By Seyi Odewale, with agency report
Condemnations have continued to trail last Friday’s siege on the Abuja home of the Supreme Court Justice, Mary Odili, by the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The latest among those who condemned the action was the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), which described the action as an affront on the judiciary. To the NBA, the move was to intimidate and ridicule the judiciary.
Justice Odili is the wife of the former governor of Rivers State, Peter, whose international passport is being withheld by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). However, a court order last week asked the NIS to return the former governor’s passport, but the order has not been complied with.
In a statement on behalf of the association, its president, Olumide Akpata, said the association would hold an emergency meeting of its National Executive Committee (NEC) on the matter. No date has however been fixed.
“To be clear, the event is an affront on the judiciary and grossly undermines the democracy that we profess to practise.
“In line with the aims and objectives of the NBA which include the protection and defence of the independence of the Judiciary and the rule of law in Nigeria, we will be convening an emergency meeting of the NBA National Executive Committee solely to discuss this issue and take a definitive stand on behalf of the NBA,” Akpata said.
He said he would lead a delegation to meet with the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, and the heads of the various security agencies. This, according to him, would be done “to seek further clarification on the circumstances of this incident.”
Those responsible for the said affront, Akpata said, must be brought to book, adding that the NBA would “ensure that all those responsible for this unfortunate incident are brought to book.”
“We must do all that is required to safeguard the independence of our judiciary and indeed protect our hard-won democracy,” he added.
However, both the EFCC and the State Security Service (SSS), initially reported to have led the siege on the judge’s home, have denied their involvement.
The AGF, who was indicted in the court documents as the applicant that obtained the search warrant executed at Justice Odili’s home last Friday, also distanced himself from the act.
Malami, in a statement on Saturday, said some “incongruities” in the court documents filed at the Chief Magistrate’s Court in Wuse Zone 6, Abuja, suggested that the documents could not have emanated from his office.
He noted that a police officer appeared to have signed the document, calling on “relevant authorities” to intensify investigations into the matter and prosecute anyone found to be culpable.
Malami’s denial, the NBA president said, “suggests that the inference that the residence of the second most senior judicial officer in Nigeria was raided by rogue security agencies”.
“The grave implications of this possibility leave a lot to be desired,” Akpata said, as he recalled a similar occurrence in 2016 when the SSS operatives invaded the homes of many judges, including two of the Supreme Court, and others at the Federal High Court.
“When viewed in the context of a similar raid on the premises of Supreme Court Justices in 2016, the rationale of which was never fully explained or indeed justified, the NBA interprets last night’s incident as a part of an orchestrated affront on the judiciary, designed to intimidate and ridicule the judiciary.
Akpata expressed regrets that the law enforcement agencies had not learnt their lessons, adding that “events like this do nothing, but erode the independence of sacred democratic institutions like the judiciary, undermine the rule of law in Nigeria, and set the country back in the quest to instil confidence in citizens of Nigeria, Nigerian businesses, and foreign investors that Nigeria operates a democracy with an independent judiciary.”
He also said he spoke with Justice Odili, who is the second most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, and was assured she was alive and well. “I have spoken with My Lord, Mary Odili JSC and I am happy to report that she is alive and well,” he said.
As the news broke last Friday, reports suggested that the security operatives’ invasion of Justice Odili’s home was fuelled by the reported EFCC’s investigations of her husband, who was Rivers State governor between 1999 and 2007.
Human rights lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said the raid on Justice Mary Odili’s home, allegedly perpetrated by the EFCC, could be politically motivated. He said this after visiting the home of the judge. Ozekhome revealed that the judge did not resist the raid. “She didn’t resist any search. I believe that they would have found that they were committing terrible hara-kiri, that is, giving them the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
He continued: “The other theory which is also as powerful is that it is politically motivated, deliberately contrived as artifice and designed to embarrass this cerebral justice of the Supreme Court and to embarrass her husband.”
In another development, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike of Rivers State and leaders of state issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the Federal Government to bring to book the masterminds of the invasion of Justice Odili’s residence in Abuja last Friday.
The leaders warned that nothing sinister should happen to Justice Odili and her husband and if anything untoward happens to them, the federal government should be held responsible.
Governor Wike made the statement on behalf of Rivers State elders, Federal and state lawmakers, and council chairmen at a press briefing in Abuja yesterday, saying they have observed a pattern of persistent harassment of the Odili family in recent times by agencies of the federal government.
He recalled that on the day the Supreme Court nullified the election victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate in Bayelsa State, hoodlums suspected to be political thugs invaded the residence of Justice Odili, but the Federal government did not take any steps to bring the culprits to book.
The governor noted that Odili recently legitimately travelled out of the country for a medical check-up, but on arrival, his international passport was confiscated for inexplicable reasons by the Immigration Service.
He said initially, the federal government feigned ignorance of the seizure. But, after the former governor approached the court to enforce his fundamental human right, the immigration service eventually came up with spurious excuse to justify their action
The governor noted that though the Attorney General and Minister of Justice had denied involvement in the siege on Justice Odili’s residence, the people of Rivers State consider his mere denial as unsatisfactory.
Wike added that the people of Rivers State fear that the motive of those who invaded Odili’s residence may have been to assassinate the Supreme Court justice, her husband, and children.
However, a lawyer, Basil Okoh, said Justice Odili’s harassment was not unconnected with paving the way for a northerner to become the next Chief Justice of the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court.
According to him, Justice Walter Onnoghen, a southerner, was driven out of office through blackmail, brigandage, and a wicked media campaign based on falsehood to make Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, a Northerner, become Chief Justice of Nigeria.
He said: “Now Chief Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed is sick. The next in line is Justice Mary Odili. Two nights ago, one of Nigeria’s security agencies was reported to have organised a raid in her home to nail her of some crime to disqualify her from being appointed.”