■ Judiciary must be independent, accorded respect – Ananaba
■ Sense of fear, harassment now envelope judiciary – Ugwummadu
The firestorm of protest set off by the invasion of the homes of some judges by the Department of State Security (DSS) continued to rage yesterday as notable lawyers lampooned the security agency.
In his reaction to the raid on the judges, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and human rights lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, characterized it as the unveiling of dictatorship.
He said: “A leopard cannot change its spots. Welcome to full-blown dictatorship and fascism that are now here with us. It started with political opponents and the opposition. Some of us cried out. Many gloated with eclat and a sense of victory at opponents’ horrific travails. Then, they moved against some very senior and well-respected lawyers. Some clapped. They said it was anti-corruption. We cried out. It extended quickly to the National Assembly, another different arm of government. Many hailed the government as tough, no-nonsense and anti-corruption- inclined. Some of us warned. Now, the Judiciary, up to the very apex court of the land, the Supreme Court, has been targeted and is now being intimidated, humiliated and annexed.”
Speaking in the same vein, Mr. Paul Ananaba, also a SAN, said that the DSS by its action had dented the independence of the judiciary as enshrined in the Constitution, stating that judges enjoy judicial immunity, which is a necessary condition for them to be able to dispense justice.
His words: “The judiciary is supposed to be independent and accorded respect. I do not know why they broke into the home of the judges. It is not one of the best things to hear because it could have the effect of making judges afraid to dispense justice. Justice can only be dispensed when judges know that they are free and independent. Where judges err, there is legal provision for dealing with such judges – and that is the National Judicial Council. Today, many judges are being disciplined. I will imagine that when a judge is disciplined or sanctioned by the NJC, prosecution can then take place. The NJC exists to protect the independence of the judiciary. The president and state governors have immunity.
In the same manner, judges have judicial immunity from being manhandled. What happened to the judges is just like breaking into the Government House to arrest a sitting governor who has not been impeached and removed from office by the State House of Assembly. I think the stakeholders in the justice sector should look into this.”
Weighing in on the raging discourse, President of the Committee for the Defence of Huamn Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, a lawyer, pointedly told President Muhammadu Buhari that peace in Nigeria is intimately and intricately connected with the presence of justice, which can only be dispensed by the very judges being hounded in unfortunate Gestapo manner of the DSS.
“Clearly, there are implications of what has just happened beyond the sense of fear and harassment that now envelope the judiciary in the discharge of their duties. There is also the cost implication on the state, because most of the judges who are subjected to these treatments and in hiding this weekend may not show up for work on Monday thereby delaying or defeating the ends of justice in the respective matters that they may be handling.
The Buhari administration must be reminded that peace in a society is not the absence of war but the presence of justice, which can only be dispensed by those being hounded now,” Ugwummadu said. Alluding to the complacency of Martin Niemoller, a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran, who kept silent as the holocaust unfolded until he himself was affected, Ozekhome said: “The earlier Nigerians rise up and speak against this latest onslaught on the judiciary, the better for all of us and democracy.
I am greatly troubled for my dear country. God bless Nigeria.” Former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode opined that the latest act of impunity by the security is a clarion call on Nigerians to stand up and be counted against the emerging dictatorship: “The truth is that we are in trouble in this country. The motherland and all that we hold dear is under attack from a ravenous and dictatorial president and government. When those that are constitutionally charged and empowered to protect us from tyranny, and the abuse of power by a vicious, violent, murderous and lawless government and its murderous security agencies are themselves under siege all hope is lost. If the judges cannot protect us and if they themselves have become victims of barbarous tyranny then it is time for the people to rise up, take to the streets, resist the evil and fight against our oppressors.
Sons and daughters of Nigeria, we must not give in to fear and we must not be silenced. We must defend the rights of our people and fight for our homeland. Now is the time to protest in any way that we possibly can; now is the time to say “enough is enough!”