Olakiitan Victor in Ado Ekiti
The Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose and a legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), have described the last weekend midnight arrest of some judges as a flagrant erosion of the independence of the judicial arm.
The personalities, who described the situation as dangerous to the country’s democracy, said if judges who are occupying sacred positions could be harassed and treated that way by the Department of State Services (DSS), nobody is safe under the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
Fayose specifically said he would continue to hold judiciary in high esteem and do everything possible to ensure smooth and seamless administration of justice in the country.
They spoke in Ado Ekiti yesterday during the foundation laying ceremony of the N1.29 billion worth Ekiti State new High Court Complex named after the Oluyin of Iyin Ekiti and the pioneer Chief Judge of the State, Justice Ademola Ajakaye.
They were reacting to the arrest of five judges, including two supreme court justices by DSS and their subsequent arraignment before a magistrate court in Abuja by DSS for alleged corruption related cases.
Fayose, who had earlier condemned the action, said arresting and harassing judges in the name of corruption connotes grave danger to the country as a nation, calling on judicial officers and lawyers of note to defend the temple of justice by calling the federal government to order.
He said he found it expedient to build another high court complex to replace the current one that was bequeathed onto the state in 1968.
“I am particularly glad with what is happening today because the judicial officers had not done enough to put the executive at checks. I had earlier raised the alarm that something like this will happen, so the current predicament of these judges will teach a lesson that nobody is safe from harassment in Nigeria.
“However, no matter the offence they might have committed, the arrest is regrettable and sad. This should not have happened to judges who built their careers from the scratch. But let me tell you, this government will still do more.
“We must all protect the judicial arm and that is why I am building this new complex that will have modern accessories to ease administration of justice and smoothen legal matters in the state,” Fayose said.
Babalola said raiding the houses of eminent jurist when they could have allowed the National Judicial Council (NJC) to take disciplinary actions against the judges, if truly they are corrupt, was a constitutional infraction that must not be tolerated.
“I am particularly saddened by the attack. How can they be treated like criminals? The fact that the DSS released the judges on the second showed that they did not evade arrest, why should they then harassed and humiliated them in the first instance?
“It is a trite law that process of the court can’t be served after 7p.m. Even if the DSS had the arrest warrant, they should not have gone on midnight raid of the houses of the judges.
“The NJC has the power to promote, appoint and discipline judges, this was done to ensure independence of that arm. So, I expect them to have approached the NJC. How can you arrest sitting Supreme Court judges and take them to magistrate court for trial? That could only be done after they have been removed,” he said.
The Chief Judge of the state, Justice Ayodeji Daramola, and the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr. Owoseeni Ajayi, said the new court complex would help in speedy administration of justice in Ekiti when completed.
Ajayi said the present complex has become tight and often being overcrowded when matters are being heard, thereby subjecting judges to harsh condition during hearing.