A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Gen. Idada Ikponmwen (rtd), has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a state of emergency in the judiciary arm of the government if the National Judicial Commission (NJC) continues to insist that court judges who were arrested for alleged corruption would not step down from the bench to face thorough investigation and prosecution.
Ikponmwen, a former Director of Legal Services in the Nigeria Army, said that given the grave allegations leveled against some Supreme Court justices and the apparent reluctance of the NJC to suspend and hand them over to the security agencies, the President could invoke extra- ordinary powers inherent in his office by dissolving the NJC and sacking the entire bench of the apex court.
The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), which was initially against the arrest of the judges by security operatives, made a u-turn recently and advised the NJC to suspend the judges to prevent them from presiding over court sessions till their innocence or otherwise is determined. But the NJC has described the request as “unacceptable” and ran contrary to 2014 Revised Judicial Discipline Regulations of the NJC and the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
According to the NJC, going by the provisions of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution, the NJC cannot be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person while exercising its disciplinary power of control over Judicial Officers in the Federation.
Ikponmwen, however, described the position of the NJC as an attempt to shield the judges from facing the wrath of the law, adding that these judicial officers cannot be above the laws of the country.
“I think the NJC needs to wake up to its responsibilities. They need to show us that they are ready for a change. The rot of the past has been too much and I think that if they do not respond positively to the ongoing situation, where allegations have been made linking most of the members of the Supreme Court, we will have no option but to call on the President to declare a state of emergency on the judiciary.
“Dissolve the NJC which is headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Sack all of them and bring in new ones by extra- ordinary powers. There are too many things that have happened in the past. Many Nigerians know that the judiciary has not been well administered,” he said.
Ikponmwen argued that the power in the NJC to exercise disciplinary control over judges and senior judicial staff was only a provision made for administrative convenience and not intended to remove the powers of the executive arm of government to enforce laws, investigate crimes and prosecute suspects.
He said that under the law, no executive body or institution can take over the role of the police and other security agencies in terms of investigating and trying criminal offences.
“As far as I know, the. NJC is an administrative body. We cannot be talking about upholding the doctrine of separation of powers and understanding it to mean that the judges, even when they commit offence, cannot be amenable to investigation by the appropriate arm of government. It will be heretic,” he said.
Ikponmwen chided the NJC over its claim that it had not received any formal petition on the case the Department of State Security (DSS) has against the judges.
According to him, the NJC needed no formal petition on a matter that had gone viral in the conventional and social media, globally. He urged the NJC to see the need to ask the judges undergoing criminal investigation to step aside instead of adjudicating over cases some of which were not as grave as the ones they (judges) were facing.