Alleged Corruption: NGOs Ground Abuja, Protest to Court, NJC against Judges

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  • Lagos CSOs warn against descent into dictatorship

Akinwale Akintunde

Following the Department of State Security (DSS) sting operation in the judiciary, protesters wednesday stormed the Federal High Court insisting that the arrested judges must vacate their position.

The protesters, under the umbrella body Forum of Non-Governmental Organisations in Nigeria (FONGON) said the indicted judges must step down to allow for proper and unhindered investigation into the allegations against them.

The call is the second in the last one week. The group which took their campaign first to the Presidential Villa, before marching to the Federal High Court.

At the Presidential Villa, the group was not allowed to proceed beyond the Three Arm Zone gate by a team of policemen led by Jubrin Sani, a Superintendent of Police. After a while, the protesters who were chanting that the judges must go, decided to take the protest to the Federal High Court, where they were shut out.

The leader of the group, Wole Badmus who addressed the press advised the High Court judges to follow the footsteps of the two judges of the Supreme Court who have already vacated their seat.
Badmus said they are prepared to occupy the Federal High Court should the judges fail to vacate their positions.

He said the protest was not against the judiciary but was necessary to ensure the system is purged of corrupt judges and justices.
However, in Lagos, a coalition of over 10 civil society organisations (CSOs) staged a massive protest against the recent clampdown on judges by DSS.

The CSOs, under the auspices of Coalition of Civil Societies for Rule of Law, called on well-meaning Nigerians to speak out against the gestapo tactics of the DSS in effecting the arrest of the judges, which it warned could lead to gradual descent into dictatorship.

The coalition comprising Vote for Service Initiative, Activists for Good Governance, Women Progressive in Action, Human Rights Defenders Group, Concerned Forum among others, stated that it is fully in support of every effort by the government to tackle corruption, including the judiciary, but that it must be done with due process and under strict adherence to the rule of law.

The DSS recently raided the houses of some senior judges in six states across the country.
The operation was ordered after months of investigation, during which the secret police established credibly that the affected judges were involved in questionable financial dealings.
Of the 15 judges from the High, Appeal, and the Supreme Courts said to be under investigation, seven were arrested during a weekend raid. But they have since been granted bail on self-recognition.

Speaking through the conveners, Mr. Adeola Samuel-Ilori and Declan Ihekaire, the protesters said the gestapo tactics of the DSS in effecting the arrest of the judges has the tendency of psychologically putting the judiciary under siege thereby forcing judges to do the bidding of the executive in order to escape being subjected to similar experience.

“We have noted the recent clampdown on the judiciary by the agents of the DSS, culminating in the midnight forced entry into the homes of seven justices and arrested same on allegations of corruption. While we in this coalition of civil societies are fully in support of every effort by the government in tackling corruption, including the judiciary, we nonetheless firmly believe that this has to be carried out with due process and under strict adherence to the rule of law.”

According to him, “It is in this regard that we depreciate in no unmistakable terms, the gestapo tactics of the DSS in effecting the arrest of the justices. This has the tendency of psychologically putting the judiciary under siege and thereby forcing judges to do the bidding of the executive in order to escape being subjected to similar experienc
“This is no doubt dangerous to our democracy. We believe any judge accused of corruption must answer to those allegations; this has to be done without doing violence to due process and rule of law. The government cannot use corrupt tactics to deal with corruption. And it is in this light that we support the position of the National Judicial Council (NJC), which has remained resolute in maintaining the independence of the judiciary.

“We therefore implore the security agencies sensed of any acts of impunity against any judicial officer, to make them available to the NJC, which has the first disciplinary power to deal with any erring judge. Thereafter, such a judicial officer can be arraigned to face charges.
“It is on this note that we call on well-meaning Nigerians to speak out against this gradual descent into dictatorship and save our democracy. Let democracy thrives in the atmosphere of rule of law and accountability,” the coalition stated.