DSS has no right to arrest judges, says law professor
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Prof. Amari Omaka, has condemned the arrests of some senior judicial officers over the weekend by men of the Department for State Services over allegations of corruption, insisting the DSS has no powers under the law to make arrests.
Speaking to The Guardian in Abakaliki, Omaka, who lectures in the Law Faculty of Ebonyi State University, said though as an individual, he does not support any form of corruption, the manner in which the war against corruption is being pursued particularly in recent times calls for worry and concern among well-intentioned Nigerians.
“The manner in which the Directorate of State Services has gone about these arrests leaves much to be desired, because I know, as a legal practitioner, that there are ways of disciplining erring judges. So to me, it is a desecration of the highly-honoured judicial system for a DSS to go into their houses to arrest them without any recourse to due process,” he said, stressing that at the level of the Supreme Court judges, if any of them were invited to come and answer questions on allegations leveled against them, naturally, the person would honour such.
The professor of environmental law, who is the first and only Senior Advocate from Ebonyi, suggested that rather than arrest judges, the proper thing would have been for the DSS to pass through the Chief Justices of the relevant courts of the state to produce whoever it has any case against. This, according to him, would have been more honourable.
“But for you to go at the dead of the night to arrest judges is the height of assault, because people can’t even believe they are law enforcement agents. It is so ungodly and leaves much to be desired. And I think it is quite embarrassing to desecrate the hallowed chambers of this country all in the name of fighting corruption,” Prof. Omaka alarmed.
He insisted that the action smacks of nothing than disrespect for the Independence of the judiciary. The erstwhile Dean of EBSU Law faculty further maintained that under the law, there is a time limit within which to carry out legitimate actions by law enforcement agents and such is often between the hours of 6am and 6pm except if the person is evading justice.
“At that point you can get a warrant to arrest that person. But then is it even the duty of the DSS to execute a warrant? We have the Nigeria police and in the first place, it is not the responsibility of the DSS to arrest persons whether they are criminals or not.”
It is the job of the police to make such arrests and not that of the DSS particularly at that time we ‘heard’ the arrests were made”, Prof. Omaka said.
He called on the Federal Government to be civilized in the fight against corruption as the rule of law spells due process and civility. “That is why am in all force with the NBA at the national that they should all be unconditionally released and let them face the due process of prosecuting those who have erred in law no matter how high or low they are. It is quite embarrassing if somebody can go to the apex court and begin to arrest people. That means nobody is safe,” he stated.
While positing that based on what he knows about one of the judges, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, he said having practised even as a magistrate, he’s in a position to say that Justice Ngwuta has been living above board.
“In fact, what catapulted him from the High Court to the Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court was his integrity. Although any person can change any day and am not holding brief for him, but until the contrary is proved, some of us are afraid that they may be some witch-hunt somewhere,” Prof. Omaka submitted.