According to the Nigerian media, the Department of State Security Services (DSS) arrested seven judges over the weekend for corruption and is planning to move against an additional eight. Among the seven are three supreme court justices. The arrested judges are to be arraigned in court yesterday and then released on bail.
The media reports that the DSS carried out the arrests in its characteristically rough manner: according to Leadership (Abuja) “Gun-wielding DSS and police operatives had on Friday night and in the early hours of Saturday swooped on the residences of senior judges, breaking doors and threatening to harm their family members and aides.”
The move against corrupt judges is already a political football. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Nigerian Bar Association are accusing the Buhari administration of attacking the independence of the judiciary. The PDP accuses the Buhari administration of “selective prosecution” in its campaign against corruption. Abubakar Mahmoud, president of the Nigerian Bar Association has declared “a state of emergency.” He characterized the arrests as “unconstitutional" and a “Gestapo-style operation” that violated the constitutional separation of powers.
The governing All Progressives Congress (APC) has countered by denouncing the PDP’s effort to associate President Buhari with the arrests. President Buhari said that the arrests were an attack on corruption, not the judiciary. He also said that that he would not undermine judicial independence. “The recent surgical operation against some judicial officers is specifically targeted at corruption and not at the judiciary as an institution.”
Parts of the judiciary are notorious for corruption. According to the media, the DSS stated on October 8 that it had recovered more than N93 million (approximately $306,000) and $530,000 in cash from three of the arrested judges. However, it remains to be seen whether the DSS has the power to arrest judges. Claims that DSS methods at the time of arrest were rough and “disrespectful” are credible, given the frequent pattern of behavior of the security services.