As the invasion of the homes of senior judicial officers by men of the Department of State Security continues to generate controversy, Mr. Morenikeji Saliu, a lawyer spoke on the implications the action could have on the Nigerian legal system. He spoke to Segun James. Excerpts:
The invasion of the homes of some senior officers of the law might have come and gone, the implications of the way and manner the action was taken has continued to reverberate. What is your take on the approach taken by the security agencies in process of the arrest?
Well, I think there are two ways to approach this. Mind you, there is a difference between invasion and a search. Do the security agencies have the right to raid the home of anybody, let alone that of a judge in the middle of the night without prior invitation that was rejected? Is it proper? If you say that the security agencies can search the home of anybody including a judge, I will say yes, but was this what took place that day because there is a distinction between an invasion and a search. When you invade the home of anybody including that of a judge, it connotes disorderliness, illegality and brigandage.
People have taken positions on this, which is going to have a telling implication on our legal system, do you agree?
My position conforms to that of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) because judges are not criminals. Even if there is prima facie evidence that they may have committed any unlawful act, it should be purely looked into based on the act. Get it straight, an unlawful act may not strictly be corruption. There are close to 550 offences created by the criminal code let alone those created by the EFCC Act, the Independent Corrupt Practices Act e.t.c. I think if there is a prima facie case then an offence may have been committed but the process must be duly followed. I think the law that guides the administration of criminal justice is explicit on how this can be handled.
I think the concern of the NBA and other well-meaning Nigerians is that the process employed by the security agencies is barbaric. Let’s face it, by the position the judges hold under the Nigerian legal system, they are supposed to be treated as gentlemen, which they are. Their position carries an aura of respectability. The way and manner the action was taken is like trying to remove this aura. Someone may be trying to demystify the office. The security should have formally invited them before forcing their way into their homes. Somebody somewhere may be trying to humiliate the judiciary.
Given the mindboggling amount of money found in their homes, don’t you think only such a surprise action would do the trick? Besides, the security agencies said they procured search warrants before the action took place.
Let me say it now, we have not heard the last on this issue because we have not heard the other side of the case. This is because the judicial officers involved are not allowed, by the nature of their duties, to engage in any form of public engagements. Before this incident, you will recall that you hardly hear any judge reply anybody over decisions taken by the court. It is one of the judicial ethics that they should refrain from making comments.
We have only heard one side of the story and none of the men have been given opportunity of a defence. So far, it is the only the words of the security agencies that we have heard. But at the end of the day, you may end up finding that these people may have been maligned! From all indication, you will eventually find that these people will never be brought before any court for trial. But until that time, you cannot convincingly say that they have indeed engaged in any criminality.
What is the way forward?
The way forward is for us to have standards and adhere to it. When we have standards, such actions as taken by the security agencies will not be done in the way and manner it was done. But let me caution some people who are joyous today over how the judges were treated. They needed to be told that unless this is quickly corrected, such action may be meted to them in some form in the future too. This is what we should guide against because anybody can be on the other side of the divide tomorrow. It is always better to do whatever we need to do within the confines of the law, with reason common sense and maturity.