President Muhammadu Buhari has complained bitterly that the judiciary has been a clog on the wheel of the fight against corruption. To the President, the judiciary has to be on the same page with him. One was therefore not surprised that the Directorate of State Service, days ago, stormed the houses of seven judges whose ranks ranged from high court to Supreme Court judges. It was the first time the law enforcement agencies are taking on the judiciary in such a brazen fashion.
Nigerians were aghast for many odd reasons. Though nobody is supposed to be above the law, and the judges are therefore subject to the same legal conditions attainable in the Nigerian society. However, there are conditions precedent which isolate the judiciary from this manner of law enforcement.
I am writing essentially from behavioural perspective. The courts are seen as the last hope of the common man. What this means is that the ordinary citizen looks forward to justice in its final analysis through the judiciary. The judiciary is therefore the bedrock of any modern society and democratic nation. The reason for the expectation is quite basic: absence of the hope of getting justice through the normal process can only pave way for self-help. That is what invading the judges’ houses would mean to the ordinary citizens; why go to court when all the judges are corrupt?
Nigeria as a nation has chosen democracy over dictatorship. Democracy entails full respect for the quintessence of the principle of separation of powers. Each arm has its own internal mechanisms for regulations, self-correction, discipline and rewards. In the National Assembly you have the Privileges and Ethics committees of both houses. In the judiciary, you have the National Judicial Council which is responsible for disciplining and promotion of judges – the bench. The executive has many more bodies in charge of general investigations and prosecutions. Where there are infractions, each arm has a way of dealing with such problems. Many judges have been dismissed since 1999 and many more are under investigation.
The point here is that the third arm of government – the judiciary – is hounded by the executive arm for not being allowed to do its job. The argument that the judges are corrupt is warped. Only a court of competent jurisdiction can pronounce a judge as corrupt. The DSS cannot be a judge in its own case otherwise the whole thing will be reduced to whimsical pursuits and value judgments.
Only yesterday, it was the legislature and today, it is the judiciary. The problem is that at the end of the day, only a select portions of the executive would be left and ultimately the President. There is certainly a problem with a country of 180 million people where only the President is presented as uncorrupt. And the President cannot work alone to fix corruption. The President must work with thousands of Nigerians. Beyond that, the legal framework requires a lot of fixing also and can only happen with the full cooperation of the legislature.
Stinging the judges, though it is happening for the first time in Nigeria, is not new. It has happened in a number of countries including neighbouring Ghana. But what has happened in other countries is very different from what i Nigeria days ago. Yes, in the press statement issued by the state service the day after, described their breaking into the seven judges’ homes as string operations. This is certainly a misnomer unless the service is only trying affix a nickname to a job they did outside their jurisdiction.
Truly, what the law enforcement agencies needed to do to cleanse the judiciary and itself of corruption is launching series of sting operations. They claim it was what they did but it not true. What the DSS did was merely forcefully entering the judges’ houses. They may have gained nothing other than intimidating the judiciary but the effect of the affront will fizzle out pretty soon.
For the avoidance of doubt, in law enforcement, a sting operation is a deceptive operation designed to catch a person committing a crime. A typical sting will have a law-enforcement officer or cooperative member of the public play a role as criminal partner or potential victim and go along with a suspect’s actions to gather evidence of the suspect’s wrongdoing. Even mass media journalists resort to sting operations to record video and broadcast to expose criminal activity.
Sting operations are common in many countries including the United States, but not allowed in other countries such as Sweden. Examples are: deploying a bait car (also called a honey trap) to catch a car thief, setting up a seemingly vulnerable honeypot computer to lure and gain information about hackers, arranging someone under the legal drinking age to ask an adult to buy an alcoholic beverage or tobacco products for them, posing as someone who is seeking illegal drugs, contraband or child pornography to catch a supplier; or as a supplier to catch a customer, passing off explosives, fake or real, to a would-be terror bomber, posing as a child in a chat room to identify a potential child molester, posing as a potential customer of illegal prostitution; or as a prostitute to catch a customer, posing as a hitman to catch customers and solicitors of murder-for-hire; or as a customer to catch a hitman or posing as a spectator of an illegal dog fighting ring.
Sting operations are fraught with ethical concerns over whether they constitute entrapment. Law-enforcement may have to be careful not to provoke the commission of a crime by someone who would not otherwise have done so. Additionally, in the process of such operations, the police often engage in the same crimes, such as buying or selling contraband, soliciting prostitutes, etc. In common law jurisdictions, the defendant may invoke the defense of entrapment.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, however, entrapment does not prohibit undercover police officers from posing as criminals or denying that they are police. Entrapment is typically a defense only when suspects are pressured into committing a crime they would probably not have committed otherwise, but the legal definition of this pressure varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
For example, if undercover officers coerced a potential suspect into manufacturing illegal drugs to sell them, the accused could use entrapment as a defense. However, if a suspect is already manufacturing drugs and police pose as buyers to catch them, entrapment usually has not occurred.
The term “sting” was popularized by the 1973 Robert Redford and Paul Newman movie The Sting, but the film is not about a police operation: it features two grifters and their attempts to con a mob boss out of a large sum of money. In 1998, three agencies joined forces to conduct a sting operation where they successfully recovered the Honduras Goodwill Moon Rock from a vault in Miami. The sting operation was known as “Operation Lunar Eclipse” and the participating agencies were NASA Office of Inspector General, the United States Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Customs. The moon rock was offered to the undercover agents for $5 million.Operation Lunar Eclipse and the Moon Rock Project were the subject of the book The Case of the Missing Moon Rocks by Joe Kloc.