From Wole Balogun, Ado Ekiti
A former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), has criticised the group’s position that those judges arrested by Department of State Services (DSS) be suspended from service pending the determination of the cases against them. The judges have since been released on bail.
His position was corroborated by another Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome.
NBA’s president, Mr. Mahmoud Abubakar, had recommended the suspension of the judges to the National Judicial Council (NJC), a position the NJC had disagreed with.
Olanipekun, who said though he concurs with the NBA as a member, he however differed on personal opinion. He said: “As Wole Olanipekun, I disagree with the NBA because it is dangerous to ask judges to step down from service simply because they have been accused of committing a crime.
“I support the idea that the judiciary must be rid of corruption, but I disagree with the NBA on this issue that judges alleged of corruption should stop handling cases. This quickly suggests that politicians and petition-writers will use the opportunity to continue to level allegations against judges and a time will come that there won’t be any judge on the bench to handle cases.
“If that will be the case, it has to cut across board, let any president, governor or political office holder accused of corruption also be asked to resign, for fairness, equity and justice, he noted.
The NBA had asked the NJC to suspend the five Federal High Court and Supreme Court’ judges arrested by the DSS to proceed on leave pending the time the issue will be resolved.
Speaking in Ikere-Ekiti at the weekend after being conferred with the Asiwaju of Ikereland title, Olanipekun said any president and governor accused of corruption should also step down, so that the policy can be implemented across board.
The lawyer promised to use his new status to unite all the warring factions in the town and resolve the supremacy battle between Ogoga of Ikere, Oba Adejimi Adu and the Olukere of Ikere-Ekiti, Oba Ganiyu Obasoyin.
On the NBA’s stand, he said: “Some are saying that these judges should be dealt with like every other common Nigerian, the fact remains that they are not ordinary Nigerians. President Muhammadu Buhari heads the executive, Bukola Saraki leads the Senate, Yakubu Dogara leads the House of Representatives and likewise governors of the states, these are not ordinary Nigerians just like these judges, they head the judiciary.
“Even if the judges are ordinary Nigerians, they must enjoy rights to dignity and self-respect as enshrined in the Constitution. So, the NBA should not oversimplify the issue. If you say a Judge has been accused of corruption and should leave the bench is very dangerous to the judiciary.
Also, Chief Ozekhome has faulted the NBA’s position.
Speaking to Daily Sun yesterday, Ozekhome insisted that the affected judges are presumed innocent until the contrary is proved.
“They have not been arraigned in any court of law, not to talk of being tried. Asking them to step aside in the manner the NBA has suggested would amount to pronouncing them guilty without trial.
“We are operating constitutional democracy and the rule of law must prevail. I invite the NBA and other people to look at Sections 153, 160 and 293 of the 1999 Constitutions (as amended).
All the sections deal with the power, structure and independence of NJC and when a judge can be removed from office”, he said.
Expressing his support for NJC’s position as against the NBA and the body of Senior Advocates, Ozekhome said: “I’m totally in support of the NJC. I do not agree with the new found position of NBA and the concurrence of the body of senior advocates.
“The reason is that the leadership of the of the NBA was part of the emergency meeting where the raid on judges’ residences was condemned as illegal and unlawful. What has changed that the judges who were merely accused are now being asked to step aside. Section 36 of the constitution is very clear on the presumption of innocence.
“Why should the judges be singled out for different treatment? What about some government officials who have been accused of the vilest form of corruption?
What about the leadership of the National Assembly, some of who are under criminal trial? Why has NBA not asked them to step aside?
“I see what is happening as double standard which does not conform with democratic principles and rule of law”, Ozekhome said.First Published on Sun Newspaper