By Ehichioya Ezomon
The Federal Government investigation into the October 29, 2021, raid of the residence of Justice Mary Peter Odili is at pace, but the administration’s prompt action may not absolve it of complicity.
That’s why the Supreme Court, quite unusual, has commenced its separate probe into the puzzling invasion of the home of the second most senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“We have commenced a full-scale independent investigation to unravel the true masquerades behind the mystery as well as the real motives behind the whole incident,” the court says on November 2.
The court holds that as the third arm of government, the Judiciary “should be respected and treated as such,” and enjoins that no individual or institution should chastise and ridicule it into silence.
“Though there have emerged discordant tunes from the various security agencies that allegedly participated in the dastardly act, we are not lying low on this dehumanizing treatment meted out to one of our own,” the court declares in a statement.
“We have had a full dosage of this fusillade of unwarranted and unprovoked attacks on our judicial officers, and even our facilities across the country, and we say, enough is enough,” it warns.
Undoubtedly, the government is in a dilemma, and only a thorough probe that results in identifying and punishing those connected with the indecorous “sting operation” may exonerate it from blame.
Yet, not many Nigerians buy the government alibi, as the nation has traveled this road in the past few years, with the coincidence and similarity of events too familiar to give room for conjecture.
Needless to recount those ugly moments of security operatives storming the homes, and chambers of judges on allegations of financial malfeasance. It’s the turn of Justice Odili to taste misuse of state power to intimidate alleged contraveners of the law.
Even when those accusations have merit, should operatives of state badge into the homes of the most civil of government officials that should have “immunity” from such indecent treatment?
Section 158(1) of the amended 1999 Constitution mandates that “in exercising its power… to exercise disciplinary control over persons,” the National Judicial Council (NJC) “shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person.”
The NJC also has power in Paragraph 21(b), (d) and (g) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution, to recommend to the President or Governor the removal from office of any judicial officers… “and to exercise disciplinary control over such officers.”
In other words, without the express permission or clearance of the NJC, no other authority or person can discipline any judicial officer for whatsoever alleged misconduct.
As noted by “Concerned Senior Advocates of Nigeria of South-eastern Extraction,” including Prof. Ilochi Okafor, Mr Etigwe Uwa and Mr Chijioke Okoli, the courts have pronounced on the power of the NJC to discipline judicial officers.
The senior lawyers specifically referred to the celebrated case of Nganjiwa vs Federal Republic of Nigeria (2018) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1609) 301, in which the Court of Appeal states as follows:
“If any judicial officer commits 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-emphasis that it amounts to an executive infraction on the judicial independence to continue to harass, intimidate and humiliate judges.”
The confusing breach of Justice Odili’s home has thrown up the questions: “Whodunit” and why, as the relevant security agencies or organs of government have denied their involvement?
Was Justice Odili formally or informally accused of any misconduct to necessitate an unwelcome visit by “unknown security operatives” from unknown departments of government?
Section 161(d) of the Constitution interprets “misconduct” as “a breach of the Oath of Allegiance or oath of office of a member or a breach of the provisions of this Constitution or bribery or corruption or false declaration of assets and liabilities or conviction for treason or treasonable felony.”
Which of these offences has Justice Odili committed other than being wife of former Rivers State Governor Peter Odili, who’s a pending corruption case from ruling Rivers from 1999 to 2007? The case, in abeyance since 2007 due to Dr Odili’s “perpetual injunction” against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), popped up lately when the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) seized his international passport on arrival from overseas.
If Justice Odili isn’t “guilty by association,” then the security agencies ought to have invited her, through the NJC, to answer to any charges of breach of the rules governing judicial officers.
Justice Odili is Number Six in the nation’s governance hierarchy after President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and Chief Justice Tanko Mohammed, respectively.
And as the highest female judicial officer of the Supreme Court,
Justice Odili could become the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria. Does the raid aim to stop her from reaching that pinnacle?
That’s why you can’t fault Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike and Rivers Stakeholders, and the Supreme Court for concluding that the security invasion was targeted at eliminating the Odili family.
What about the “independence” of the Judiciary that the security operatives’ brazen action violates at a time worries are mounting over disrespects to the third arm of government?
Actually, days to the perplexing raid, Governor Wike had declared that he’d rather have an independent Judiciary than signing a law to grant it autonomy that’s already guaranteed by the Constitution.
And Wike was an early caller on a solidarity visit to Justice Odili, a prominent citizen of Rivers, and later raised the ante, with Rivers Stakeholders, with a 48-hour ultimatum to the Federal Government to expose the masterminds of the break-in to Mrs Odili’s house.
As security agencies deny the invasion, there’re speculations that “fifth columnists” may’ve sprung the operation for whatever motive, with the timing coinciding with the quadrennial national convention of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abuja.
This gave the party the needed pedestal to lampoon the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) government of President Buhari as culpable and should be held responsible for the surprise strike.
If “external” bodies were involved, they surely took advantage of government’s failure to address past attacks on judicial officers, and the Judiciary, and may yet falter in the assault against Justice Odili.