The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on Thursday called for the immediate suspension of seven judges arrested by the State Security Service on October 8.
The President of the NBA, Abubakar Mahmud, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, made the call at a valedictory court session in honour of a retiring Justice of the Court of Appeal, Sotonye Denton-West.
Seven judges in five states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory were arrested after their homes were raided on October 7 by the SSS following allegations of corruption.
The National Judicial Council, NJC, responsible for the sanction of judicial officers, was accused by the SSS of neglecting petitions written against the judges on allegations of corruption.
The NJC denied the allegation by the SSS.
Both the NJC and the NBA had earlier condemned the arrest, describing it as a denigration of the judiciary.
Mr. Mahmud who had earlier described the raid of the judges’ homes and their subsequent arrest by the SSS as unlawful and an abuse of power by the operatives, said his recent decision is to safeguard the sanctity of the judiciary.
“In the interim, particularly having regards to what appears to be an ongoing accusations and counter-accusations between some of the judges and other personalities or agencies, it appears to the NBA that it is extremely important that the NJC takes very urgent steps to safeguard the public image and sanctity of the courts,” he said.
“We therefore strongly recommend that, without prejudice to the innocence or otherwise of the Judges involved in the ongoing investigations, they should be required to recuse themselves from further judicial functions or required to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is fully and completely established or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings.
“We believe this will be necessary in order to protect the sanctity and integrity of judicial processes that may involve the judges concerned and safeguard the public image of the institution.”
The retiring judge, Ms. Denton-West, welcomed the call by Mr. Mahmud, stressing the it was important to rid the judiciary of corruption.
“Indeed, I know and believe that there is corruption, unfortunately even in the folds of the judiciary. I have personally been a victim of corrupt act from the judiciary on some occasions.
“The Nigerian judiciary in the past has been one of the greatest in the world, but it is time to relive and embrace the rule of law in its entirety. It seems only lip service is paid to this great doctrine. It is essential that the rule of law must be observed in order for society to run smoothly, otherwise the beauty of democracy will elude us.
“The rule of law is observed when there is mutual respect between the authorities and those subject to authority and, between the powers that be and their subjects, in accordance with the law. For we are all subject to the law,” she said.
Until her retirement Ms Denton-West was a Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Akure Division.
The judges who were arrested include Sylvester Nguta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court and Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court Abuja.
Others are Justice Muazu Pindiga of Gombe State; Kabiru Auta of Kano State, Innocent Umezulike of Enugu State and Mohammed Tsamiya, an appeal court judge in Ilorin.
Although the home of justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja, was also raided, he was not arrested.