Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has backed the State Security Services’ invasion of the homes of some Nigerian judges last month, saying the action was necessary to cleanse the judiciary.
Delivering a speech at the First Akintola Williams annual lecture in Lagos Wednesday, Mr. Obasanjo saluted the executive branch’s “necessary wisdom and courage to clean the dirty stable of the Judiciary.”
“Three weeks before the first three judges were arrested for corruption, I was talking to a fairly senior retired public officer who put things this way, ‘The Judiciary is gone, the National Assembly is gone, the military is sunk and the civil service was gone before them; God save Nigeria.’ I said a loud Amen,” Mr. Obasanjo said in the speech titled ‘Nigeria Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Governance and Accountability.’
“Three weeks later, the process of saving the Judiciary began. And if what I have gathered is anything to go by, there may be not less than two score of judicial officers that may have questions to answer. That will be salutary for the Judiciary and for the Nation.”
An overnight assault, in early October, on some senior judges in six states across the country by the SSS resulted in the arrest of some of the judges.
Officials of the SSS told PREMIUM TIMES at the time that 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.
The crackdown on the senior members of the judiciary had generated heated debates across the country, with government critics accusing the executive arm of overstepping its powers.
But Mr. Obasanjo, who was president between 1999 and 2007, said the judiciary left the executive with no choice in the incident.
“While one would not feel unconcerned for the method used, one should also ask if there was an alternative,” the former president said.
“The National Judicial Council, NJC, would not do anything as it was all in-breeding. As now contained in our Constitution, the President of Nigeria cannot influence or make any appointment to the Judiciary at the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court level.
“He can only transmit the decision of the NJC to the Senate even where Senate confirmation is required. The Constitution which was heavily influenced by the Judiciary ensured that. And yet a drastic disease requires a drastic treatment. When justice is only for sale and can only be purchased by the highest bidder, impunity and anarchy would be the order of the day and no one would be safe.”
Last Monday, Sylvester Ngwuta, one of the judges whose homes was raided by the SSS, was arraigned before a federal court in Abuja.
Mr. Ngwuta, a Supreme Court judge, pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of money laundering.
Mr. Obasanjo said a drastic action was needed to save the situation in the judiciary, adding that an alternative that would serve the same purpose would have been preferred if it was available.
“In the absence of that alternative, we must all thank God for giving the President the wisdom, courage and audacity for giving the security agencies the leeway to act,” he said.
“And where a mistake was made in the action taken, correction must take place with an apology, if necessary.”
The former president also lashed out at Nigerian lawyers, saying that there would be virtually no corrupt judge without being aided by a member of the bar.
“The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has the responsibility to clean up its own house and help with the cleaning of the Judiciary,” he said.
“It is heartening though that some members of the NBA have recently called for judicial reform. Such reform must be deep, comprehensive and entail constitutional amendments as appointment and disciplines of Judges are concerned.
“May God continue to imbue the Executive with the necessary wisdom and courage to clean the dirty stable of the Judiciary and the Bar for the progress and the image of our Nation.
“It must also be said that the good eggs within the Judiciary must be proud of themselves and we must not only be proud of them but also protect them and their integrity.”