid two suspects of financial crimes in his Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) and thereby willfully obstructed the arrest of the suspects. It was discovered later from a check by the EFCC carried out into the Access Bank account of Tarfa’s Law firm revealed that a sum of N225, 000 was sent to Justice Mohammed Yunusa’s Bank account, the presiding Judge on the matter, a transaction the Judge acknowledged with appreciation through a text message which said ‘Thank you, my senior advocate’.
Those that have been most alarmist and extremist on the arrest of the Judges are those that claim that the step is anarchic and signals a return to military rule. This is self deceiving and ridiculous because it fails in circumspection on the status of Nigeria as a country. It also fails to recognize that the reality that anarchy itself emanates from a social condition that breeds and grooms it.
And then, what constitutes the core ingredients of anarchy that are not already in existence in Nigeria? Can we truly say we are in a democracy ‘stricto senso’? Are we even agreed on the Constitution of the country? We do not advocate anarchy or the jettisoning the ‘rule of law’, but we know that in fighting corruption extraordinary measures would have to be applied to achieve success!
There is no cause for the exaggerated criticisms of the arrest of the Judges. Only the hypocrites among us would hide under the guise of the ‘rule of law’ to pander corruption. It is public knowledge that corruption criminals wriggle through the labyrinth of our criminal justice system to escape justice using the lacunae therein. This must be stopped!
The issue about the procedure is nothing but just that, – it is just an issue! The tissue is that suspects of corruption of monumental proportions has been arrested and should be made to face the implication of their actions within the ambit of the law beyond the pettiness being thrown up.
The ‘legalists’ among us ought to know that the DSS can also be sued if anyone feels dissatisfied with the arrest it carried out without necessarily heating up the polity with illogical and retrogressive rhetoric of ‘rule of law’. Let the aggrieved go to court, that is the only way that is CIVIL!
The DSS has explained that what it did was a ‘sting operation’ it carried out and historically no serious anti-corruption drive does not utilize that means when confronting corruption particularly where Judges are concerned. Generally, purging the Judiciary of corrupt Judges will almost always require undercover operations.
In the history of the US in the efforts to fight corruption in its judiciary, most of the experience with undercover operations targeting corrupt judges arises from Operation Greylord, a federal investigation in the 80s into corruption in the trial courts of Chicago and surrounding Cook County that resulted in the conviction of 13 judges and some 80 lawyers and court staff for bribery and other corruption related crimes.
Sting operations are not strange in the fight against corruption globally. Recently, investigations in Ghana revealed 500 plus hours of video tapes showing High Court judges and lower court magistrates accepting payoffs to acquit defendants in cases ranging from robbery and murder to bribery itself. The government is taking forceful and responsible action to cleanse the critical state institution of corruption, in accordance with the Ghanaian Constitution.
As in Ghana, the Chicago cases arose from secret tape recordings showing judges fixing cases for money. Like the Chicago judges caught on tape, some of those implicated in the Ghanaian scandal claim the taping violated the sanctity of the judicial chambers and evidence from them should therefore not be heard in any legal proceeding. Many in Ghana are urging that those who bribed their way out of a criminal case be re-tried before an honest judge.
For those hammering that the DSS forcibly broke into the house of one of the judges. Section 149 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, envisaged that, it states as follows: “Where any building liable to be searched is closed, a person residing in or being in charge of the building, thing or place, shall on demand of the police officer or other person executing the search warrant, allow him free and unhindered access to it and afford all reasonable facilities for its search.”
From the effect of Sections 9, 10, 12, 13 and 149 (2) of the ACJA the person executing a search warrant and or arrest warrant is empowered to “break open any outer or inner door or window of any house or place” where unhindered access is denied upon demand. Obviously the need to break a door wouldn’t have arisen if unhindered access into the house of the affected judge had been availed!
Being the text of Press Conference addressed by the Executive Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt, Leaders, CACOL on the arrest of suspected corrupt Judges held at The Humanity Centre, 610, Abeokuta Expressway, Lagos, on October 11, 2016