As reactions continue to trail the arrest of some judges in their homes, Femi Falana (SAN), has said that the National Judicial Council (NJC) is to blame for not stamoing out corrupt judges in the system.
He also criticised the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for shielding corrupt judges despite having information about their activities.
He made his position known in a statement on Sunday which read in part:
In particular, the Nigerian Bar Association which has information on all corrupt judges and lawyers in the country has continued to shield them to the embarrassment of incorruptible members of the bar and the bench.
The few lawyers who have plucked up the courage to expose corrupt judges and lawyers have been stigmatised and treated like lepers by their colleagues.
It is on record that when both the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offences Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission sent invitation letters to judges suspected of corruption they had rushed to the Federal High Court to obtain interlocutory injunctions to prevent their arrest, investigation and prosecution.
It is on account of negligence on the part of the legal profession that the SSS which screens candidates before they are recommended by the National Judicial Council for appointment as judges has now engaged in the arrest of judges for alleged corruption and abuse of office.
As the detained judges are presumed innocent until the contrary is proved by the state, they should be admitted to bail in self recognizance. At the same time, the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation should ensure that the suspects are arraigned in court without any further delay.
However, it is a matter of grave concern that the legal profession has allowed the denigration of the hallowed temple of justice because of the misconduct of a few corrupt judges. For several years, judges who committed grave criminal offences were not prosecuted but merely retired by the authorities on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.
Although the National Judicial Council recently recommended the dismissal and prosecution of a judge for extorting the sum of N197 million from a litigant, the authorities had paid lip service to the menace of judicial corruption in the country.
About two years ago, an anti graft agency found N2 billion in the account of a high court judge. As soon as the judge was invited for questioning, she reported and made a statement and was granted bail. But as she could not defend the lodgement in her bank account, she obtained an interlocutory injunction from one of the judges in the custody of the SSS.
It is common knowledge that two Senior Advocates of Nigeria are standing trial in the Lagos high court for allegedly bribing a judge. Even though it takes two to tango, the judge has not been charged to court for allegedly receiving bribe.
Mike Ozekhome (SAN), however had a different opinion. He described the attack as dangerous and against the very foundation of democracy, adding that the media is the next target of the DSS if their clampdown is allowed to continue.
“It started with political opponents and opposition. Some of us cried out. Many gloated with éclat and a sense of victory at opponents’ horrific travails. Then, they moved against some very senior and well respected lawyers being rubbished. Some clapped. They said it was anti-corruption. We cried out. It extended quickly to the National Assembly, another different arm of government. Many hailed the Government as tough, no-nonsense and anti-corruption- inclined. Some of us warned.
Now, the Judiciary, up to the very apex court of the land, the Supreme Court, has been targeted and is now being intimidated, humiliated and annexed,” he said.
Senator Dino Melaye has also condemned the operation by the DSS, saying that they went outside their core mandate.
“I have studied the Act setting up DSS, Nigerian Intelligence Agency and DIA and can conclude that the DSS operatives went outside their core mandate. There is no doubt that many Judges are corrupt.
It is also important to state the need to sanitise the judiciary of corruption that make Judges not to give commercial rulings which create terrible precedence in our legal system. Judges have no immunity and can be tried and should be tried but the use of DSS is absolutely wrong.
The DSS operatives, even when they overstretched themselves and conducted investigations on the Judges, ought to hand over their findings to the appropriate institutions of government: the Police or National Judicial Council for prosecution and punishment.
The rule of law is a core value of governance and therefore must be guided jealousy. Prosecution of civil and corruption cases is not the responsibility of DSS. Internal security is the main duty of the DSS and they should stick to that. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he said.