Odili
Justice Mary Odili

OBINNA EZUGWU

Irked by the crude invasion of the residence of Nigeria’s senior Supreme Court judge, Justice Mary Odili, by security operatives on Friday night, many Nigerians have risen up in her defence, condemning the act as an attempt to intimidate the judicial arm of government, even as many have suggested that she is being targeted because she the second most senior justice of the Supreme Court after the current Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad

Recall that a team of police officers, said to be operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and soldiers late Friday, invaded Justice Odili’s official residence at Maitama, Abuja, brandishing a search warrant issued by Emmanuel Iyanna, a chief magistrate at Wuse Zone 6 Magistrate Court.

The security operatives had arrived at the residence bearing the warrant that was issued based on whistleblower information from a certain Aliyu Umar, an Abuja residence, who deposed on October 13, that there were illegal activities going on at 9, Imo Street, Maitama, that should warrant immediate action from the law enforcement.

The whistleblower, reportedly said in court filings that the tip-off was supplied to the EFCC, which was said to have prompted Mr Iyanna to issue a warrant on October 29 for the property to be searched.

Subsequently, operatives mobilised to Mrs Odili’s house based on the warrant seeking to forcibly search it in the evening of October 29, the same day a warrant was approved.

But she rejected the move to search her residence because she had no pending issues with anti-graft agencies.

Justice Odili also argued that the warrant was not meant for her residence since she lives at 7, Imo River Street, Maitama, and not 9, Imo Street, Maitama, as stated in the warrant. The operatives nonetheless laid siege on the residence for hours.

The warrant has since been withdrawn by the magistrate who said the ministry of justice lied to him to obtain same.

While the EFCC, through its spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, denied invading Odili’s residence, noting that the commission, “wishes to inform the public that the report is false as it did not carry out any operation at the home of Justice Odili. If there was any such operation as claimed by the media, it was not carried out by the EFCC. The Commission enjoins the public to discountenance the report,” police and military personnel refused to vacate the residence for long periods.

The officers, however, subsequently left following the revocation of their warrant.

As a fallout of the invasion, many commentators have taken to social media to berate the President Muhammadu Buhari government, while suggesting that the action may have some ethnic and religious undertones, given the status of Justice Odili as the next most senior Supreme Court justice after the current CJN), Muhammad, though Odili is 69 years of age, two years older than Muhammad who is 67.

“Justice Mary Odili became No. 2 in the ranking of Supreme Court Justices following the death of Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, CFR, on 7th of March, 3 weeks to his 70th birthday,” said Paul Ibe, @omonlakiki. “You can now use your tongue to count your teeth.”

Another user, Thεό Abu, @TheoAbuAgada, noted: “Lest we forget, Dr. Mary Odili is the next in line to succeed the current CJN who has been away from work over ill health. A familiar pattern…”

Some equally drew parallels with controversial removal of Cross River State born Justice Walter Onnoghen, from office as CJN in the lead up to the 2019 general election, with President  Buhari suspending him and appointing Muhammad as his successor, following charges of alleged failure to declare his personal assets before taking office in 2017 preferred against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau.

Many had insisted that Onnoghen, whose appointment as CJN was delayed by Buhari and was only made possible by vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, who was acting president appointed him as CJN, while the president was in London on health grounds in 2017, was targeted because of his region, religion and ethnicity, and similar argument has been made following the action against Odili, who happens to come from Rivers State, same South South zone as the former CJN.

“We from Rivers state are observing closely, we will not allow the Onnoghen treatment to be meted to her, our Governor and other senior people are already on ground,” wrote Gospel_Rx, @oga_pharmacist. “This madness must end…”

Making similar point, another user @Ekwulu, said: “It’s like the serial nepotists are about to do an Onnoghen on Justice Mrs Odili. They hate competence and orderly succession. They must impose a lackey to be teleguided like a TV remote.”

Still, for another user, Concerned citizen, @aelinwa, it is a misplacement of priority for security agencies to be flexing their muscle against Justice Odili as when the country has security issues to tackle.

“Mrs Mary Odili’s house was invaded this night. A highly placed judicial officer of d FGN,” he said. “Sheikh Gumi who has high connection with d terrorists has not even been interrogated by d EFCC, and other Securities but have d effrontery to invade the house of the Justice.”

Last night, as news of the invasion filtered through the media, governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike, visited the house with his team to confirm the story.

Those spotted with him at the house include: Abiye Sekibo, former minister of transportation; Raymond Dokpesi, founder of DAAR communications; Austin Okpara, former deputy speaker of the house of representatives; and Okon Aniete and Lee Maeba, a former senator.

Mrs Odili’s husband Peter had been under EFCC investigation for alleged fraud that dates back to his tenure as Rivers governor between 1999 and 2007. He has, however, denied the charges, and a federal judge ordered the release of his international passport earlier this week.