Any Nation with weak or corrupt judiciary will find development very difficult. I want to believe that it is a mere coincidence and that there is no synchronisation in the prosecution. I know that the narrative among some of our colleagues in the legal profession is that the judiciary or legal profession is under siege. I think that this narrative is wrong and I hope that those who are in the eye of the storm would not make this ramifying allegation as a defence strategy. I do not think that it is planned that way; it’s a mere coincidence.
So many people have condemned the arraignment of the CJN before the CCT. They said due process was not followed. What is your position on this?
I have condemned it in a statement I issued. I believe that the charge ought not to have been brought. My belief is anchored on the rule of law. Nigerians can recall that in 2016, when the houses of some judges in Nigeria were searched, I was the first lawyer who insisted that judges could be arrested even when some senior lawyers were saying that it was not in the law. And it was shown clearly to everybody that their position was not correct. Some of them were still saying that search warrant could not be executed in the night. It was shown again under the administration of Criminal Justice Act that search warrant and warrant of arrest could be executed at anytime. The reason why I maintained that position was because the law allows it. Judges could be arrested, investigated and charged to court, tried and prosecuted. There is no immunity against such steps. The immunity we have in the constitution under Section 308 relates only to the four public officers in the executive branch of government – president, vice president, governor and deputy governor. Apart from these four, there are no other persons in the constitution in favour of whom immunity, in a clear cut manner, is granted; certainly not judicial officers. Yes, the provision of the constitution that has been cited by those who are arguing in opposition to our own view relates to Section 153 of the constitution which creates executive bodies, including the National Judicial Commission, INEC, Federal Civil Service Commission, Code of Conduct Bureau. Now, Section 158 of the constitution grants these bodies the power not to be manipulated in the course of discharging their duties by a foreign body. INEC, for example, in discharging its duties, is not expected to be manipulated, but that does not mean that members of INEC, if they are to commit a crime, cannot be prosecuted. Nigerians can bear witnesses to the fact that in the last election, some staff of INEC in Rivers State were accused of compromise and they were arrested and tried regardless of the fact that INEC was created by Section 153 and granted power of independence of action under Section 158 of the constitution. So, all the sections that have been mentioned – 153 , 158 and even 292 that provides security of tenure for judicial officers and Paragraph 21, Part One (b) of the Third Schedule of the constitution that list the powers of the NJC – all these sections, no matter how they may be interpreted, do not grant immunity to judicial officials.
What we read is that declarations were not made. If declarations were not made, that is an infraction. But is it not curious that this declaration that they are talking about predated his elevation to the office of the CJN? So, when they were doing their due diligence, the Department of State Services clearance and even the period that they made him the acting CJN, what did they do with the records that they have? What I am insinuating therefore is that they knew about all these things before they made him the CJN. Government should not engage in blackmail. If they knew about all these, why were they not man enough to deal with it then? What has the CJN done differently that is making government to resort to this? That is the query that is out there? However, it is obvious that there are cases of corrupt practices in the judiciary and this must be fought. As a responsible Nigerian, who believes in the rule of law, there is the need for consistency even in public discourse.
The anti-corruption crusade of President Buhari is one that is pursued more holistically, robustly and comprehensively in a more encompassing manner. It gives little comfort when there are legitimate concerns that some persons that are close to the executive arm of government are not being prosecuted and when these questions are directly asked, it is a case of ‘we have authorised the EFCC to do it’, while other persons, who are not so close to the executive arm of government, are being prosecuted. It does not give one the required confidence. However, unlike some people who would want to pooh-pooh the entire anti-corruption war by saying nothing is being done, I am not in that category. I support it. I want it to be made broader and deeper and more encompassing. I know that it’s the nature of power to protect its own. It happens in the United States of America. Let us not behave like an ostrich. Political power is used in a rather protectionist manner and it is understandable. But we must insist on the principle of equality before the law.