Days after officers and men of the Department of State Services (DSS) invaded homes of judges of Federal High Courts, as well as Justices of the Supreme Court, in a gestapo style operation, mixed reactions are still pouring in.
Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), security experts, clergymen, everyday Nigerians and policy makers have been condemning and hailing the action of the DSS. While some have questioned the constitutionality of the act, others have gone ahead to posit that the action will send the right signals to public officials.
The Senate too has joined the fray of those taking positions on the issue. On Tuesday, during its regular plenary, lawmakers suspended the day’s proceedings for about an hour to examine the events leading the invasion and subsequent arrest of top judicial officers. In the end, it was a condemnation galore. Apart from few dissenting voices, every lawmaker who spoke on the issue, agreed that the DSS acted in error.
As expected and unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate failed to summon the Director-General of the DSS, Mr. Lawal Daura to explain the rationale behind the invasion. Lawmakers appeared divided on the issue. Though the Senate President, Bukola Saraki ruled that the DSS boss should not appear to brief lawmakers in a closed door session, after subjecting the issue to a voice vote, observers however believe that the Red Chamber missed a golden opportunity to make a bold statement that certain things were not permitted in a democracy.
The position of the Senate last Tuesday, followed Senator Joshua Lidani’s motion, which condemned the invasion. In the motion which came under ‘matters of national importance’, the lawmaker called on his colleagues to condemn the action of the DSS.
Senator Dino Melaye, while supporting the motion, alleged that judges in Nigerian courts give commercial rulings. He said, like other lawmakers, he was firmly in support of Federal Government’s efforts to tackle corruption.
He said: “I rise to state that it is true there is corruption in the judiciary. This was confirmed last week by the expulsion of three judges. It is a fundamental truth that judges give commercial rulings. The Senate will continue to support the fight against corruption irrespective of who is involved.
“But while I support the fight against corruption, it is a misnomer and absurd for the DSS to operate outside their mandate. The responsibility of DSS is clearly defined in the National Security Act of 2010.
“How does bribery and corruption become an issue of internal security? How does this become a threat to national security? While we will support and fight against corruption, the constitution states that any misconduct of a judge must be dealt with by NJC before anything else.
“Their crime is not that of rape, terrorism or any other thing…the DSS has no power or judicial power to prosecute these cases. They ought to have transferred the case to relevant agencies. We will not keep quiet and allow the DSS to overstep their limits and use their over-zealousness to abuse the constitution.”
Suleiman Hunkuyi from Kaduna state supported Melaye’s position. He insisted that every agency of government created by law must operate within the ambit of the law.
He argued: “This chamber and the National Assembly from which this status of the DSS originated, must call on other agencies to remain within the mandate provided by law. The fight against corruption is for every patriotic Nigerian. The National Assembly cannot provide the law with one hand and look the other way.
“Every agency should operate within the ambit of the law. This misnomer that has now emanated, provides the National Assembly the opportunity to stress that corruption has assumed a new dimension. However, nobody will justify the procedure or method used in prosecuting corruption.
“We must not forget the fact that the country is run under the principle of separation of powers. The judiciary needs to be independent in order to safeguard the sanctity of the country’s democracy.”
Senate committee chairman on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Senator Chukwuka Utazi from Enugu State, said the invasion has painted Nigeria before the international community as a country that does not respect the rule of law.
Utazi posited: “This last weekend was the most difficult the country has had. My spirit is very hurt. I can feel the pulse of Nigeria over what has happened. I do not know how the international community will see us after this. It appears the DSS is following the body language of the President of this country rather than follow the rule of law.
“To go in the wee hours of the morning and use force to break into a judge’s house is condemnable. The whole world is watching the Senate to see how we will react. This is pure dictatorship and it should not happen. Enough is enough. This is unguarded dictatorship. We should not treat this issue likely.
“We have always condemned corruption in this 8th Senate. The NJC has powers in doing what the DSS is doing right now. To take this approach the DSS is taking is condemnable.”
Senator Bala Na’Allah from Kebbi State called for caution. He urged his colleagues to investigate the alleged invasion before taking a final position on the issue.
“The massive support of Nigerians to change government in 2015 was because of their belief that corruption will be fought. I am saying this to buttress the fact that the National Assembly is fully in support of government’s efforts to fight corruption.
“There is a reason why the discipline of judges is domiciled with the NJC. If the framers of our constitution thought it wise to deal with the issue of judiciaal misconduct, we should respect it. Something, somewhere has gone wrong. I will reluctantly support the move that we should condemn it.”
Senate Minority Leader and a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio digressed while making his contribution. He said the current anti-corruption war has painted former governors as corrupt people and warned that such toga should not be extended to the judiciary.
Akpabio said: “We know that there is separation of powers. That is why in the judiciary, we have NJC. This is a very touchy issue and so many people run the risk of making comments and having security agents surround their houses tomorrow. That is why many of them have gone out to urinate.
“We must speak from both sides. While supporting the fight against corruption, we must bear in mind the need to safeguard our democracy. Today, it is hard for a former governor in Nigeria to be respected outside Nigeria. They believe that every former governor is corrupt.
“They have extended the toga to the judiciary and this means a lot. It means people will not take seriously any judgment from our courts. If this government fails, it means we have all failed. We have to advise the government on what it must do. I am very worried about the method. We must speak out. If we do not speak up and we think it is okay, one day, the rain will fall on another roof.
At the end of the long debate, lawmakers unanimously urged President Muhammadu Buhari to call heads of security agencies to order.
Saraki in his concluding remarks, said the fight against corruption must be done within the ambit of the law. “We must eradicate corruption in all spheres of our society and this is a matter that we must continue,” he said and added, “I think the National Assembly has been playing its role to continue to support government in its fight against corruption.
“We must ensure that this fight against corruption is within the rule of law. Any act of anti corruption action that goes against the rule of law does not help the corruption fight.”
“That is why this action as has been seen in this manner is condemned by the Senate and all agencies of government must ensure that they act within the rule of law.”