9 October 2016
Muhammadu Buhari GCFR
President, Federal Republic of Nigeria
Aso Rock Presidential Villa
Re: Request to urgently instruct the Department of State Service to immediately and unconditionally release all the judges arrested and end further intimidation and harassment of the judiciary
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) is writing to request you to use your good offices and leadership to urgently instruct the Department of State Service (DSS) to immediately and unconditionally release all the judges arrested by them and to ask the DSS to end continuing intimidation and harassment of the judiciary.
SERAP is a non-governmental organization dedicated to strengthening the socio-economic welfare of Nigerians by combatting corruption and promoting transparency and accountability. SERAP received the Wole Soyinka Anti-Corruption Defender Award in 2014. It has also been nominated for the UN Civil Society Award and Ford Foundation’s Jubilee Transparency Award. SERAP serves as one of two Sub-Saharan African civil society representatives on the UNCAC Coalition, a global anti-corruption network of over 310 civil society organizations (CSOs) in over 100 countries.
According to reports, two Justices of the Supreme Court– Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro–were arrested after a raid on their homes in Abuja by operatives of the DSS early Saturday morning. The two men are said to be currently in the DSS custody in Abuja. Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court in Abuja was also said to be arrested by the operatives of the DSS after breaking into his official residence at about 1am on Saturday.
There are also reports of invasion of the houses and harassment of judges of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Gombe and Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The raids on the judges’ houses were reportedly carried out at 2am. The official residence of another judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba was also searched. SERAP notes that at least two of the judges had recently ruled against the DSS and condemned its disregard of the laws of the land during its operations.
SERAP is seriously concerned about the wave of arrests, intimidation and harassment of judges across the country by the DSS. While we fully support the government in the efforts to prevent and combat corruption in the judiciary, we cannot accept anticorruption strategies and methods which patently offend the rule of law and undermine the authority, integrity and independence of the judiciary.
SERAP believes that strategies and methods to sanction suspected corrupt judges must never have an inhibiting or chilling effect on the authority, sanctity and independence of the judiciary. Uncertainty of the processes and grounds on which suspected corrupt judges can be sanctioned would affect the capacity of all judges to act independently, and public confidence in the judiciary.
Judges, like other constitutional functionaries must face the law if they depart from or deceive the law such as when they are suspected of engaging in corruption. But what the DSS has done is a blow to the independence of judiciary, and a dangerous precedent that should not be allowed to stand. The value of the principle of judicial independence is that it protects judges from arbitrary sanctions imposed by the Government. The way this country dispenses justice and treats its judges will show the moral and legal character to which it can pretend.
SERAP is concerned that the action by the DSS if allowed to stand or continue, would make judges susceptible to pressure from the executive. Thus, instead of fulfilling the stated aim of eradicating judicial corruption, the actions of the DSS has served to undermine the independence of the judiciary in Nigeria, and reinforce the practices under successive governments of undue political interference in the judiciary.
Judicial accountability must respect the fundamental principles of the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, and its proceedings must be in line with constitutional and international standards of due process and fair trial. Indeed, international standards require that the bodies responsible for sanctioning corrupt judges should be independent from the government, and that any legal sanction against suspected corrupt judges must be determined in accordance with well-established procedures that guarantee the rights of judges to a fair and transparent trial and to an independent review.
One of the cardinal pillars of the rule of law is an independent judiciary. Without a judiciary that is independent, the concept of rule of law becomes a mockery. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers has stated, “The requirement of independence and impartiality does not exist for the benefit of the judges and prosecutors themselves, but rather for court users as a part of their inalienable right to a fair trial.”
SERAP therefore urges your government to:
- Urgently instruct the DSS to immediately and unconditionally release all the judges arrested by them, and to end continuing intimidation and harassment of the judiciary across the country;
- Publicly commit that your government will not seek to undermine the integrity, sanctity, authority and independence of the judiciary in its efforts to prevent and combat judicial corruption;
- Avoid any action that tends to weak judiciary independence, and public confidence in the judiciary;
- Ensure that justice is not only done, but must also appear to be done in the fight against judicial corruption;
- Promptly, thoroughly, transparently and impartially investigate attacks against judges by DSS and bring to justice anyone responsible
If following the receipt and/or publication of this letter, your government fails or refuses to immediately and unconditionally release the judges as requested, SERAP would promptly consider appropriate legal options nationally and internationally to ensure the full and effective implementation of our requests.
CC: Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
Honourable High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Ms Monica Pinto
Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
8-14 Avenue de la Paix 1211
Geneva 10 Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 9006