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Nigeria’s judges have been raping justice, empathy for them should be in short supply

The raids on the homes of some Supreme Court and Federal High Court judges on Friday and Saturday 8 and 9 October by Nigeria’s security agency officials have sharply divided opinion in the country.

The Directorate of State Services (DSS) claimed in a statement to have targeted the judges for their corruption and claim to have recovered $800,000 in cash from the judges’ homes. “The searches have uncovered huge raw cash of various denominations, local and foreign currencies, with real estate worth several millions of naira and documents affirming unholy acts by these judges. We have been monitoring the expensive and luxurious lifestyle of some of the judges as well as complaints from the concerned public over judgment obtained fraudulently and on the basis (of) amounts of money paid.”

One attempt to raid the home of a judge in the Rivers State capital Port Harcourt was interrupted by the governor Nyesom Wike.

DSS dawn raid drama in Port Harcourt

Wike’s attempt to prevent the arrest was quite instructive. The people of Rivers State, who have been long-suffering from violent crimes ranging from cultism to kidnappings to armed robbery, must wonder why a judge’s security was of such importance to the governor. Wike’s intervention was clearly not about public safety, just like the attempt by the DSS to arrest the judge and the others was not really about corruption.

There is no doubt that the Nigerian judiciary is rotten to the core. Their criminality reaches epic proportions when (s)election disputes move to the courts. Judgments are no longer about adherence to the letter and spirit of the law, but swayed in favour of the highest bidder. Wike was widely seen as a beneficiary of such “pay per judgment” arrangements as his governorship (s)election was disputed all the way to the Supreme Court and the ruling ended in his favour.

It is likely that the judges that were targeted were behind some of those suspect judgments. But in line with the character of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) administration, those judges that delivered dodgy judgments in favour of APC candidates have not been targeted. The Supreme Court judges that delivered the absurd verdict that allowed Yahaya Bello to remain as Kogi State governor, a judgment that stood the law on its head, have not been targeted for corruption, as far as we can see.

The Kogi conundrum

We have a judiciary in Nigeria that is just as corrupt as the other arms of government and have enriched themselves from public office. And we have a corrupt federal executive that claims to be fighting corruption, but in reality is using state power to pursue opponents and judges that favoured opponents. The recent raids using the DSS seem to be designed to strike fear in the hearts of any judge contemplating going against the ruling party.

Right-thinking Nigerians are therefore caught in a quandary. No one, in their right mind, would argue against arresting and prosecuting a corrupt judge, even when other corrupt judges with the “right kind” of corruption are untouchable. Like several have argued, judges should not be above the law. However, Nigerians should be vigilant to ensure that the government undertakes its selective prosecutions by the book.

Reports claim that the DSS obtained warrants for the raids. We can’t confirm this. But there is a question around the legitimacy of using the DSS for crime-fighting of this nature. The National Security Agencies Act of 1986 that set up the DSS states its role is about “the prevention and detection within Nigeria of any crime against the internal security of Nigeria.” It is a bit of stretch to argue (and it hasn’t stopped some “experts” from trying) that the criminality of judges comes under this purview.

There is no national security angle in the corruption of judges. The use of DSS agents to effect the arrest of allegedly corrupt judges in the middle of night appears to be excessive and may have been designed to intimidate. The Chief Justice of Nigeria Mahmud Mohammed called it “regrettable”. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) described the act as “illegal and unconstitutional”, condemning the raids of the judges’ homes with “masked armed men at night”.

Nigerians should not look kindly at the use of the DSS in this way. It seems like an abuse of power. There are proper channels for investigating corruption and arresting suspects, using agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The optics of raids at night with armed DSS agents do not look good for Buhari with his history as a military dictator and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) reacted by calling it “Gestapo tactics”.

That said, Wike’s actions in trying to protect a judge, should inform most neutral Nigerians that the governor is a vested interest and the judge was most likely corrupt. What most Nigerians would welcome is due process in the prosecution of corrupt judges that took bribes from the likes of Wike. The Buhari regime has shown that its prosecution of corrupt officials is very selective and there is little anyone can do about it apart from highlight the issue. What Nigerians should not do is side with those corrupt judges and the politicians that have enriched them.

Nigerians should be, and try to remain, on the right side of the law, they should be vigilant enough to stop any government that tries to abuse its legal powers, and be wary of a criminal government that could potentially use the guise of fighting corruption in the judiciary to also attack independent-minded judges.

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