When the Department of State Services (DSS) first raided the homes of some judges, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) which represents lawyers in the country, hastily convened a press conference with its current president, Abubakar Mahmoud, and four former presidents in attendance.
“I want to emphasise again that we are not under military rule and we cannot accept this unholy event and Gestapo-style operation,” Mahmoud said at the press conference. “We, therefore, call on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately caution all the state security agencies and to respect the rule of law and to respect due process.”
Two days later, chief justice Mahmud Mohammed who is chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), thanked the NBA for standing with the judiciary.
“I must express my sincere appreciation to the executive of the Nigerian Bar Association ably led by the President, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), and indeed all members of the legal profession for their prompt action and continued support,” Mohammed said at the valedictory court session held in honour of a retiring Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Suleiman Galadima.
This week however, the NBA made an about-turn and recommended that the affected judges should suspend further sitting on the bench until their innocence is proved.
“We strongly recommend that, without prejudice to the innocence or otherwise of the Judges involved in the ongoing investigations, they should be required to recuse themselves from further judicial functions or required to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is fully and completely established or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings,” the NBA president said on Thursday in Abuja.
That’s a position which the NJC is not comfortable with. On Friday, it released a statement saying that the NBA was wrong to make such a call having earlier supported the council’s decision to condemn the arrest of the judges.
The statement by its Acting Director, Information, Soji Oye, stated that the council could only exercise its disciplinary powers over judicial officers where due processes were complied with.
NJC said the midnight invasion of the judges’ houses and their arrest by DSS violated due process and could not serve as a basis for the NJC to suspend the affected judicial officers.