The DSS and the Judicial Council should work in harmony to curb corruption in the bench

The invasion of the residences and arrest of some serving and suspended judicial officers by the Department of State Services (DSS) penultimate weekend has continued to attract divergent views among Nigerians. While many disapprove of the commando- style approach adopted by the operatives, others do not see anything wrong in some fully-armed masked men knocking and breaking down judges doors to execute a warrant.

However, there is unanimity of view that corruption exists in the judiciary and the time has come to confront it head on. We share this view. But we disagree with the approach adopted by the operatives of the DSS. Nigeria has adopted a democratic system of government and by this has agreed to be governed by the rule of law. President Muhammadu Buhari has also repeatedly given assurances that he would fight corruption in accordance with the rule of law. The invasion of the judges’ houses at night belies that assurance.

The National Judicial Council (NJC) has stated that the action of the DSS was undertaken to undermine the council for its refusal to hand over its records of proceeding on the investigation of petitions against certain judges. And that it was aimed at coercing the judiciary into submission. This is a serious allegation that runs contrary to Section 158 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, which provides for the independence of the NJC.

However, it is also true that the NJC has not done enough in fighting corruption. Merely retiring those found to have abused their oath without recommending them for criminal prosecution to serve as deterrence to others perhaps led to the current situation. Nonetheless, invading the residences of judges at night is a crude and risky way to fight corruption as shown by the clash which occurred in Port Harcourt when the DSS operatives went after one of the judges. Even though the presidency was quick to justify the invasion, the unfortunate reality is that such a move is counterproductive and is not likely to help in the fight against corruption. ‎

It is all the more unfortunate that instances abound when the DSS disobeyed orders from the courts but the presidency did not deem it fit to reprimand the organisation. A judge once ordered that an accused person be detained in Kuje prison but the DSS disobeyed that order and chose to keep the suspect in its custody. The courts, having not their own army or police, rely on public confidence to assert their authority.

What is worrying is that this is not the first time the DSS will be putting its credibility on the line. A couple of years ago, its operatives struck at uncompleted building in Abuja and killed some squatters and tricycle riders. Others were injured. Those who did not sustain life threatening injury were asked to leave Abuja and not to come back. Yet DSS claimed that they were Boko Haram members. As it turned out, the invasion had nothing to do with fighting terrorism. The National Human Rights Commission found the organisation culpable and ordered it to pay compensation.

We recognise the fact that a new leadership is in place at the DSS and we commend the men and officers for the work they do for our country. But to fight corruption in the judiciary, there has to be synergy among law enforcement agencies working in collaboration rather than at cross purposes with the NJC.

What should not be lost on the authorities is that when rule of law prevails, everyone benefits. But if the judiciary as an institution is destroyed because we want to catch a few crooks on the bench, our democracy will be imperiled.