The Nigerian Bar Association on Thursday rose in defence of two Justices of the Supreme Court who were part of the seven judges arrested by the operatives of the Department of State Services during simultaneous raids on their houses in different parts of the country during the weekend.
The association repeated the condemnation of the operations which landed the seven judges in the custody of the DSS, describing the raid and the arrest of the judicial officers as unconstitutional and clearly outside the mandate of the Service.
The President of the NBA, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), who addressed a press conference in Abuja in Abuja on Thursday, said, contrary to the claim by the DSS the two Justices of the apex court, Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro, were never invited and there was no formal complaints against them before their homes were raided.
He said, “We have engaged with the NJC and there was no any evidence that has been made available to us that suggests that the two Justices of the Supreme Court were ever invited or indeed there was any complaint by anybody against them.
“This is the information we got from the NJC and we don’t have any reason to doubt it. So, where no complaint has been made either by the DSS itself or by other citizens, then these sort of very drastic measures were taken, we do not see any justification for that.
“The Supreme Court and indeed other superior courts in Nigeria are part of the judicial institutions of this country and we cannot denigrate them under the guise that we are fighting corruption. We must not destroy the institution or expose it to ridicule or disdain and humiliation both locally and internationally because of the allegations against them.
“But in this case, especially in the case of the two Justices of the Supreme Court, we have been informed that there was no formal complaint against any of the two prior to this action being taken.
“With respect to the other five, we have been informed that at least cases of four of them have been dealt with by the NJC and they are being recommended for various disciplinary measures both to the President and their various governors and it is not the responsibility of the NJC to remove them as recommended by the NJC.
“The fifth case was pending before the NJC as of the time of this invasion. So, we do not see reason why this sort of military style approach should be adopted in respect of cases that have already been dealt with and disciplinary measures recommended.
“As for the two Justices of the Supreme Court where there are no complaints either to the NJC or any other authority, there is no any other justification where that sort of action should have been taken.”
Mahmoud fielded questions from journalists after “an expanded meeting of the association’s Crisis Management Committee set up by the leadership of the association after the incident.
Before the news conference, the meeting received briefings from the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, and the Secretary of the National Judicial Council, Mr. Danladi Halilu.
Also at the meeting were four former NBA presidents, Chief Wole Olanipekun, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, Mr. Joseph Daudu and Mr. Okey Wali.
Three former AGFs comprising, Chief Kanu Agabi, Chief Akin Olujinmi, and Mr. Adetokunbo Kayode, were also at the meeting.
Other lawyers representing the NBA in the NJC were also present.
It was learnt that after both Malami and the secretary of NJC briefed the meeting, they were excused to allow “independent” deliberation by the rest.
While fielding questions from journalists about the outcome of the deliberations, Mahmoud said the NBA had received briefing from the NJC showing that the Supreme Court Justices were never invited by the DSS before the raid.
Mahmoud’s address focused mainly on the briefing he received from the NJC without making any allusion to that of the AGF.
The NJC had since Wednesday concluded its emergency meeting which it convened to address the incident but had failed to make its stand on it known to the public as promised by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, and Chairman of the NJC, Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
But condemning the arrest of the judges on behalf of the NJC on Thursday, the NBA President said since the cases of the four out of the rest of the five judicial officers had been dealt with by the NJC and that of the fifth judge still pending, there was no need for the military style approach the DSS adopted in arresting them.
He said, “The DSS acted outside their core mandate. Their core mandate involves issues of terrorism and other matters that threaten internal security.
“We do not think it is its responsibility to go into the issues of this nature that is constitutionally vested in other institutions of government including the police. Secondly, we quarrel at the method adopted for raiding the houses of judges in the middle of the night by armed masked men and going there to pull down doors and walls. These judges are not terrorists and we do not think they should be subjected to that kind of treatment.
“We are sure that the state has the capacity to investigate this matter in accordance with due process and in line with convention practice. We saw no justification for that kind of action.
“What has happened in this instance is that certain judges were marked, according to the description that we got from the Department of State Services and what they called sting operation and this sting operation involved going to their homes with masked men, and knocking down walls and doors and then taking serving Justices into custody.”
But the NBA President admitted that the disciplinary “architecture” of the NJC was not sufficient, citing information he got from the NJC that only 73 cases of allegations against judges had been dealt with in the last 16 years.
He said the NBA would on Friday (today) announce a committee to be headed by Olanipekun and Agbakoba to review the NJC disciplinary methods and make recommendations to the council.
He said, in particular, the NBA would be seeking the review of the law which did not permit NBA members of the NJC to be part of the proceedings involving judges.
Mahmoud said, “I want to clarify that although the bar association is represented in the National Judicial Council, but the representatives of the NBA in the National Judicial Council, do not take part in the disciplinary actions against judges.
“This is the constitutional limitation. We are advocating change to that constitutional provision. We do not see any reason or justification where members of the legal profession cannot participate and deal effectively with matters of discipline affecting judges.
“I will like to say that from the information that has been made available to us by the National Judicial Council, from 2000 to September 2016, a total of 73 cases affecting various judges have been handled and disposed of by the NJC.
“There have been cases of dismissal, cases of compulsory retirement and cases of reprimand and of which have been addressed by the NJC.
“Now, is it enough? May be it is not enough and that is why we have constituted the task force to review the entire architecture of the disciplinary system of the NJC and then make recommendations for improvement to enable the NJC to take proper charge and deal with erring members of the judiciary.”
Responding to recent allegations by the Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruptions, Prof. Itse Sagay, that some senior lawyers collude with corrupt judge to pervert the course of justice, Mahmoud challenged the don to provide the association with formal complaints.
The NBA President said, “We appeal to Prof. Sagay and the committee that he heads to give us complaints about lawyers that are involved in corrupting judges and we will take disciplinary action against them.
“Indeed I’m informed by my predecessor that the entire disciplinary mechanism of the bar association has been greatly enhanced and the panels that are now six across the country and dealing with cases of erring lawyers.
“And I will like to say on behalf of the NBA that we will redouble our efforts in addressing all cases of infarctions and unethical conduct.
“I will like Prof. Sagay to make his cases available to us and we will immediately deal with them.”
The DSS had, in what it called a sting operation, arrested Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro, both of the Supreme Court; the suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja.