The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to release some judges who were arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS). The NBA threatened that there would be consequences if these judges are not released.
But the lawyers missed an important opportunity to advocate for the cleansing of their profession.
Most senior lawyers agree with the NBA’s position. One lawyer fears that we might be back to the days of military rule. Another argued that there were ways of dealing with allegations of corruption against judges: malfeasances should be taken to appropriate authorities such as the NJC. (This is correct, but it doesn’t mean the President has done anything wrong in this sting operation).
Even though the DSS claims to have gotten warrants for their search operation, one senior advocate argued that the independence of the judiciary should exempt it from the kind of interference.
According to The Cable, a senior advocate argues that the time of the arrests was ungodly. He says arrests shouldn’t be made at night. [One would like to ask if a man who beats up his wife in the midnight should be exempted from arrest that same night, just because the hour is ungodly.]
But the President says the judiciary has been his headache: he must have drafted means to cure this headache. Many retired chief jurists agree that many judges are corrupt. The public thinks so, as well. The question is: How do we check arbitrariness in the cleansing process?
Our lawyers are missing a very important chance. Instead, they should insist on a unified guideline on sting operations. For example, in the US, the FBI operates under guidelines laid by former Attorney General Eric Holder.
With appropriate guidelines, DSS and the police will not be able to intimidate our judges, who are supposed to be independent anyway.
It is only concrete evidence from a sting operation of this nature that can speed up prosecution. The quality of evidence matters in legal tussles.
Take America for instance. In 2014, the FBI invented a fake case involving a fictional character and a staged arrest. The FBI invented this case to see if Joseph Waters Jr., a Philadelphia judge who was suspected to be corrupt, would interfere in this case after been pressured by his rich friend, who had been ‘good’ to him, but was working for the FBI in this instance.
Walters fell for this sting operation. He called Judge Dawn Segal, who was assigned this fictitious case, to lobby her. All these were recorded in the FBI’s sting operation. This operation is synonymous to what the DSS claims to have been doing.
Even the lawmakers are not left out in sting operations in America. In 2005, the FBI worked with several lobbyists in Tennessee in order to arrest corrupt state legislators and politicians. The FBI paid over $150,000 in bribe to these corrupt politicians and lawmakers in this undercover investigation.
And Americans do not believe that these sting operations affected the independence of the judiciary and legislature. (Note that wiring a person’s home is almost the same as invading it.)
To allay fears from senior lawyers, the DSS should pass on, as quickly as possible, the evidence they have obtained to NJC for further investigations. And the NJC should recommend prosecution where necessary. They are used to just retiring judges. This might have been frustrating to the President.
It is surprising that no senior lawyer has talked about the evidences obtained from the residences of these judges.
More importantly, the judges should not be detained longer than necessary. They should also be given fair hearings.