Lagos 22 October 2016: The Legal Defence & Assistance Project (LEDAP) has condemned the statement credited to the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. A. B. Mahmoud SAN calling on the judges and justices of various courts arrested by the State Security Services on 7th and 8th October 2016 to step aside until the end of the investigation on the allegations against them.
The NBA’s call negates the constitutional rights of the judicial officers to presumption of innocence, and overlooks the true purpose of the attack on the judges by the executive, which was to intimidate and brow-beat the judiciary into total submission to the whims and caprices of the executive arm of government.
NBA’s call for the suspension of these judges is more worrisome in situation where the association is not also calling for the investigation and prosecution of Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transport, and other persons in government or connected with the ruling party who have been accused by the judges of attempting to bribe them and interfering with administration of justice.
LEDAP is convinced that the State Security Services acted beyond its powers in searching the premises of the judicial officers and in arrested them, because its enabling statute limits its duties to the detection and prevention of crimes against the internal security of Nigeria.
It is wrong for the NBA to rely on such illegal and provocative raid and arrest of the judges to demand that they are suspended pending investigations on the allegations against them. Such suspension of the judges will give cloth of legality to an illegality. The State Security Service has no powers under the National Security Agencies Act or any other law to undertake investigation and prosecution of corruption and economic crimes. There is no way the judicial officers who were unduly and unjustifiably molested, embarrassed and intimidated by the SSS are expected to step aside or be suspended because of the illegal raid on them. Rather, LEDAP expects the NBA to be vigorously calling for the arrest and prosecution of the officials of the State Security Services who authorized, or participated in the unlawful attack on the judges.
The NBA, as the umbrella association of lawyers, including the judicial officers, and the voice of the legal profession, has the legal and moral duties to protect the integrity of judicial officials and the independence of the judiciary. To make a u-turn from its initial stand, in which it strongly condemned the search and arrest of the judicial officials, and now to call for their suspension or reclusion, is an unfortunate compromise on due process and independence of the judiciary.
Judicial officers, by the nature of their judicial calling, are voiceless. Thus, only the NBA can stand and speak for them. If the NBA turns its back on judicial officials at this time that the executive wants to brow-beat and denigrate the judiciary and the legal profession, it portends great danger to the rule of law and democracy in Nigeria.
LEDAP wishes to remind the leadership of the NBA that the right to presumption of innocence is a cardinal principle in justice delivery, and if the judicial officials are forced to step down, they would have been accused and adjudged guilty even by a body that is not authorized by law to do so.
LEDAP calls on the President of the NBA to withdraw this part of his delivery in the statements credited to him at the valedictory session of Hon Justice Denton West, and to continue to stand with the progressive elements in the justice sector to demand the prosecution of the officers of SSS that unlawfully attacked and arrested the judges. If there is an allegation against any judge, it should be sent to the NJC who is constitutionally mandated to handle the discipline of judicial officers, and if such complaint is found to involve commission of crime, refer the case to the appropriate agency authorized by law to investigate and prosecute such crime.
The NBA under the new leadership of A. B. Mahmoud SAN should work with the NJC to improve on its compliant-management system rather than allow the executive arm of government to interfere with the independence and integrity of the judiciary.