A pall of darkness descended on the nation’s judiciary on Friday night and the early hours of Saturday, as gun-wielding security agents swooped on the residences of senior judges, breaking doors and threatening to harm their family members and aides.
The raids were carried out by agents of the Department of State Services in Abuja, Port Harcourt and Gombe. The judges affected are of the Supreme Court and Federal High Court. At least two of the judges had recently ruled against the DSS and condemned its disregard of the laws of the land during its operations.
The actions of these agents of state, observers say, are reminiscent of the executive lawlessness and human rights abuses that characterised the nation’s military era, including the period that President Muhammadu Buhari spent in power as a military dictator. Expectedly, the actions of the agents attracted widespread condemnation from Nigerians with the Nigerian Bar Association, declaring a state of emergency in the judiciary and asking for the immediate release of the judges.
The DSS, at the end of the operations, which lasted at least 12 hours, arrested Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro, both of the Supreme Court bench, as well as Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court in Abuja.
The security operatives also searched the house of another judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, but he was not arrested.
Justices Ademola and Dimgba’s duplexes are separated by a fence at the Apo Legislative Quarters, Abuja. Justice Dimgba occupies 30A, while Justice Ademola lives at 30B. Both houses are on S.O Ogbemudia Crescent, Zone E, Apo Legislative Quarters.
The two judges, it was learnt, do not have their family members living with them in Abuja.
Our correspondent visited the houses of the two Federal High Court judges early Saturday morning. A security guard and stewards, who witnessed the operation at Dimgba’s place, confirmed the incident to our correspondent. They said the DSS operatives had no cause to apply force as the judge had let them in without any resistance.
The sources said Justice Dimgba complained after the departure of the DSS operatives that they (the security agents) left with a bag containing the drafts of judgments which the judge was meant to deliver next Tuesday.
One of the sources said, “The judge got to know of the presence of the DSS operatives at about 8pm on Friday after he was alerted by his security guards. About 20 of them surrounded this house and that of Justice Ademola.
“About an hour later, they sought to enter the house and they were let in. On getting in, the judge asked for their search warrant and they promptly produced one which bore Justice John Nyang’s name. The judge made them to realise that he wasn’t Justice Nyang and they produced another one bearing Justice Ademola’s name.
“Justice Dimgba again said he was not Justice Ademola. They promptly apologised that there was a mix-up but that they had instruction to search his place.
“They went ahead to search the house for about 30 minutes. At the end, they went away with the bag which the judge later complained to be containing his draft judgments.”
Sources who witnessed the search at Justice Ademola’s residence said the event played out like a movie. The judge reportedly locked up himself in his room, on the second floor of the duplex, telling stewards on phone that he had travelled out of Abuja. Armed with a search warrant and the conviction that the judge was inside the house, the DSS reportedly pulled down the door at about 1 am on Saturday.
They also broke an iron door to the living room and made their way upstairs to the judge’s bedroom.
Our correspondent met the door to the porch lying on the ground in front of the judge’s black Sport Utility Vehicle.
The components of the door lock to the living room were also found scattered on the ground. The doors to an empty wardrobe in an unused bedroom downstairs were met open. Dead insects littered the floor of the room which stewards said was not being used.
One of the stewards said, “We noticed the presence of the security operatives at about 6.30pm on Friday and we immediately called oga (the judge). Oga told us that he had travelled. So at about 8pm, the DSS men jumped the gate into the premises.
“They asked us if oga was around and we told them that we had called him and that he said he was not around. At some point they called me and they said I should call him in their presence. I did but oga insisted that he had travelled. They later made attempts to break into the house. On learning that it would be difficult to break in with their boots, they sent some of their men to fetch equipment. Those ones went and later returned with equipment which they used to remove the door at about past 1 am.
“Throughout the period they carried out the operation, they asked all of us on the premises – stewards and security guards – to stay with them.
“They showed us the search warrant for their operation. They searched every inch of the house and at the end of about four hours, they came out with sums of money in foreign and local currencies, as well as some documents. But I do not know the amount. They took him away at about 5 am this morning (Saturday).”
Our correspondent was unable to gain access to the residences of Justices Okoro and Ngwuta but it was gathered that the operation at Okoro’s house lasted till about 9 am on Saturday.
Both justices of the Supreme Court were arrested and driven away by security operatives.