Legal luminary and elder statesman, Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN, has advised serving justices and judges, whose homes were raided, penultimate week, over alleged graft by the Department of State Service, DSS, to step aside and clear their names in the interest of the sanctity of the Judiciary.
Speaking at a press conference in his Ajao Estate, Lagos residence, yesterday, he however, criticised the DSS gestapo style of going after the judges, saying said no matter the weight of their alleged corruption, they deserved respect. ‘’For, however much we may not like to say it, judges, though not granted immunity by law from criminal process, are not ordinary people like the rest of us.
Their role, as sentinels of justice and guardians of our liberty, however much tainted by abuse and corruption it may have become, still entitles them to respect over and above that accorded to the ordinary citizens. Disgrace them, and you risk bringing into disrepute and undermining the credibility of that hallowed institution, the Judiciary, the Third Estate of the Realm, which they represent,” he said. Nwabueze’s advise to the affected judges to step aside was in a response to question on his take on the position of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, which on Thursday asked all the judges being investigated over their alleged involvement in acts of corruption to recuse themselves from further judicial functions or proceed on compulsory leave, until their innocence is fully and completely established.
NBA National President, A.B Mahmoud, SAN, at a valedictory court session held in honour of a retiring Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Sotonye Denton-West, declared that said such step was necessary in order to protect the sanctity and integrity of judicial processes that may involve the judges concerned and also safeguard the public image of the judiciary as an institution.
Nwabueze concurred with the NBA. ‘’There is a good reason for the position taken by the NBA. If I were one of the judges, I will feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. I will not continue, I will step aside and allow the investigation to be concluded and if cleansed of the allegations, I will resume,’’ he said. Stressing need for rule of law to be observed in the war against graft, Nwabueze argued that little or nothing has been gained from the unconstitutional methods adopted by the DSS and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Implementing Justice, 2014 confab reports, freeing Kanu
Restating his call for the implementation of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform report and 2014 National Conference report and restructuring of Nigeria into fiscal federalism, Nwabueze also called for unconditional release of IPOB Leaders, Mr. Nnandi Kanu, arguing that demand for self-determination does not really mean secession.
In his 40-page press statement entitled: ‘’Emasculation of Our Constitutional Democracy Through The Subversion of The Safeguards Enshrined In The Constitution For The Protection Of The Individual Against The Oppressive Use Of The Organised Coercive Force At The Disposal of The State,’’ the legal icon said , ‘’constitutional democracy and state terrorism or a police state cannot co-exist together.’’
We must not undermine the Judiciary
The statement read in part: ‘’At about 1 am on Saturday October 8, 2016, men of the Department of State Security raided the homes of seven judges suspected to have been involved in corruption. The raid created a lot of public outcry, because those affected are people whose role in governance, judges, makes their persons almost inviolable. For, however much we may not like to say it, judges, though not granted immunity by law from criminal process, are not ordinary people, like the rest of us.
Their role, as sentinels of justice and guardians of our liberty, however much tainted by abuse and corruption it may have become, still entitles them to respect over and above that accorded to the ordinary citizens. Disgrace them, and you risk bringing into disrepute and undermining the credibility of that hallowed institution, the Judiciary, the Third Estate of the Realm, which they represent.
‘’The raid of their homes raises an issue of fundamental importance and concern, which does not appear to be sufficiently appreciated. The issue raised is as to whether constitutional democracy and state terrorism or a police state can co-exist together. For twelve years since 2004 a regime of state terrorism has been foisted on us – in the name of a war against corruption.
The lawless activities of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) created ostensibly to fight corruption were increasingly assuming terroristic proportions. Its armed men terrorise State after State – Bayelsa, Plateau, Jigawa, Benue, rendering the terrorised State a helpless captive. From time to time reports appear in the newspapers of state government offices being deserted and of commissioners and other functionaries fleeing in fear generated by the visit of an invading force of EFCC armed operatives, with some of these functionaries being arrested, taken away to Abuja or Lagos, and held in detention for long periods of time in EFCC insalubrious cells.
DSS activities akin to barbarities of Hitlerism ‘’
The activities of the DSS, combined with those of the EFCC, portray Nigeria in the ugly image of a police state, replete with the pernicious instruments of repression that characterise such a state.
The name SSS (changed to DSS because of adverse comments) in itself is entirely out of keeping, an anachronism, in a constitutional democracy, due to its association in the public mind with the barbarities of Hitlerism and of socialist/communist despotism. It created fear and a feeling of insecurity amongst the citizenry.
Statutes setting up DSS, EFCC unconstitutional
‘’The tragic fact, about which the public is lamentably uninformed, is that the statutes establishing the EFCC and the SSS are, to a large extent, unconstitutional, because they are a subversion of the safeguards enshrined in the Constitution for the protection of the individual against physical coercion by force of arms (vi et armis).
Thus, the issue confronting us is not only as to whether the activities of these two agencies are in conformity with the law establishing them, but also whether, more importantly, the law, establishing them are in conformity with the Constitution, the supreme law of the land.
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