By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP, has challenged the powers of the National Assembly to summon or question any of the seven judges arrested by the Department of State Service, DSS, over allegation of corruption.
The body, in a statement on Sunday, said it was wrong for the National Assembly to summon the accused judges to appear before the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
It maintained that the legislature has no oversight powers over judicial officers under the constitutional principle of separation of powers as entrenched in sections 4, 5 and 6 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
“LEDAP draws the attention of the National Assembly that under the Constitution, it is only the National Judicial Council (NJC) that has the power of control and discipline of judges and justices of superior courts in Nigeria.
Any interference by the legislature or the executive into the conduct of judges in carrying out their judicial functions will amount to unlawful interference with the independence of the judiciary.
“The 1999 Constitution, unlike the legal framework of past military regimes, has consolidated the independence of the judiciary and established the NJC as the only body responsible for management of the judiciary.
“LEDAP is concerned that the recent raid and arrest of judges and justices by the DSS, and continued assault and raid on judges by other agencies of the executive, have the effect of opening up the judiciary to unlawful and unconstitutional interference and intimidation by other arms of government, the reason for which the Senate has the temerity to speak about inviting judicial officers for questioning.
“LEDAP will shortly approach the courts to seek orders restraining any such invitation or summon of the arrested judicial officers as it amounts to attempt to brow-beat and intimidate the judiciary.
“There are a lot of corruption issues and corrupt politicians in the legislature and executive which should pre-occupy the Senators. The scandal arising from the padding of the budget, which has been going on for many years in the legislature with connivance of the executive, as well as bogus and secretive huge allowances and emoluments claimed by legislators are more damaging economic crimes against the Nigerian people that the Senate should address rather than intimidating few judges alleged to be corrupt.
“There are several court orders directing the National Assembly to disclose salaries and emoluments of its members, and details of constituency allowances claimed yearly by legislators . It has refused to obey these judgements of the courts.
“The legislators appropriate nearly a quarter of national wealth to themselves and account to no one. Nigerian legislators, adjudged as the most corrupt and most expensive in the world, has no legal or moral right to superintendent over alleged corruption in the judiciary.
“LEDAP calls on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to resist attempts by the executive and legislature to control and manage the judiciary. Such situation will on the long run denigrate the judiciary and legal profession and threaten the rule of law.
“The independence of the judiciary, as guaranteed in the Constitution, is essential element of any democracy. The NBA can work with NJC to improve on its complaint management system to ensure that judicial discipline is effectively and efficiently enforced.
“The association cannot, as a result of current challenges, allow the other arms of government to destroy the age-long integrity of the Nigerian judiciary”, read the statement signed by National Coordinator of the body, Mr. Chino Obiagwu.