Violent, Mid-Night Raids on Homes of Judges: Disgraceful Abuse of Power and Rueful Disrespect for Judicial Branch From Friday, the 7th of October, till the early hours of Saturday, the 8th December 2016, armed detachments of the State Security Service (“SSS”) reportedly stormed the residences of a number of Judges (and Justices of the Supreme Court) in various locations in Nigeria, (Gombe, FCT Abuja, Kano, Enugu, Sokoto and Port Harcourt), and, for several hours, ransacked their houses. Where they could not gain access to the houses, they reportedly broke down the houses’ doors as has been witnessed by media footage. SSS officials also reportedly physically manhandled and threatened to shoot residents who refused to give them access to particular houses. A number of Judges were arrested, as well as two Justices of the Supreme Court (Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro). The arrests occurred in the early hours of the morning of Saturday, 8th October 2016. Search warrants were reportedly procured for the search of the premises of some, but not all the Judges/Justices whose homes were invaded. Raids Attack Independence of Judiciary and its Form Denigrates Judiciary Access to Justice condemns this unfortunate and contemptuous attack on the Nigerian Judiciary and the degrading invasion of Judges’ residences in the manner (and at the times of the day) the various raids occurred. The form which the raids and arrests took is degrading, abrasive and traumatizing. It is despotic for officials of one branch of government to treat those of another branch in a manner that completely lacks respect and decorum: these attacks represent an invidious and insidious threat to the independence of the Judiciary. The SSS says the raids were part of corruption investigations. Access to Justice, and other stakeholders have often expressed concerns about corruption in Judiciary and the slow progress being made to tackle it, but this is no legitimate way to tackle corruption. Breaking into Judges houses, assaulting their relatives, and arresting them in the time of night they were, over-reaches the boundaries of how the SSS can legitimately conduct its business in a democratic government. The tactics used by the SSS in these incidents are scaremongering, and we are concerned that it may be calculated to intimidate Judges who are opposed to the government’s persistent disobedience of court orders. If the government or its agencies have any suspicions against judges, the government is entitled to pursue these complaints in a procedurally fair and legitimate way. Judges would be expected to honour any invitations from government agencies where an investigation is being done. This is the way anti-corruption agencies have treated many of those it is currently prosecuting. Why is the government denying judges this procedure? There is something yet more portentous about what these incidents represent: if judges can be treated in this way, what rights do ordinary citizens have? Is this government serving notice that it will not anymore observe restraints or protocols that regulate inter-branch relationships, but will ride roughshod over everything in its way, including the due process rights afforded by the constitution to any and everyone? President Muhammadu Buhari’s government must respect the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and must rein in the excesses of its agencies. The government must denounce the actions of the SSS, investigate this assault on the Judiciary, express its regrets and reassurances to the Judiciary and ensure that those who authorized these assaults on judges and their households are disciplined. The government must further address concerns that its agencies may be using the investigation of corruption allegations as a means to cower judges, and cajole them into silence, or as a way to intimidate Judges who question the administration’s fledging respect for the rule of law and court orders. The president must assure Nigerians that the Judiciary will never again, during his administration, be denigrated in this manner. Joseph Otteh, Director, Access to Justice
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