A judicial advocacy group, Access to Justice, has condemned the midnight raids on the homes of some senior judges, describing the action as an attack on the independence of the judiciary.
Joseph Otteh, the group’s Director, described the raid, which occurred late Friday and early Saturday as disgraceful and an abuse of power.
“The form which the raids and arrests took is degrading, abrasive and traumatizing,” said Mr. Otteh.
“It is despotic for officials of one branch of government to treat those of another branch in a manner that completely lacks respect and decorum: these attacks represent an invidious and insidious threat to the independence of the Judiciary.”
An overnight assault on senior judges in six states across the country by the State Security Service resulted in the alleged brutalisation of a governor.
Officials of the SSS told PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday that the operation was ordered after months of investigations, during which the secret police established credibly that the affected judges were involved in questionable financial dealings.
Mr. Otteh said breaking into the judges’ homes, assaulting their relatives, and arresting them in the middle of the night over-reached the boundaries of how the SSS can legitimately conduct its business in a democratic government.
“The SSS says the raids were part of corruption investigations,” he said.
“Access to Justice, and other stakeholders have often expressed concerns about corruption in Judiciary and the slow progress being made to tackle it, but this is no legitimate way to tackle corruption.
“The tactics used by the SSS in these incidents are scare-mongering, and we are concerned that it may be calculated to intimidate judges who are opposed to the government’s persistent disobedience of court orders.
“If the government or its agencies have any suspicions against judges, the government is entitled to pursue these complaints in a procedurally fair and legitimate way.
“Judges would be expected to honour any invitations from government agencies where an investigation is being done. This is the way anti-corruption agencies have treated many of those it is currently prosecuting. Why is the government denying judges this procedure?”
Access to Justice called on President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to respect the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and rein in the excesses of its agencies.
“There is something yet more portentous about what these incidents represent: if judges can be treated in this way, what rights do ordinary citizens have?,” Mr. Otteh continued.
“Is this government serving notice that it will not anymore observe restraints or protocols that regulate inter-branch relationships, but will ride rough-shod over everything in its way, including the due process rights afforded by the Constitution to any and everyone?
“The government must denounce the actions of the SSS, investigate this assault on the Judiciary, express its regrets and reassurances to the Judiciary and ensure that those who authorized these assaults on judges and their households are disciplined.
“The government must further address concerns that its agencies may be using the investigation of corruption allegations as a means to cower judges, and cajole them into silence, or as a way to intimidate judges who question the administration’s fledging respect for the rule of law and court orders.”