NBA President Speaks on Justice Odili
OPENING STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE HELD ON 5TH NOVEMBER 2021
- Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the press, and welcome to this press conference where we intend to share with you the position of the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) on the recent invasion of the residential premises of a high-ranking judicial officer and indeed the second most senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili on Friday 29th October 2021.
- As you all know, it is exactly a week to the day since we were all stunned with the news of the raid on the premises of My Lord, Peter-Odili, JSC by a team comprised of at least two agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria. It is also public knowledge that this incident, as egregious as it sounds and truly is, is not the first under this administration.
- In 2016, there was also a Gestapo-like invasion of the residences of some Justices of the Supreme Court and other superior court Justices and Judges by the same security agents of the executive arm of government. Over four years later, the rationale for that raid has never been fully explained or indeed justified. This latest incident has not been different.
- Instead, what has followed has been an orgy of denials by the highest authorities in the land. Firstly, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (“EFCC”), Abdulrasheed Bawa on the same night of the raid denied authorising the raid and/or the involvement of the EFCC in the raid. The next day, the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation under whose office the team that purportedly carried out the raid is allegedly domiciled also denounced the team.
- On Monday, 2nd November 2021 the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba speaking through the Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, stated that the “leadership of the Force is not aware and did not at any time order Police operatives to carry out such assignment.” The IGP also ordered detailed investigation into the invasion and pledged that the perpetrators would be made to face the wrath of the law.
- On Saturday 30th October 2021, a day after the raid on the premises of Peter-Odili, JSC, I issued a statement on behalf of the NBA categorically condemning the incident and calling for investigations. In that statement I made it clear that the NBA views the incident as an affront on the Judiciary and grossly undermines the democracy that we profess to practice; and that the sting operation by faceless security personnel calls for grave concern as it is undoubtedly an attempt to intimidate the Judiciary and to dissuade our Judges and Justices from dispensing justice without fear or favour.
- To underscore the seriousness with which the NBA views the incident, I also promised to convene an emergency meeting of the NBA National Executive Council solely to deliberate on the issue and take a definite position. That meeting held on Monday 2nd November 2021 and took very far-reaching decisions in respect of the issue at hand.
- Some of you may have also read and indeed reported my address delivered at the Supreme Court of Nigeria on Thursday 4th November 2021 on the solemn occasion of the valedictory court session held in honour of the late Honourable Justice Samuel Chukwudumebi Oseji. In my address I said, and I must repeat here today, that just as was the case in 2016, when the homes of some Judicial Officers were invaded and also when the former Chief Justice of Nigeria was illegally removed from office, the resolve of the Bar to rise in defence of the Judiciary can and will be undermined where our efforts in this regard are not concerted.
- It is for this reason that I have deprecated discordant voices emanating from groups within the Association, in respect of the same issue. Apart from the Annual General Meeting of the NBA which exercises the supreme authority of the Association, the NBA National Executive Council is the highest decision-making body in the Association and when the NBA has clearly articulated a position on any matter, especially a serious one such as the invasion of the premises of a Supreme Court Justice, other groups within the Association, whether they be a body of senior or junior advocates, must rein themselves in and should refrain from muddying the waters by embarking on needless road-shows and issuing statements that only serve to portray our Association, and indeed our approach to the issue at hand, as uncoordinated and ultimately ineffective.
- Today we shall be taking questions from you on what transpired at the emergency meeting of the NBA National Executive Council on Monday 2nd November 2021 in particular, and the steps that the NBA plans to take to ensure that this incident is not swept under the carpet and more importantly, never repeats itself.
- Let me categorically restate that the NBA is thoroughly dissatisfied with the denials emanating from the relevant Government agencies and departments and we have vowed to leave no stone unturned in our bid to unmask all those behind this attack and to bring to justice anyone found culpable, no matter how highly placed. If all the relevant Government agencies deny authorising the raid on the premises of a Justice of the Supreme Court, then who authorised the operation? Who took the decision to approach the Magistrate for the search warrant? What if the team had succeeded and any form of harm had befallen His Lordship? Who would have taken responsibility? Today it is the residence of Peter-Odili, JSC, who will be the subject of such raid tomorrow? What of potential impact of this raid on the morale and psyche of other judicial officers? Are they truly expected to dispense justice without fear or favour under this dark cloud? Can they go to bed in peace without the fear of being visited by rogue security operatives?
- The answers to all these questions are suggestive of the inference that the residence of the second most senior judicial officer in Nigeria was raided by rogue security agencies who acted without authorisation, and for us, the grave implications of this possibility leave a lot to be desired. It is for this and other reasons that I have appointed the Chairman of the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL), Dr. Monday Ubani to serve as the NBA’s Special Investigator to inter-alia unmask those behind the attack on Justice Odili’s home and to ensure that these individuals are made to face the Law.
- The NBA notes that the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba has ordered a detailed investigation into the invasion and has pledged that the perpetrators would be made to face the wrath of the law. The NBA is determined to ensure that this truly happens. We also understand that some of the officers involved have reportedly been arrested. For us, this is not enough. We therefore demand that the veil of secrecy behind which those who directed the said officers are hiding must be torn to shreds for them all to also be brought to justice. There should be no sacred cows. The position of the NBA is that public officers must be made to account for whatever they do with their entrusted powers and where there is any appearance of executive lawlessness the NBA will respond with dispatch to demand for justice. It is for this reason that we are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately set up an independent Panel of Inquiry to fish out all those that are behind this dastardly act.
- It is to be noted that the NBA will also call out and discipline any of our members who is found to have been part of this despicable attempt to ridicule the Judiciary.
- We note that the Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN has reportedly agreed to make himself available for investigation. This is consistent with the position taken by the NBA National Executive Council that the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation definitely has some questions to answer. However, in order not to breach the rule of natural justice especially the rule against being a judge in one’s own cause, we would be insisting that the Attorney General of the Federation is investigated by the above-mentioned independent Panel of Inquiry.
- The NBA National Executive Council also decided to beam its searchlight on the Magistrate Emmanuel A. Iyanna who issued the said search warrant. For the record, we are not satisfied with the volte-face by His Worship, and we believe that it is not enough for His Worship to turn around and suo motu revoke the search warrant in the middle of the night. Questions must be asked of the quality and sufficiency of the materials placed before His Worship before issuing the search warrant in the first place. The NBA National Executive Council believes that even on a cursory reading of the materials placed before His Worship, there is a prima facie evidence that the search warrant ought not to have been issued in the circumstance. This for us, also raises critical questions regarding the quality of justice that is meted out to the rest of the Nigerian citizenry, especially those who are not so highly placed. Consequently, the NBA National Executive Council has resolved to initiate a formal petition for misconduct against the Magistrate to the FCT Judicial Service Committee to serve as a deterrent to others.
- Once again, thank you for coming to this press conference.
- We can now take your questions.