A fascinating case currently doing the rounds in the Nigerian media involves Justice John Inyang Okoro a Supreme Court judge who describes a Kafkaesque experience of being visited by operatives from the Department of State Service (DSS) and being detained on bribery charges.
For the uninitiated, the DSS is an agency empowered to rid Nigeria of corruption.
The incident, which the honourable judge describes in a letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC) is also reminiscent of action packed Hollywood movies in which narcotics drug officials might turn up unannounced at the residency of criminals who peddle drugs for a living.
But if you are a stickler for accuracy, what really happened is that Justice Okoro received a phone call around 9 p.m. on October 7, 2016, from an unknown caller claiming to be from the Presidency and to have a letter from President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, when he opened the door, the judge “saw so many heavily armed men with an inscription ‘DSS’ on their uniform.” They told him they wanted to search his house. His request to inform the Chief Justice of Nigeria about the pending search was promptly dismissed, and like K, in Franz kafka’s novel, he was told he was under arrest.
After relieving the judge of his mobile phone, the DSS agents proceeded to his official residency where they spent more than four hours searching around the house.
Justice Okoro himself says the search, which ended about 1.30 a.m., yielded one IPad, three telephones (only one active), US$38,800, N3.5 million, ($111,000) and four cheque books.
“Also, the DSS operatives informed me that their Director-General wanted to see me that night. I requested to visit their office upon the break of the day but they refused,” wrote Justice Okoro.
“In view of the presence of the heavily armed men who accompanied them and who were pointing their gun at me from all angles, I had no choice than to follow them to their office that night. I was detained by them in their office till Sunday, 9th October, 2016 and upon your Lordship’s intervention that Sunday, they released me in the evening of that Sunday,” adds Justice Okoro.
Regarding the money found in his house, Justice Okoro says the foreign currency was the leftover from the sum of $24,000 and £10,000 a year he has received each of the past three years as annual medical/vacation allowances.
“The money was the balance of my estacode received from this court for the past three years,” writes Justice Okoro. “This is quite outside the estacodes I have received for the International Conferences I have so far attended since joining the bench of this court.”
Of course no one should be assumed guilty of any crime before they have been given a fair trial. And no one knows that better than Justice Okoro who has probably jailed hundreds of criminals for one reason or another over the years.
Are you thinking what I am thinking?
How might the honourable Justice Okoro have handled a case in which a man suspected of bribery or robbery was found in possession of $149,000? If such a man swore on the bible in Justice Okoro’s court, that the money had nothing to do with the proceeds of any crime, would the good judge be swayed by that testimony?
Most rational people, you might think, or even say it aloud, wouldn’t dream of keeping $149,000 under their mattresses or anywhere else in their homes instead of banking the lot.
I’m not well versed in the tenets of law, but even so, I will stick my neck out on the grounds of probability and say that 9 out of 10 judges, might be swayed towards a guilty verdict.
Why? On the grounds that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?
No! On the basis that most rational people with bank accounts and no fear about accounting for the source of their money, wouldn’t keep $149,000 under their mattresses or anywhere else for that matter in their homes.
But perhaps I should confine myself to saying the jury is still out on the case of Justice Okoro.
Whichever way this case turns out, there is good reason for Nigerians to celebrate the fact that the DSS has demonstrated that there are no sacred cows when it comes to pursuing corrupt officials who accept bribes in order to thwart justice.
It is worth bearing in mind that Justice Okoro’s case might not have come to light had the DSS officials who raided his house been of an ilk likely to turn a blind eye in exchange for a bribe.