The Inspector General (IG) of Police, Mr. Baba Usman, yesterday ordered a detailed investigation into the invasion of the Abuja residence of Justice Mary Odili, a justice of the Supreme Court. Usman denied the involvement of the Nigeria Police in the breach of security at Odili’s home.
But Nigerians have risen in condemnation of the raid, which took place at the weekend. Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the umbrella socio-cultural organisation of the Igbo, among others, denounced the invasion, calling it an assault on the independence of the judiciary.
The IG said, “The leadership of the force was not aware and did not at any time order police operatives to carry out such assignment.”
He described the “violation of the sanctity of the residence of the Justice of the Supreme Court as unfortunate and unacceptable”
A statement by Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Mba, a Commissioner of Police, said the IG ordered the Force Intelligence Bureau (FIB) to probe the invasion.
The statement said, “Consequently, the IGP has directed the Force Intelligence Bureau (FIB) to conduct a discrete investigation into the incident. He assured the commitment of the force to the safety and security of the members of the Judiciary and Nigerians, in general.
“He further called for calm, promising that the Force will do all within its powers to unravel the perpetrators and motives behind the breach with a view to bringing all indicted persons to book.”
The IG also directed the Commissioner of Police, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr. Sunday Babaji, to strengthen security around Odili’s street and residence to ensure her safety and prevent a reoccurrence of the incident.
Usman assured that details of the police investigation would be made public.
Over 50 officers suspected to be from the Nigeria Police, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and Joint Panel Recovery unit of the Federal Ministry of Justice, had last Friday evening invaded the house of the senior justice located at Imo River Street, Maitama.
The security officials claimed they were executing a court warrant to search the house.
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State visited the Odilis after the search episode.
Chairman of EFCC, Mr Abdulrasheed Bawa, had denied that operatives of the commission were involved in the raid.
The Supreme Court justice is the wife of a former governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili, who is said to be on the watch-list of EFCC.
Diri described the raid as an ill-advised sting operation, saying it is an attempt to intimidate the judiciary, an independent arm of government. He called on the federal government, which controls the security agencies, to not only investigate the incident but also also ensure that those found culpable were brought to justice.
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Alabrah, the Bayelsa State governor said such acts by security agencies made a mockery of the country’s democracy and the principle of separation of powers.
The governor said the world was watching to see how the federal government would handle the incident, which according to him, was another ugly episode of the attacks on the homes of judicial officers by security operatives in the country.
Douye stated, “Nigeria is not a Banana Republic that security operatives would just take the laws into their hands. The raid on Justice Mary Odili’s residence is highly condemnable and should not be glossed over by any responsible government.
“I urge the federal government to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident and take needed actions against those found culpable.
“For me, the ill-advised raid was an attempt to intimidate the judiciary, judicial officers and custodians of the highest temple of justice. It is yet another attack on Justices in our country that deserves condemnation and should not be allowed to happen again.”
On its part, Ohanaeze Ndigbo said it was pained that Nigeria was in the news, most of the time, for the wrong reasons. The organisation said it was ethically reprehensible and globally unacceptable for the executive to invade the home of a senior member of the judicial arm of government, in this case, a Supreme Court Judge.
In a statement by its spokesman, Alex Ogbonnia, Ohanaeze said, “It is simply a mockery of democracy and a foul miasma on the image of Nigeria.”
It called on the federal government to apologise to Nigerians for the invasion of Odili’s privacy.
“The siege on her home is an assault on several institutions; womanhood, judiciary, democracy, rule of law, civil society and, indeed, all facets of humanity,” the organisation said.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo demanded that an unreserved apology should be rendered to the highly revered Justice of the Supreme Court and an assurance given that such embarrassment would never again be contemplated.
The statement read, “Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide led by Ambassador Professor Obiozor advises the relevant authorities that part of the roles of any person recruited by the government for any position whatsoever includes the protection of the image of the chief executive at all times. It is regrettable that officers in federal government often overreach themselves thereby lending the presidency and, indeed, Nigeria a bad name in the comity of nations.
“Justice Mary Odili is one of the few judges in Nigeria with clean and intimidating credentials. All the schools she attended still post her brilliant performances.
“In spite of her distinctive background as the daughter of a prominent lawyer and traditional ruler, she has remained humble and hardworking; an upright moral edifice who resisted all the lucre that the Office of the First Lady provided during the eight years the husband, Dr. Peter Odili, served as the governor of Rivers State.”
Executive Secretary of NHRC, Tony Ojukwu, condemned the incident, describing it as a violation of Odili’s right to privacy, integrity of her judicial personality, premises, and office.
Ojukwu, in a statement yesterday, stressed that the perpetrators must be made to account for their professional misconduct by arresting and prosecuting them. He said the Supreme Court justice deserved a public apology from those responsible for the misconduct.
The NHRS chairman said, “These are the only deterrents that can forestall future desecration of the rights to privacy, integrity of the person, residence and office of our judicial officers, especially, at that level.”
Ojukwu further said the invasion of the residence of one of the most senior judicial officers in the country was highly condemnable in any democratic setup, describing it as another affront on the judiciary.
He said the judiciary remained a very important arm of government that should not be ridiculed under any circumstance (and inexperienced law enforcement officers must be made to know this), adding that the independence of the judiciary must be respected at all times.
Ojukwu stated, “This should be condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians in the interest of our nascent democracy, independence of the judiciary and respect for human rights and rule of law.”
He assured that the NHRC would not relent in its efforts to train and retrain the law enforcement officials to always mainstream human rights in their operations.
Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke; President of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS), Professor Yemi Akinseye-George, and some other stakeholders and experts in the field of criminal justice joined their voices in condemning the act which many believed was an attempt to muzzle the Judiciary.
They all spoke at a one-day workshop to review the proposed amendments to the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015.
Luke, in his speech as Chairman of the occasion, said the incident was, “very troubling” because the major law enforcement agencies, including the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, had all denied having a hand in the siege.
The lawmaker said, “Further adding insult to the injury is the flimsy grounds of ‘illegal activities’ which the application for the warrant was founded on.
“The siege, reminiscent of 2016 incident where in the dead of night security agencies simultaneously invaded private residence of judicial officers, is condemned in strong terms. The action is a major setback to the attainment of judicial independence and a further blot on the nation’s democratic credentials.”
While advocating a complete overhaul of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, to fill some lacuna created by the Act, Luke suggested a reform of the process of application and issuance of search warrant in order to check abuse of the process.
He said, “The primary function of every government is to maintain peace, order and good government. This function cannot be attained without a criminal justice system that addresses violence, disorder and criminal misbehaviour, which are the antitheses of peace and order, in a system.”
While commending the Centre for Socio-legal Studies and its Professor Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN, for spearheading the amendments to the Act, the lawmaker said for the law to be more effective it should be repelled and re-enacted.
Luke said, “It has been discovered along the line, however, that the ACJA has not effectively achieved the objectives for which it was enacted. It is pleasing to see the centre leading the charge in the amendment of the Act.
“Several and important amendments have been proposed to the Act, which I strongly believe that when passed, will put the Act right back on the faster lane to achieving its purpose. For instance, the proposed abolition of trial within trial, allowance of some part-heard matters to be continued by a new judge, requirement for filing of Defendant’s Statement by the defence, etc., will definitely promote speedy dispensation of justice.”
In a welcome address, CSLS President, Professor Akinseye-George, lamented the worsening insecurity in the country, and called on the federal government to adopt a more effective strategy to tackle the challenge.
While commending the approach of disrupting communication channels and supply network to bandits and terrorists, Akinseye-George said, “It is imperative to build the capacity of local communities to protect themselves and take proactive measures which can nip criminal activities in the bud.