Arrest usurped powers of NJC, says Afe Babalola
• SANs urge law review, respect for separation of powers
• ‘DSS, an illegal body’
The arrest of some judges by the Department of State Services (DSS), is a “usurpation of the powers of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and a disgrace to the judiciary,” foremost lawyer, Afe Babalola (SAN) said yesterday.
In a statement he sent to The Guardian, Babalola said, “By conducting those simultaneous raids across several states in the dead of the night, the DSS has unwittingly created a wrong impression in the minds of millions of Nigerians that the judiciary is not only an unreliable but a criminal organisation.”
Babalola argued that subjecting judges to such opprobrium before trial and sanction by the NJC “presents some very unique problems.”
He said: “As the allegations made against the judges are said to arise from or pertain to their office as judges, I am of the view that the Constitution requires that any infraction by the said judges be firstly investigated and resolved by the NJC to the exclusion of any other body or authority.
Babalola said arresting serving judges without prior sanction of the NJC presents some very unique problems.
Also, another SAN, Ifedayo Adedipe, called for a review of the law that set up the NJC to deal with corruption in the Bar and the Bench.”
Adedipe told The Guardian yesterday that there would not have been any need for the “Gestapo-like action of the DSS if the NJC is adequately equipped to deal with corruption cases.”
While condemning the role of the DSS in the saga, saying the agency acted outside its mandate of handling only espionage matters, the legal luminary said “the NJC should limit itself to matters relating to professional misconduct, which as an administrative body. It is best saddled to handle and leave corruption issues in the hands of the police.”
According to Adedipe “There should be a difference between misconduct and corruption. The law setting up the NJC should be reviewed to recognise this fact. Matters of corruption are definitely beyond late judgments, absenteeism and other misconducts that judicial officers could be accused of. These are misconducts.”
Yet another SAN, Mr. Gabriel Ofodile Okafor described the DSS action as an affront on the judiciary and a clear breach of separation of powers among the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
Okafor said that indeed the judiciary was under siege.
He said: “Every institution of government has mechanism to deal with cases of corruption and professional misconduct. The NJC is currently a lame duck. It should be positioned to tackle corruption with appropriate legislation.”
Adedipe, who described the midnight arrest by the DSS as “shocking, unacceptable and over the bar”, said what this portends is nothing but sheer intimidation of the judiciary by the executive.
Adeniyi Akintola SAN, also maintained the morale of judges all over the country has been affected and it is a challenge affecting the legal profession.
“The DSS has succeeded in demoralising judges and in fact the legal profession all over the country,” Akintola said.
The SAN further said that resolution by the Senate to amend laws establishing the DSS with some security outfits in the country is an ignorant move because there was no law regarding the DSS to begin with.
He explained that according to CAP 74 of the Laws of the Federation 1986, the State Security Service (DSS) was only provided for and the DSS is an illegal body of the executive.