The October 29 nocturnal invasion of the Abuja residence of Justice Mary Odili of the Supreme Court of Nigeria by initially unknown security operatives has raised so many issues in the polity concerning security of judicial officers, the use of the so-called sting operation to intimidate judges and the politics of succession at the bench and 2023 elections.
Justice Odili’s incident is not the first of such clandestine raids on Supreme Court justices and others in the life of this change administration. It is also not likely to be the last of such orchestrated humiliating attack on judges in the country.
We recall the midnight invasion of the homes of some respected justices in a gestapo style by security operatives on October 2016. The odious act attracted condemnations from concerned Nigerians, professional bodies and groups. While condemning the midnight raid on Justice Odili, the Supreme Court said among others that “we are alarmed with the news of the unwarranted and despicable raid on the official residence of one of our senior justices in the Supreme Court, Justice Mary Odili, on Friday, October 29, 2021 in a gestapo manner.”
The apex court further said: “We have had a full dosage of this fusillade of unwarranted and unprovoked attacks on our judicial officers and even facilities across the country and we say it loudly now that enough is enough.” Finally, the Supreme Court warned: “The Nigerian judiciary cannot only bark, it can also bite. We can no longer be treated with disdain and levity. The rule of law and constitutionality must govern our conduct so that we can tag along with the comity of nations and be taken seriously too.”
Similarly, the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria condemned the attack and warned that the incident which appears isolated must not be swept under the carpet. Also, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) saw the incident “as a part of an orchestrated affront on the judiciary, designed to intimidate and ridicule the judiciary.” It concluded that the raid “is an affront on the judiciary and grossly undermines the democracy that we profess to practice.”
Despite denials by government agencies who supposed to know of such operations, concerned Nigerians condemned the incident and queried why such operation would take place in Abuja without the knowledge of the security agencies and ministry of justice or even the presidency. Nigerians were also shocked by the use of masked security operatives to harass judges in the night when people, decent people are supposed to be asleep.
In a curious twist, the ugly incident has further witnessed the dramatized arrest of 14 suspects allegedly connected with the attack by the Nigeria Police Force. According to police spokesman, Frank Mba, a commissioner of police, the 14 suspects included persons from the police, military, journalism, civil service and the legal profession. Before the swift arrest of the suspects, something very uncommon in this part of the world, no agency of government claimed knowledge of the attack or those behind it.
Mba further revealed that seven of the suspects, who are at large, included two soldiers. He also promised that the police will apprehend all the suspects said to be at large. Mba described the suspects as “loose cannons” and document forgers who run a criminal syndicate. Mba disclosed so many things about the suspects which for lack of space cannot be repeated here. Instructively, some organizations and agencies have disowned some of the suspects said to be connected with them one way or the other and washed their hands off the show of shame.
Even with the parade of the so-called suspects, Nigerians are still asking why the siege on the judiciary and why the invasion of Justice Odili’s house? Has the raid anything to do with corruption or mistaken identity? Has it anything to do with succession in the bench or the politics of 2023? Is Odili being given shock treatment like Ngwuta, Onnoghen and others?
Has it anything to do with ethnicity? Is it a witch-hunt or just a mere act to intimidate, harass and humiliate the justice? Is it a case to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it? These are posers Nigerians believe the federal government should endeavor to provide cogent answers.
Without any prejudice to the police investigation of the matter and its outcome, the police can do better by arresting those suspects said to be at large. It sounds funny and incredible that a fake chief superintendent of police was involved in the sting operation in Abuja, the seat of power where security ought to be strong and upbeat. How could this gang of criminals be operating in Abuja without the knowledge of security agencies? When has sting operation on judges become another opportunity for a criminal syndicate to use to harass Supreme Court justices in Abuja of all places?
The composition of the gang is weird and novel in our crime records archives. Perhaps, there are certain things the police knew about this matter that many Nigerians are in the dark. It is very likely that the police would tell Nigerians more on this saga in the days ahead as the investigations unfold. Like other prominent and patriotic Nigerians and concerned groups, we hasten to say that the raid on Justice Mary Odili’s house must be thoroughly investigated.
The argument of mistaken identity does not hold water in the matter or that the whistle blower did a shoddy job is also immaterial. We also say that this is one matter that should not in any way be trivialized or swept under the carpet in the usual Nigerian style. Let all those involved in the midnight raid be apprehended and punished. The identities of those that sent them should also be made public. This is the only way to prove to the world that ours is still a constitutional democracy where the rule of law applies to all citizens and where everybody is equal before the law.
Moving forward, the security agencies should henceforth review the midnight gestapo style of arrest of suspects, whether judges or ordinary Nigerians. That style of arrest is no longer acceptable in a civilized society in a 21st Century globalized world. They must eschew media trial of suspects and carry out diligent and discrete investigations before arrest. They can learn how to do some of these things from foreign countries, especially those versed in such investigations as the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US).
As we approach the 2023 election season and all permutations associated with politics in Nigeria, let us play politics according to the rules, with decorum and avoid unnecessary dissipation of energy, attacks and mudslinging and pulling down of perceived strong opponents, their allies and what they stand for.