Chief Mike Ozekhome, a constitutional lawyer and human rights lawyer was a guest on Channels TV where he spoke on the DSS raid on the residence of some senior judges at the weekend. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI who monitored the session brings the excerpts:
Some people say there is corruption in the judiciary. Would you agree to that assertion?
I will start by saying that you don’t throw blanket cover accusing everybody within the judiciary of corruption. You can say there are bad eggs within the judiciary, I agree. It is just like in every 12, there must be a Judas Iscariot. It is just like saying that under this present government, among the ministers, there are some of the ministers that are corrupt. It is just like saying that within the legislature, there are some members of the legislature, in the Senate and the House of Representatives that are corrupt. It is just like saying that within the civil service, there are some people who are corrupt. So, you cannot make a generalized statement by saying the judiciary is corrupt. So, you can single out some few bad eggs and deal with them accordingly by the National Judicial Council (NJC) as they did just only last week when they dismissed some judges and even recommended one of them specifically for prosecution under section 193 and 194 of the Constitution. Because of the three arms of government, dutifully and significantly enough, it is only the judiciary that has a self-deodorising, self-winnowing, in-build mechanism by which it identifies bad eggs and remove them. Within the executive, they don’t go against each other. Within the legislature, they don’t go against each other but the constitution has made it mandatory that judicial officers must uphold great sacrosanct judicial conduct and that when you deviate from it, then you are sanctioned. And if it borders on a crime like the NJC did last week when it said AIG of Kano Zone hand over this judge to him for prosecution. But for God’s sake, no arm of government; let me emphasize it, no arm of government has the prerogative to amass all powers absolutely, maximally , dictatorially with itself alone by being the accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury and by being the executioner. The reason is simple: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
How would you describe a corrupt judge?
The corruption of a judge is something that is ignoble and quite detestable. It is odious, it is putrefying. It oozes of terrible smell like what Ayi Kwei Armah in his book ‘ The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’ will described as caked shit split open by afternoon’s baking sun. Permit the vulgarity because I am quoting from Ayi Kwei Armah. So, it is not something to be tolerated because a perverted system of justice is the worst form of justice. So, because judges are the representatives of God here on earth, the only man who can hand down the death sentence and it is carried out if the governor signs. Mind you, because of the principle of checks and balances, separation of power, even after a judge says ‘ You are hereby sentenced to death by hanging and may God grant your soul eternal peace’ , the judgement will still be referred to the governor for assent or refusal.
How would you describe the raid on these judges? The DSS said it is a sting operation. What do you understand by that and in the face of the law is that right?
Before coming to that, let me with due respect disagree with Mr. President that the problem and bane of Nigeria is just corruption. That is not correct. There are three problems in Nigeria. The first problem is leadership. The second problem is leadership and third problem is leadership. About three, four years ago, I was one of the first Nigerians, if not the first who described corruption as a gargantuan monster that can kill us if we do not kill it although no one has given me credit for that statement. I was also the one that said corruption has come to be the 37th state of Nigeria and the wealthiest among the other states. So, coming to this action of the DSS, let me start by saying that the action is most condemnable by any right thinking member of the society. First, we are practicing a constitutional democracy that opposes what we call the Rule of Law, a theory well propagated by Professor A.V Dicey. Democracy, unlike a military dictatorship, where matters are resolved by decrees and ethics is not a Usain Bolt’s 100 metres quick dash race. It is rather a marathon race that requires adherence to due process, rule of law and balancing of centripetal and centrifugal forces that are forever playing within the society. The DSS by our constitutional organogram and under our legal regime has its own functions. Its functions are to take care of internal security of the country. Its counterpart, the Directorate of Intelligence Agency (DIA), is in charge of matters concerning the military; while the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) is in charge of security matters that extend beyond the boundaries of Nigeria. The three legal entities that are allowed by our laws to go into corruption matters are the EFCC, ICPC and the Nigerian Police, particularly under Section 4. So, their action, to start with, is faulted fundamentally on the ground that they were going beyond their constitutional and statutory mandate. It is like the FBI invading the hallowed precinct of the CIA. That is number one. The second one; let us assume for the purpose of argument that these judges committed the alleged crime they were talking about. Don’t forget that we are in a system where people are tried in the media. After that, nothing comes out but that stigma is no longer removed. Let me give you an example. Dimeji Bankole was the Speaker of the House of Representatives of this country. The EFCC waited for him in house for more than 48 hours. They barged in, handcuffed him, took him out like a common criminal and they termed him corrupt that he had eaten the money of the National Assembly. How many Nigerians do know that today, that man his case went up to the Supreme Court that he was finally absolved? Many Nigerians do not know. Honourable Hembe was accused of travelling abroad without using his estacodes. The matter was celebrated and glamourised on the pages of newspapers and on the social media. He was cleared by the judiciary. Many Nigerians do not know that. So, if you felt that some judges have committed an offence, first of all, you procure a legitimate court order, a warrant of search and arrest, signed by a judge or court of competent jurisdiction. That warrant of arrest can only be executed under our laws between 6am and 6pm, minus weekends except where a judge specifically says that. Now, look at a situation where a judge is sleeping at 1am in the wee hours or godly hours of the morning, axes, cutlasses and hammers were used to break down the doors and windows of such a judge on the grounds that they want to arrest him. Mind you, they have not invited the judge to say ‘we want to see you’. The judge will say okay. You can even surround his house and say ‘can we go to our office?’ and that has to be during the day, between 6am and 6pm.