“We, therefore, condemn in totality such an ignoble act and pledge every effort at ensuring the sanctity of the nation’s judiciary, as well as our continuous support to the independence of the judiciary.”
Those were the words of the Chairman of the House of Reps Committee on Judiciary, Rep. Luke Onofiok (PDP-Akwa Ibom), reacting to the news of the raid of Chief Justice Mary Odili’s home last week by security operatives.
The home of the Supreme Court Justice was allegedly raided by security operatives last week in what seemed like “déjà vu” for most Nigerians, reminding concerned citizens of events from 2016 – 2019, when homes of Judges were raided by security operatives and the trial of Justice Onnoghen just before the 2019 elections.
What stakeholders have said
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was the first government agency to deny involvement in the present case, revealing in a statement that “The commission by this statement wishes to inform the public that the report is false as it did not carry out any operation at the home of Justice Odili.
“If there was any such operation as claimed by the media, it was not carried out by the EFCC.”
The news of the raid also drew the attention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which warned that bringing the perpetrators of the raid on the home of the supreme court judge to book, is one of many “deterrents that can forestall future desecration of the rights to privacy, integrity of the person, residence and office of our judicial officers especially at that level.”
The Human Rights Commission also urged that it is time to punish this kind of professional misconduct by erring law enforcement officers to forestall total destruction of the integrity of judicial offices and the Judiciary.
What you should be bothered about
The raid of the home of the Chief Justice is quite similar to a raid carried out in 2016, which many stakeholders say did not follow due process. Secondly, with the fragile state of Nigeria’s 20-year-old democracy, the rule of law needs to be upheld to maintain not just the sanctity of the constitution but the civil rights of all Nigerians.
What happened in 2016?
In October 2016, The Department of State Services raided the homes and arrested six top judges including 2 Supreme Court Judges. The raid also saw the agency confiscate cash, amounting to $800,000.00 from the homes of the Judges, an event which legal practitioners said was constitutionally illegal.
According to reports, the judges were arrested between 11 pm and 4 am in their homes, and arrest warrants are not normally valid for nighttime detentions.
Secondly, Abubakar Mahmoud, head of the Nigerian Bar Association at the time warned, “These military-style operations are totally unacceptable in a democratic society.
“These operations are illegal and unconstitutional.”
A statement released by the DSS during the 2016 raid, said: “The searches have uncovered huge raw cash of various denominations, local and foreign currencies, with real estate worth several millions of naira and documents affirming unholy acts by these judges.
“We have been monitoring the expensive and luxurious lifestyle of some of the judges as well as complaints from the concerned public over judgment obtained fraudulently and on the basis (of) amounts of money paid.”
The raid, which was declared illegal by the Nigerian Bar Association and which many saw as a slippery slope in the battle towards building institutions, was justified by the federal government as a masterstroke in the fight against corruption.
President Buhari in a statement, also justified the raid, stating that he received assurances from the DSS that all due processes of the law, including the possession of search and arrest warrants were obtained before the searches.
The Presidency added that the sting operation against the judicial officers was specifically targeted at corruption and not at the judiciary as an institution.
“In a robust democracy such as ours, there is bound to be a plurality of opinions on any given issue, but there is a convergence of views that the country has a corruption problem that needs to be corrected,” they added.
What shall we say to these things?
Just as the 2016 raid was constitutionally illegal, albeit justified by the FG as a necessity in the fight against corruption, the raid on Justice Odili’s home has also been ruled to be illegal and more importantly, it is a spooky reminder to most Nigerians of the fragility of our institutions in the quest to strengthen Nigeria’s young democracy.
It is why the Human Rights Commission urged that the raid on her home should be condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians in the interest of our nascent democracy, independence of the judiciary and respect for human rights and the rule of law.