Days after he was abducted by unknown gunmen, the whereabouts of Marcel Okoh, a judge in the Delta State High court, is yet to be ascertained by his family as well as security agents.
To help resolve the kidnap, which has so far confounded officers of the Nigeria Police, Access to Justice, a human rights group, has written to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to intervene.
On August 7, Mr. Okoh, who was appointed a judge last June, was abducted at Oria-Abraka in Ethiope East Local Government Area of Delta State on his way to Warri to sit in his court.
In a letter addressed to Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; the group noted that these recent attacks on judicial officers will increase if urgent steps are not taken to curtail them.
“Justice Okoh’s abduction highlights the serious risks many Nigerians face as they pursue their daily businesses in diverse locations, but attacks against Judicial Officers ups the ante and amplifies the risks which judicial officers in many parts of Nigeria face in their day to day functions,” said Joseph Otteh, Executive Director, Access to Justice.
“We are convinced that the abduction or kidnapping of judicial officers represents a real and mortal danger to the independence of Judges and can constitute a major obstacle to the administration of justice anywhere,” he added.
Mr. Okoh’s abduction has generated widespread condemnation from rights and civil society groups across the country with the Nigeria Bar Association, Warri branch, ordering its members to boycott courts in the state until he is released.
Charles Muka, Delta State Police spokesperson, told journalists on Thursday that they were yet to establish contact with the kidnappers.
“But our manhunt is on for them,” said Mr. Muka.
Access to Justice urged the UN to add their voice to the demand for Mr. Okoh’s release as well as prevail on the Nigerian government to provide adequate measures to protect judges who work in particularly difficult environments.
“If sufficient pressure is not brought to bear on the government, we fear that not enough and timely action will be taken to secure the release of Justice Okoh before the harrowing experience takes a heavy toll on his health and psychological well-being,” Mr. Otteh said.
“It is important to recall that before his elevation to judicial office recently, Justice Okoh had served as Director of Public Prosecution in the Delta State Ministry of Justice where he was chiefly responsible for the prosecution of serious crimes in the State.
“We do not know whether this fact had any connection with his abduction/kidnapping, or what impact, if it has, it will have on the treatment while in captivity,” Mr. Otteh added.