By: Douglas Ogbankwa Esq.
Nigerians were outraged when they found out about the quite audacious and obstrusive invasion of the House of the second highest ranking Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria – Hon Justice Mary Peter-Odili on Friday the 29th of October, 2021, by Security agents allegedly led by Officers of the Federal Ministry of Justice.
The denials by the Minister of Justice and one of the Heads of a Security Agency makes one ask if they think Nigerians are fools or zombies that you can sell any story to and expect to buy same. We may now add lexicon to our Political Dictionary in Nigeria: Unknown Security Agents. What a shame!
The Nigerian society aside being a Democratic one is one that is operated by a Presidential System of Government where the three organs of government operate separately in function and personnel and each of them serve as a check to one another, to ensure a balance of power. Each organ of government maintains their administrative structure and disciplinary apparatus.
In the National Assembly, when a federal legislator is accused of an infraction, the issue is referred to the ethics and privileges committee of the respective Houses of Parliament first, before security agencies are invited to Investigative if the need arises. In the Executive, an investigative panel is first set up, after which they will set up another panel to issue a white paper. In the same vein, when in the Judiciary you must first make your complaint to the National Judicial Council if any Judge or Justice is accused of an infraction.
It is indeed an anathema that Judges who are the weakest in protecting themselves and the most sacred of all officials of the three organs of Government are easily targeted by rouge agents of Government supported largely by an Attorney General who does not seem to understand that his duty as a Lawyer is first to the Bar and the Court and not to some tyrants.
The action of the security agents who invaded the Mataima, Abuja residence of the Hon. Justice Mary Peter-Odili smacks of an invasion of an arm of Government by another Arm of Government. It can be termed an attempted coup.
This position of the law has been affirmed in the locus classicus on the matter in Nigeria, the case of NGANJIWA V FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (2018) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1609) 30, where the Court of Appeal stated without any equivocation that “ If any judicial officer commits a professional misconduct within the scope of his duty and is investigated, arrested and subsequently prosecuted by security agents, without a formal complaint/report to the NJC, it will be a usurpation of the latter’s constitutionally guaranteed powers under Section 158 and Paragraph 21 Part 1 of the third schedule, thereby inhibiting the NJC from carrying out its disciplinary control over erring judicial officers as clearly provided by the Constitution… it is only when the NJC has given a verdict and handed over such judicial officer (removing his toga of judicial powers) to the prosecuting authority that he may be investigated and prosecuted by the appropriate security agencies”
“ We re-emphasise that it amounts to executive infraction on the judicial independence to continue to harass, intimidate and humiliate judges. We want to further reiterate in clear terms that in view of the constitutionally guaranteed doctrine of independence of the Judiciary, no security agency or prosecuting authority in Nigeria has the power to investigate, arrest, or prosecute a siting judicial officer without first referring the matter to the National Judicial Council, and await the directive of the Council. We call on the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to immediately direct investigation of all security agents and other persons who played any role in this assault on the Judiciary and any persons found culpable should be made to face the full wrath of the law.”
This authority is the extant authority on this Matter. It has not been set aside and remains the law on the matter until a contrary and later authority surfaces. We submit therefore that the invasion of Justice Mary Peter-Odili’s Mataima residence is akin to executive rascality taken to an olympian height. It also does not conform to the law on the matter and everyone involved in the illegal invasion should be made to face the wrath of the Law.
A Ministry of Justice should be seen to do justice, especially to one of our own – a Justice of the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If we do not fight for my Lord today, we do not know who will be the victim tomorrow.
About the Author:
Douglas Ogbankwa @ firstname.lastname@example.org, a Benin Based Lawyer, is the Convener of the Vanguard for the Independence of the Judiciary and the President of the Benin Writers’ Society.