- Odinkalu cautions on due process
Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
Human rights lawyer, Chief Femi Falana (SAN), monday in Enugu warned the federal government to desist from further midnight arrests and raids of the homes of suspected corrupt judges in the country, noting that if nothing was urgently done to check the trend, criminal elements would soon take advantage of the situation by wearing masks to not only invade homes of judges but also kidnap and possibly kill them in order to embarrass the government.
He also asked the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) to quickly save the integrity of the judiciary by identifying and exposing corrupt judges and lawyers, stressing that the corruption in the judiciary had become so alarming that “these days, no matter how bad your case may be, its outcome is determined by the size of your pocket.”
Falana spoke as the former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, declared that though corruption remained everybody’s enemy, not following the rule of law in arresting the situation is on its own totally wrong.
According to him, “If you fight crookedness with an abusive crookedness, then we are not solving any problem.”
The two human rights advocates spoke as guest speakers at the opening of the Law Week of the Enugu Branch of the NBA with the theme: ‘Corruption and the Justice Sector: Implications for the Rule of Law and Democracy.’
Falana specifically said invading the homes of criminal suspects at night was completely out of order “whatever the offences may be.”
He said the situation was becoming worrisome especially when the houses of senior military, police and officers of other law enforcement agencies accused of corruption have not been so invaded, adding that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami should be vicariously held liable for the consequences of such raids having accepted that he was the one that authorised the raids on the homes of judges by operatives of the Department State Services (DSS).
“The government should better watch it because I recall that sometime during the military junta, myself, Beko Ransome-Kuti and Gani Fawehinmi were severally harassed by state agents for projecting human rights views. I later discovered that it was not actually Ibrahim Babangida that ordered such harassment but they were executed by those behind the Okar coup who wanted the human rights community to have disdain and hatred for the Babangida administration, so that when the topple him, our support would be enlisted.
“I want to warn that criminal elements may soon wear masks, invade the homes of judges, kidnap some and possibly kill some and the blame will be on the government. If they don’t stop, I am also asking judges never to open their gates at night. If they come calling, call them thieves and they will run away,” he said.
He however blamed the “ongoing embarrassment of our judges” on some senior lawyers whom he accused of refusing to do the needful by exposing and shaming the few judges that are bent on dragging the integrity of the judiciary in the mud, insisting “there is no corrupt judge that is not known to the lawyers.”
Because of the actions of few corrupt judges, the institution is been denigrated. We still have judges who are working in the most difficult conditions and have refused to be tainted. NBA should speak out and protect the good judges. A few judges, a few senior advocates, a few lawyers are corrupt. We should isolate them, name them and shame them. Allegations remain allegations, we have to stop at just pointing accusing fingers but go the extra mile of carrying out thorough investigations so as to unveil these bad eggs.
While also not excusing the NBA leadership from the corruption spree, Falana hinted that he would soon withdraw his membership of the association.
He said the national election of the association had become even more expensive than a state gubernatorial election where candidates spend as much as N700 million to run for the presidency.
He also attributed some of the conflicting judgments coming from Federal High Courts especially in Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt to the corrupt activities that have enveloped the judiciary, lamenting that the situation might degenerate if nothing was urgently done to arrest the situation.
On his part, the former NHRC boss, Odinkalu said much as corruption had eaten deep to the fabrics of the nation’s system, there was need to fight it with strict compliance with the rule of law.
“This Law Week comes on the heels of a terrible fortnight for Nigeria’s legal profession in which at least two senior judges and a senior lawyer have been arraigned on charges of unlawful conduct impinging on the integrity of judicial institutions and the legal profession; the legal adviser of the ruling All Progressives Congress Party (APC) has had to “step aside” for being implicated in alleged unethical payments to a judge; and another senior lawyer has admitted giving a judge of the National Industrial Court N450, 000.
“While these charges are under investigation or remain to be disposed of, the accused judges and lawyers are entitled to the presumption of innocence. It is not our place here to pronounce on the guilt or innocence of the parties under trial or investigation. However, these are significant developments, symptomatic of a pattern that we must be alive to. They go to the very foundations of not just public trust in the judicial system but of sustainability of elective government in Nigeria.
“The Enugu State judiciary has not been without a role in these developments. At the end of September 2016, the National Judicial Council (NJC) compulsorily retired the immediate past Chief Judge, Innocent Umezulike, for culpability on multiple counts of corruption on the strength of a long running complaint filed by senior member of the Enugu Bar, Peter Eze. Aspects of the case of the former Chief Judge is also now under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
“For having the gumption to petition against mis-conduct by the then State Chief Judge, Peter Eze suffered considerable persecution and ridicule. His practice suffered. I witnessed his difficulties at close quarters. While hosting the Eastern Bar Forum to a reception in Enugu on 4 March 2016, the former State Chief Judge, then under investigation by the NJC, ridiculed Peter Eze as a “drug addict” “chronic Indian Hemp smoker”, a “pimp” and as “one who makes a living from forgery.” Members of the Enugu Bar who knew Peter as a second-generation lawyer of considerable ability and good standing offered not a word in his defence.
“The outcome of his complaint before the NJC offers comprehensive exoneration to Peter and considerable vindication for his efforts but an occasion like this is also one in which to offer full and forceful commendation to Peter for having the courage to lead the emancipation and cleansing of the judicial system in the State. It is to be hoped that the Enugu Bar will do the right thing and honour his advocacy and efforts,” he said.