The judiciary, worldwide, is perceived as the last hope of the common man. When however, that institution begins to deviate from its expectations, it sends danger signals. In Nigeria, there is no doubt that her judiciary has been lately emitting danger signals owing to a spate of spurious judgements and interpretations. These have made people to begin to doubt the neutrality of the judiciary.
Indeed, not too long ago, the National Judicial Council, NJC, had recommended some judges for sack over corrupt activities. The judges are Messrs Umezulike, Auta, and Tsamiya. It was the NJC's response to the growing condemnation of the ugly trend noticeable in the nation's judiciary. A trend that has seen cases being stood on their heads because of monetary influence.
Cases abound where some judges have used fronts, sometimes lawyers, to negotiate judgement with litigants. The result has often thrown the polity into confusion, a situation that will always not augur well for society.
When therefore news of the raid of the homes of seven judges filtered in last week, many Nigerians must have heaved a sigh of relief.
But it was not to be. Rather than hail the action, Nigerians almost rose in unison to condemn what they have described as a wrong approach to a well-meaning action.
The seven judges arrested and detained at the SSS office were Justice Inyang Okoro and Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court; Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja; Kabir Auta of the Kano High Court; Muazu Pindiga of the Gombe High Court, Mohammed Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal in Ilorin, and the Chief Judge of Enugu State, I. A. Umezulike.
At least eight more senior judges in Nigeria are being investigated for corruption and may be arrested anytime from now; (as at press time).
The eight are part of 15 judges that are being investigated by the State Security Service for alleged corrupt practices.
Although the identity of the eight others being investigated is not yet clear, at least one of them is believed to be a member of the Supreme Court.
Apart from the judges, at least three members of the registry staff of relevant courts have also been invited for questioning by the SSS who said they had made relevant statements.
On the following Saturday after the initial arrest, the security service gave reasons why it arrested the judges.
In a statement, the SSS said it also recovered various sums of money from them, including over N93 million in cash, as well as over $530,000, also in cash.
However, it was the mode of the arrest of the seven judges that triggered widespread condemnation by Nigerians, including the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), as well as human rights groups.
Nigeria operates a democracy and under such, it is expected that the right process will always be followed. In this vein, the judges should have been made to go through the normal process of prosecution before the public show that was seen last week in which they were already tried and condemned without hearing from them.
The NJC should have been the body to recommend them for trial and not the federal government, through the DSS. That blunder could have led to grave consequences in Rivers State where the state governor rushed to the home of one of the judges and refused to have him arrested amid threats of being shot by the DSS.
Nigeria is a country of law and order. We are also not in a military dictatorship where the leadership can wake up any day and carry out actions as it deems fit.
We support the prosecution of corrupt judges or indeed any group of Nigerians. No one is above the law. But whereas we believe that rot has set into our judiciary, we insist that the right process be always followed.
We also hasten to add that if the federal government wants to clean up the rot in the judiciary, it should go the whole hog by also extending it to judges perceived to be friends with the federal government. It should not be pursued like the current war on corrupt politicians in which only perceived opposition members are victims.
We hope the federal government will quickly correct its mistake and do things the right way. We all want sanity in our judiciary, given the important role it plays, and it is only by weeding out the corrupt elements that we can achieve that.
But let us go about it in the right manner. That is all Nigerians ask.