By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
The recent controversial raid on the Supreme Court Justice Mary Odili’s residence may have again raised new and growing concern over attempts by the current administration to gag the press and curtail the independence of the judiciary, a trend that has from inception become the hallmark of the administration.
“It is getting out of hand, the attempts by the Buhari administration to take away our freedoms in a democracy a sad atavistic throwback to his first outing in the 80s when he was military head of states. The way the goons of this administration went to Justice Odili’s residence in a Gestapo style leaves much to desire” said Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon.
The political scientist urged the public to speak out against the growing climate of fear, defend free speech, freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary.
Many Nigerians, groups and organisations have condemned the attack, expressing apprehension and concern over the burgeoning spectre of totalitarian streak and the gathering cloud of personality cult which is anathema to criticism.
Last week, the Concerned Senior Advocates of Nigeria, South-East chapter, condemned the penultimate Friday raid of the residence of Odili, by security operatives, saying it is yet another frontal attack on the independence and integrity of the Judiciary.
The SANs said the consistent and systematic attacks of the Judiciary by the Executive arm of government is clearly in breach of the constitutional protection of judges and the Judiciary, adding that they are aimed at emasculating the Judiciary.
This was disclosed in a statement issued two only Saturdays ago, and signed by Professor Ilochi Okafor (SAN). Mr. Etigwe Uwa (SAN), and Mr. Chijioke Okoli (SAN).
The Supreme Court had last week condemned the raid, lampooning its masterminds, and describing the attack as despicable and shameful. The Supreme Court further said the raid was “impunity taken too far.”
Apex Court, in a statement by its Director of Information, Dr. Festus Akande, warned that the judiciary should not be misconstrued by anyone or institution of government as the weeping child among the arms of government.
It was the first reaction of the Supreme Court to the incident.
Over 50 security operatives, comprising personnel of the Nigeria Police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had invaded Odili’s house situated at 7 Imo River Street, Maitama, Abuja.
While the action of the security agencies came under heavy criticism, the Nigeria Police, EFCC, and Attorney General of the Federation denied involvement in the incident.
Even the Magistrate, who issued the search warrant upon which the said security operatives under the AGF acted, claimed he was misled and subsequently revoked the search order.
The apex court described the action of the security operatives as uncivilised and a shameful show of primitive force on an innocent judicial officer.
The statement said, “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, Hon. Justice Mary Peter Odili on Friday October 29, 2021 in a Gestapo manner.
“The attack unfortunately depicted a gory picture of war by some armed persons suspected to be security operatives representing different agencies of government who seemed to have come to kill and maim their target under the guise of undertaking a search whose warrant was questionable and baseless.
“We are deeply saddened and taken aback by this uncivilised and shameful show of primitive force on an innocent judicial officer that has so far spent several years of her productive life serving the country she calls her own.
“This incident brought back, rather painfully, the ugly memory of the October 2016 midnight invasion of the homes of our respected justices with no satisfactory explanations as to the true motive behind such brazen assault on our collective sensibility.
Meanwhile the Body of Senior Advocate s of Nigeria (BOSAN), last week reportedly met with the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, and demanded for a thorough investigation into the siege on the house of the justice.
The group, led by a foremost senior lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, condemned the act, warning that the development is a threat to the independence of the judiciary and the nation’s democracy. They insisted that government must uncover those behind the act.
However, indication has emerged that the target of the raid may not been the Justice but her husband, former governor of Rivers state, Dr. Peter Odili, who has had a running battle with security agencies, His international passport was recently seized by the Immigration Service, on the directive of the EFCC.
Informed sources hinted that the search light may the current governor of the state, Nyeson Wike, who has been a major critic and opposition to this government.
Wike is leading the charge against VAT collection by the federal government and restructuring. He is also a close associate of Dr. Odili, who they want to use against Governor Wike.
In 2018, security agents of government had invaded the residences of five judges including two Supreme Court justices at night in search of alleged proceeds of crime, causing widespread outrage. Although the justices had their day in court, the cases were dismissed for lack of evidence and executive impunity.
It was learnt that the raid was part of the play book by the regime to deal with people who are adjudged to be potential challengers for power and those capable of influencing the politics of 2023. And Governor Wike tops the bill.
Recall that Nigeria was one of the focal points for discussion when over 200 journalists across Africa gathered in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in September 2019 for a conference on free speech and freedom of expression in September.
The reporters met to discuss the renewed onslaught on journalists and activists across the continent. At the end of the conference, the reporters sent a clear message to African governments to end attacks on journalists and free speech in their respective domains.
In a communique signed at the end of the International Festival of Freedom of Expression and Press (FILEP) organised by the Norbert Zongo Press Centre (CNP-NZ), the journalists also urged some governments to release of journalists who have been detained for carrying out their legitimate duties.
They also urged the government to put in place deliberate policies aimed at protecting journalists.
“We condemn the incarceration and killing of journalists in nations like Nigeria, Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Ghana and Sierra Leone, Conakry and other African nations,” part of the communique read.
“We condemn the arrest and murder of several African journalists. Governments should guarantee the safety and welfare of journalists who are the defenders of democracy.”
They equally condemned the “tightening of policies aimed at crippling press freedom and freedom of expression in Nigeria”. It urged the countries to expunge laws that oppose the freedom of expression.
While attacks on Nigerian journalists is no longer a new phenomenon, they appear to have taken a turn for concern in recent months.
The year 2018 was initially recorded by the analysis to have witnessed the highest number of attacks (58). But the group’s latest release shows that 2019 has already surpassed that record with the 61 attacks so far, and is still counting.
According to the research, as at May 2019, the total number of physical attacks on reporters was 189; equipment searches and seizures, 9; equipment or property damage, 17; arrests, 60; denial of access, 21; threats, 44 and ‘harassments’, 12.
Of these attacks, 322 were on media houses, while the remaining 30 were meted on individuals. Also, 95 per cent of journalists affected were males while the rest were females.
About 114 of such attacks were carried out by uniformed personnel (military, police, SSS, SARS, NSCDC, prison officials, EFCC etc). Other aggressors were union members (3), criminals, thugs etc. (56), private security outfits (18), terrorists (9), unknown (33) and others (68).