A Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, has said unless last week’s attack on judges in Ekiti State was properly handled, Nigeria might soon begin to witness the murder of judges as witnessed under the regime of a former Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin.
Mr. Falana also demanded the re-opening of the courts shut down in the wake of the crisis in the state.
Two judges, John Ogunremi and Isaac Adeyeye, were manhandled by some thugs –allegedly supporters of the Governor-elect of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, at the premises of the court where the state Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sat.
Omolafe Aderiye, a former chairman of the State National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, and a loyalist of Mr. Fayose, was later murdered.
Mr. Fayose, who will assume office on October 16, was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and defeated the incumbent, Kayode Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the June 21 governorship election.
Dissatisfied with the result, Mr. Fayemi filed a petition at the tribunal seeking its nullification.
Describing the attack on the judges as “sacrilege,” Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, asked the National Judicial Council, NJC, which is currently meeting in Abuja over the matter, to collaborate with the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, to take measures to guarantee the security of judges and lawyers in the state.
“With regards to the facts and circumstances of the barbaric incident, the NJC deserves commendation for rising to the occasion. It is hoped that the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, will collaborate with the NJC with a view to putting effective measures in place to guarantee the security of judges and lawyers in Ekiti State and other parts of the country,” Mr. Falana said.
He added that Federal Government should be made to realise that judges could not dispense justice in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation under the marshal of brute force.
The lawyer said since impunity had been institutionalised in the country, the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, had already exonerated some of the thugs. He said in that circumstance, the NBA should go beyond the mere condemnation of the attack.
He stated that in ensuring that the grave offences of contempt of court, assault occasioning harm, attempted murder etc committed in the court premises were not swept under the carpet, the association should apply for the fiat of the Attorney-General of Ekiti State for the prosecution of all the suspects.
He said, “The fiat should cover those who engaged in the cold murder of Mr. Omolafe Aderiye, a former Ekiti State chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers. Unless that step is taken by the NBA any prosecution by the Ekiti State ministry of Justice is likely to be mired in unnecessary controversies.”
Mr. Falana said the detachment of the police stationed at the High Court premises where Messrs. Ogunremi and Adeyeye were attacked on September 23 and 26 engaged in criminal negligence by allowing the thugs to launch the attacks.
According to him, but for the fact that they were part of the premeditated attack, they would have prevented thugs from gaining access to the High Court.
“All the police personnel should be sanctioned to serve as a deterrent to others,” he demanded.
Mr. Falana said it was indisputable that the indefinite closure of the courts was occasioned by the refusal of the police to provide adequate security, which led to the breakdown of law and order in the court premises and in the town where arson was perpetrated after the killing of Mr. Aderiye.
He noted further that but for the imposition of curfew by the state governor, Mr. Fayemi, and the intervention of the Nigerian Army, the carnage would have continued unabated.
He stated, “To ensure that sanity is fully restored in the state the Inspector-General of Police should, as a matter of urgency, overhaul the Ekiti State police command as it has been totally compromised. The suggestion that the Ekiti State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal be relocated is not a lasting solution to the lawlessness that was displayed in Ado Ekiti last week. No responsible government will allow the closure or relocation of courts on account of intimidation by well-known thugs.
“In any case, will the Federal High Court, the Court of Appeal as well as the Ekiti State High Court and Magistrate courts housed in the same compound be relocated? Instead of engaging in such escapism the security agencies should be tasked with the responsibility of providing adequate security for judges, judiciary staff, lawyers, litigants and other law abiding citizens in the court premises. In view of the fact that several accused persons are languishing in police and prison custody all stakeholders should work together towards the re-opening of all the courts in Ekiti State without any delay.”