A Nigerian lawyer and a human rights activist, Mr Femi Falana, says the lip service that legal practitioners pay to the menace of judicial corruption in Nigeria led to the harassment of judges.
Mr Falana gave the opinion in reaction to the arrests of some judges on Friday by the Department of State Services (DSS).
The DSS, which raided the official quarters of judges at Abuja, Gombe, Kano and Port Harcourt, said they were arrested for alleged misconduct and corrupt practices.
The arrests have raised diverse comments from lawyers and other groups, with most of them saying that the DSS’ act was unconstitutional.
But Mr Falana is taking a different stand on the issue.
He said: “It is a matter of grave concern that the legal profession has allowed the denigration of the hallowed temple of justice because of the misconduct of a few corrupt judges.
“For several years, judges who committed grave criminal offences were not prosecuted but merely retired by the authorities on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.
“Although the National Judicial Council recently recommended the dismissal and prosecution of a judge for extorting the sum of 197 million Naira from a litigant the authorities had paid lip service to the menace of judicial corruption in the country.
“In particular, the Nigerian Bar Association which has information on all corrupt judges and lawyers in the country have continued to shield them to the embarrassment of incorruptible members of the bar and the bench.
“The few lawyers who have plucked up the courage to expose corrupt judges and lawyers have been stigmatised and treated like lepers by their colleagues.
“It is on record that when both the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offences Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission sent invitation letters to judges suspected of corruption they had rushed to the Federal High Court to obtain interlocutory injunctions to prevent their arrest, investigation and prosecution”.
Account Of Negligence
Mr Falana further gave instances where legal practitioners have shielded corrupt colleagues, saying “about two years ago, an anti-graft agency found two billion Naira in the account of a high court judge. As soon as the judge was invited for questioning she reported and made a statement and was granted bail.
“But as she could not defend the lodgement in her bank account she obtained an interlocutory injunction from one of the judges in the custody of the State Security Service. (SSS)
“It is common knowledge that two Senior Advocates of Nigeria are standing trial in the Lagos High Court for allegedly bribing a judge. Even though it takes two to tangle the judge has not been charged to court for allegedly receiving bribe.
“Having failed to take advantage of the relevant statutory disciplinary bodies to purge the bar and the bench of corrupt elements the members of the legal profession have themselves to blame for the harassment of judges by security forces”.
The lawyer says it is on account of negligence on the part of the legal profession that the SSS which screens candidates before they are recommended by the National Judicial Council for appointment as judges has now engaged in the arrest of judges for alleged corruption and abuse of office.
He urged the bar and the bench to immediately strengthen their disciplinary bodies with a view to removing the few corrupt judges and lawyers whose criminal activities have continued to erode public confidence in the judiciary.
On the rights of the arrested persons, which many lawyers said was violated, Mr Falana said: “It is painful to note that, before now, the demand of the human rights community to the effect that the fundamental rights of lowly placed criminal suspects be respected by the Police and other security agencies has been treated with disdain.
“But having regard to the fact that judges and other influential citizens have since become victims of institutionalised abuse of official harassment, it is high time that all stakeholders demanded that every criminal suspect be treated with dignity in line with the provision of the Constitution and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015”.
Giving his opinion further on the rights of the arrested judges, the human rights activist also highlighted that since the detained judges are presumed innocent until the contrary is proved by the State, they should be admitted to bail in self recognisance.
He urged the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation to ensure that the suspects were arraigned in court without any further delay.