Itse Sagay (SAN), professor and constitutional lawyer, says there is neither a law preventing the arrest of judges nor one prescribing immunity for the judiciary.
Reacting to the recent arrest of judges, the legal luminary said the “expanding epidemic of judicial corruption” had destroyed the veil of invincibility that judges once possessed.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC) noted that the country’s once-revered judiciary had degenerated into an institution where “cash dictates justice”.
“The searches of the premises of judges by the DSS is a sad development in our legal history brought about by inevitable circumstances.
“Although no judge had ever been subjected to search of premises and arrest, from the colonial period until recently, this was not because there was any law protecting Judges’ immunity against arrest and criminal prosecution. Rather, it was based on a convention arising from the need to respect the dignity and sanctity of the Judiciary.
“In other words, the practice of respect for members of the Judiciary was a convention, not a binding rule of law. Members of the judiciary do not enjoy immunity against searches, and arrests under any law. Therefore the sustenance of sanctity of the person, office and residence of a judge depended on the continued maintenance by the judge of decorum, dignity, honesty and integrity.
“The explosive and expanding epidemic of judicial corruption, which has taken an alarming character since the 2007 elections, has totally overturned the culture of respect for the judiciary and brought the revered institution into disrepute and ignominy.
“The epic and corrosive nature of the problem has made the system expressly laid down for dealing with judicial indiscipline, that is, the NJC system, totally ineffective. The level of moral depravity and the enormous number of culprits engaged in aggressive or rampaging corruption was just too much for the orthodox system of discipline to deal with.
“The amount of raw cash recovered in the process of the DSS searches is mind boggling. We, therefore, have a situation in which a deadly disease was threatening the very existence of democracy and the Rule of Law.
“The question must be: do we take drastic and unprecedented steps to sanitise the judiciary and save the institution from those who are prepared to drag it and our democracy down for filthy lucre? Or do we twiddle our fingers in despair and let the shameful erosion and retrogression of a once famous and revered institution to go on?
“This is a country that once had one of the greatest judiciaries in the world. It now seems unbelievable that our judicial benches were once graced by legendary figures, like J.I.C. Taylor, Louis Mbanefo, Joseph Adefarasin, Adetokunbo Ademola, Akinola Aguda, Anthony Aniagolu, Kayode Eso, Mohammed Bello, Chukwuweike Idigbe, Andrews Otutu Obaseki, Augustine Nnamani, Adolphos Karibi-Whyte and Chukwudifu Oputa. Between 1980 and 1990, we had an outstanding group of Jurists in the Supreme Court who created the golden age of the judiciary.
“What has happened between that dreamlike era and now is a rapid descent into the world of mammon, where cash dictates justice. With that degeneration of our judicial standards, our judicial ‘gods’ have descended from mount Olympus and joined the ranks of ordinary men and thus are suffering the fate of ordinary men.”
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