Thursday 23rd February, 2017
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Arrest of Judges: The sting operation that never was

Arrest of Judges: The sting operation that never was

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.

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