Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana (SAN), has dissociated himself from the stand of the Nigerian Bar Association on the arrest of judges by the Department of State Services.
Reacting to the Friday raid and arrest of judges of the Supreme, Appeal and High Courts, the NBA had addressed a press conference calling for their unconditional release and declaring a state of emergency in the judiciary.
The arrested judicial officers comprised two Justices of the Supreme Court – Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro – as well as Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court and another judge of the Gombe State High Court, Justice Mu’azu Pindiga.
The DSS alleged that the suspects had engaged in judicial misconduct and corrupt practices, adding that a huge amount of money was recovered from three of the judges.
Falana who issued a statement on Sunday, accused the NBA of shielding corrupt judges despite having information about their activities.
He described the failure of NBA to deal with corrupt officials in the judiciary as an embarrassment to the “incorruptible members of the bar”, adding that it was responsible for the current state of the country’s judiciary.
Falana said: “In particular, the Nigerian Bar Association which has information on all corrupt judges and lawyers in the country has 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.”
He blamed his colleagues for the harassment of judges by security forces as they had failed to take advantage of the relevant statutory disciplinary bodies to purge the bar and the bench of corrupt elements.
“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 said.
Falana, however, said because 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 Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to ensure that the judges were immediately arraigned without delay.
He lamented the state of the legal profession, saying, “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 N197m from a litigant the authorities had paid lip service to the menace of judicial corruption in the country.”