Without issuing a harmonized statement on the controversial arrest of judges over allegation of corruption, Nigeria’s body of lawyers and the Nigeria Judicial Council (NJC) have resolved their differences on the matter.
A quiet meeting the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) held with the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mahmud Mohammed, in Abuja on Thursday, October 27, led to the understanding on positions previously taken by both parties on the matter.
The meeting, it was gathered, was attended by NBA President, Abubakar Mahmoud, and his vice presidents, including Monday Ubani, as well as Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) like Funke Adekoya, Tony Idigbe, among others
On the CJN team were judges of the Supreme Court, including the CJN-designate, Justice Walter Onnoghen. Those privy to last Thursday’s meeting said that Supreme Court judges — Iyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta — who were among those arrested by the Department of State Service (DSS) did not attend the meeting.
“Each party tried to explain the position it had taken previously and we seem to understand each other better now,” a top executive member of the NBA who asked not to be named, said last night. “The position of the NBA on the issue remains unchanged, but we agreed the judiciary is a very sensitive arm of government and should not be put to ridicule. We do not want confidence in the judiciary to be eroded.”
The CJN and his team was said to have insisted that the affected judges could not be suspended without adequate information and evidence to support the allegation of corruption.
It was also gathered that both sides agreed that the manner of arrest was unacceptable under democracy.
“And NBA’s position on this has been justified by the fact that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has taken over the matter,” an NBA top executive said.
During separate operations in the early hours of October 7 and 8, 2016, the DSS had raided the homes of the judges and arrested two Supreme Court judges. Also arrested were Kabir Auta of the Kano High Court, Mohammed Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin, Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court Abuja, Muazu Pindiga of the Gombe High Court and the Chief Justice of the Enugu State, I.A Umezulike.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has distanced himself from the travails of some of the judges being investigated by security agencies over sundry allegations of corruption in the judiciary.
A statement issued by the Presidency yesterday has advised journalists and other Nigerians to refrain from linking President Buhari to the legal travails of the arrested judges.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said President Buhari would be the last person to authorise anybody to induce a judge to pervert the course of justice.
Shehu recalled that the President had never abused his familiarity with the judges to seek favours from them when he was challenging the fairness of the presidential election results from the lowest to the highest courts between 2003 and 2011.
He said that as a politician, Buhari had never suggested to his lawyers to approach any judge for assistance to win his cases.
He said the President lives by this principle and has never deviated from it.
On the fate of the judges facing corruption allegations, the presidential media aide said the President doesn’t tell courts how to do their jobs and that anybody accused of corruption is protected by law to defend his innocence.
He said the President doesn’t have any power to force any court to convict anybody who is innocent, arguing that in a democratic society, that cannot happen without resistance by the people.