Lai: Can Serving Judges Be Arrested? The Answer Is Yes

Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, says the raid on the homes of judges by the Department of State Services (DSS) was done according to law.

Between Friday and Saturday, the homes of some judges across the country were raided on allegations of corruption.

Speaking with journalists on Wednesday, Mohammed stated that the number of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet is an indicaton of the president’s for the judiciary.

“People have tried to muddle the facts about it. When do you search the person’s house? The truth of the matter is that under the new criminal justice law, you can search anybody, anywhere, anytime,” he said.

“Again, they have tried to muddle issues by trying to say that the NJC is the only authority that can attend to complaints and indiscipline; the answer, once again, is no. One, do judges have immunity? The answer is no. Can judges be arrested? The answer is yes. Have judges that are serving be arrested in Nigeria? The answer is yes. Justice Okoli had been arrested and tried.

“Now, the next question to ask is, what is the proper procedure for arresting anybody, including judges? There must be properly executed search warrant. Was such presented? The answer, again, is yes.

“I think the federal government is being very careful with handling of this particular issue. I want to state clearly that this government believes very much in separation of powers; this government has a lot of respect for the judiciary and for obvious reasons, not just because the constitution says so but I think probably this is one cabinet that has the highest number of lawyers as ministers.

“As at the last count, about 11 or 12 council members are ministers and we have female lawyers also in cabinet. Until death robbed us of late Ocholi, we had five SANs in our cabinet and I think this is unique. Therefore, you can understand the kind of respect we have for the judiciary.

“And also, look at Mr. President himself. Three times he sought to be president; three times it was thwarted and all the three times he took his case to the judiciary.”

He maintained that the fight against corruption should not be taken to mean a fight against the judiciary.

“What the government is concerned and passionate about is to fight corruption,” he said.

“In the process of fighting corruption its not unusual that you step on some very sensitive toes but the question to ask and I think these has been adequately answered by the Attorney General is that let’s remove emotion from facts.”

“When a judge is accused of professional misconduct, it is quite different from what is happening now. If you suspect anybody, including governors who have immunity, they are still subject to investigations.

“So I want to make it clear: this government has the highest respect for judiciary. And two, we are not in any way trying to ridicule the judiciary. Three, we are not painting the whole of the judges with the same brush but we also have a duty to fight corruption at whatever level and in doing so, we will do so within the ambit of the law.”

He said it was unfortunate that people were bringing up issues that are not relevant to the matter.

“Unfortunately, people have even brought issues that are completely irrelevant to the matter. Some people are saying, oh, the reason why they went to some particular judge’s house is because the president wants somebody from one part of the country to be chief justice of the federation.

“I think that is preposterous. I want to assure you that this government has no intention to humiliate the judiciary and for those who are talking about separation of powers, I think you are stretching it too far. Members of the executive and I can be invited by any arm of the government and I will go. So I think we should situate this thing in the right perspective. What we have done, we have done within the ambit of the law.”