Speaker Yakubu Dogara on Wednesday said the invasion of the homes of senior judicial officers by the State Security Service was a disorganised and worrisome act.
The Speaker said the clampdown was a duplication of the function of other anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and promised sweeping reforms to prevent its recurrence.
Mr. Dogara made the observations when he inaugurated a House committee charged with investigating the clampdown and its aftermath.
“It is untidy, it seems, to have multiple agencies exercising similar functions. The EFCC already handles issues of corruption and economic crimes in Nigeria,” Mr. Dogara said. “Should the State Security Service also be charged with the same functions?”
Scores of SSS operatives swooped on the homes of judges in a coordinated raid across the country on October 7. The raid dragged until the next morning on October 8 before the news of the raid filtered to Nigerians.
Two judges of the Supreme Court, an appellate court judge and five high court judges were arrested in the operation.
The SSS also said it recovered a huge amount of money denominated in different currencies from the judicial officers’ homes and said it was the climax of a sting operation launched months before.
Some of the arrested judges are already being prosecuted for corruption while all of them have been granted bail.
President Muhammadu Buhari immediately came out to defend the action of the secret police and said he was fighting corrupt judges and not necessarily the judiciary.
The crackdown created a major fissure amongst Nigerians who immediately took sides on the matter.
While some saw the action of the SSS as needed to fight alleged corruption in the judiciary; others raised alarm that the president is trying to suppress the judiciary and instil fear on judges who might be poised to delivery unfavourable rulings against his administration.
Although Mr. Dogara did not immediately speak out at the time, the House deliberated on the matter during its plenary on October 11, which was the first sitting since the raids.
The deliberation was initiated via a motion of urgent national concern by Kingsley Ogundu, a lawmaker from Rivers State which was part of the affected states.
Mr. Ogundu’s prayer for the House to summon the Director-General of the SSS failed to gain traction amongst lawmakers, but they resolved to raise a committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding arrests.
At the inauguration of the committee today, Mr. Dogara hinted that the executive might have usurped the powers of the legislature.
“The activities of the State Security Service of late have raised concerns in the Nigerian polity as to the propriety of the conduct of officials of the service and whether their actions are consistent with the law setting it up,” Mr. Dogara read from a prepared speech.
“It is in this regard that I enjoin this Committee to make relevant findings of fact that will enable the National Assembly initiate the necessary amendments to the National Security Agencies Act —and even the Constitution where necessary— to ensure conformity with the constitutional design and framework that envisage that federal legislative power should be domiciled in the National Assembly and not shared with the executive in the manner provided under the Act.”
Mr. Dogara said the Buhari administration was exploiting a decree promulgated by the last military junta led by Abdulsalam Abubakar.
Mr. Abubakar, through an instrument in 1999, expanded the role of SSS to include other functions as dictated by the head of state.
But Mr. Dogara questioned the validity of instrument since the NSA Act is amongst the four extant laws under the Transitional Provisions an Savings component of the Constitution.
“The National Security Agencies Act is specifically protected by Section 315(5) of the Constitution as it cannot be altered like ordinary Acts of the National Assembly. It has the same alteration procedure like the Constitution as laid down in Section 9 (2) thereof,” Mr. Dogara said.
The Speaker said lawmakers serving in the committee will answer all questions that stemmed from the action of the SSS and recommend all necessary means of forestalling a recurrence— including a possible amendment to the Constitution.
The committee is expected to announce sitting days and modalities for its fact-finding in the coming days.