Preserving the Sanctity of Judicial Officers

Nov 1, 2021 | Press Releases

Search Warrants and Law Enforcement

On Friday, 29 October 2020, extremely worrisome reports emerged in the media of a siege by yet unidentified security operatives to the Abuja residence of Justice Mary Peter- Odili, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. These individuals alleged that their visit was to effect a search of the premises ostensibly empowered – in fact, emboldened – by a search warrant purportedly issued by a Chief Magistrate, Emmanuel Iyanna, of Wuse Zone 6 Magistrate Division. Nigerians were staggered by both sequence and purpose of these developments which, rightly, led to closer scrutiny and attention.As the story developed, the circumstances of the visit began to emerge. First, it was prosecuted, indeed, pursuant to a warrant as stated. Second, the reasons and basis upon which the said warrant was issued were clouded in both confusion and tardiness. The identity of the applying authority has formed the subject of several quite uncoordinated denials as no one agency is accepting responsibility for procuring the warrant. The warrant itself bore errors of such asinine composition that it should have constituted a source of embarrassment to anyone seeking to execute it. Primarily, amongst other errors, it appears that it bore the wrong address or, as the case may be, those seeking to rely on it attended at the wrong premises.As the embarrassment became more public and denials followed from both EFCC and the Attorney General of the Federation, the magistrate sought to issue an order revoking his earlier warrant, alleging that “misrepresentations” had induced him to make the order in the first place! Quite how he assumed jurisdiction again will remain conjectural. Finally, to cite the circumstances in proper context, Justice Peter-Odili is the second highest ranking Supreme Court Judge in the country, next only to the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Clearly, these were circumstances that examined the serious questions that have now arisen around both sanctity and the personal security of the country’s highest-ranking judges.This nocturnal siege to the residence of Justice Peter-Odili was reminiscent, in its brazen high-handedness and violent abruptness, of the 2016 midnight invasions of the home of justices of the Supreme Court in Abuja, judges of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Port Harcourt and judges of State High Courts in Gombe. Enugu, Kano, and Sokoto States. Those visits then, as now, were dictated by some of the most profound demonstrations of poor judgment in the management of these situations such that the establishments responsible have not recovered from the institutional or reputational embarrassment that followed. To date, no justifiable reason has been adduced by those who authorised the ignoble operations. As happened then, and now clearly the case, it is difficult to contest the suggestions that these unlawful incursions were orchestrated to embarrass and intimidate the judiciary. The inescapable reality is that, absent any churlish explanation for this farce, it is difficult to consider that there was any other reason for this unfortunate development.

The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) wishes to state, unambiguously, that this latest invasion of the home of the second highest judicial officer in Nigeria is an undisguised embarrassing act of intimidation and abuse of power. Until a justifiable explanation is offered for this abject manifestation of autocratic recklessness, the wretchedness of this disposition must be roundly and comprehensively deprecated. It is an abhorrent disregard for the rule of law; a condemnable and totally unacceptable affront on this country’s increasingly fragile democratic structures, and a gross violation of the fundamental human rights of Justice Peter-Odili.

It is right to assert that the 2016 incidents marked a low point in the law enforcement and administration of justice as it pertained to judicial officers. Given the constitutional injunctions of Separation of Powers, it behoves those with these sensitive responsibilities to exercise great care and responsibility where circumstances require their interaction with judicial officers. As with the situation in 2016, what is known about this incident confirms not only the persistence of ineptitude, poor judgment, and utter carelessness in the management of a critical, important, and essential relationship, but demonstrates a shameful unwillingness to learn the painful lessons of the past. What happens when this level of lawlessness and impunity persists is that the qualified gains made in strengthening the fragile institutions of state like the judiciary are corroded by the kind of unbridled capriciousness that informs this kind of action. This is completely antithetical to all the collective efforts being made to nurture and sustain democratic ethos in our country.

Critical questions must be asked as to how this incident occurred. NAS demands that a fully constituted inquiry is undertaken to establish how this situation occurred. Any such inquisition should begin with the magistrate explaining how he was “misled” to issue a search warrant for an operation of manifestly dubious legality. It should also cover the roles allegedly played by the whistleblower, Aliyu Umar and CSP Lawrence Ajodo, both of whom were deposed to obtain the search warrant. The quoted reference, “suspicion of illegal activity”, would appear vague and feeble justification for the deployment of such a high level of security operatives to carry out a search warrant against any citizen not to mention a senior judicial officer.

The Federal Government need not be told to offer a public apology to the judiciary for this embarrassment and to act in a proactive manner in the conduct of this inquiry, especially to erase any suggestions of real or apparent complicity in a plainly brazen attempt to intimidate and emasculate the judiciary. The recklessness and impunity of security agents under the current dispensation has indeed assumed frightening dimensions. Disregard for the rule of law, a predilection for acts that pose grave danger to the independence of other arms of government and flagrant violations of democratic tenets which have become disturbingly habitual under the current government, should stop forthwith. There is no better way to demonstrate President Buhari’s avowed commitment to the independence of the judiciary than to ensure all those culpable in this disgraceful incident are identified and appropriately sanctioned. No lesser remedy would be sufficient.

Abiola Owoaje
NAS Capoon

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