Nigerian security forces have confiscated hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and assets from senior judges suspected of corruption, prompting criticism of President Muhammadu Buhari’s strategy in tackling graft.
A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sunday that seven judges were detained during the nationwide anti-corruption operations, while 15 others were being probed on charges of receiving bribes.
The president’s office also said in a statement that the agents of the Department of State Services (DSS) had carried out the raids across the country in accordance with the rule of law.
“The presidency has received assurances from the DSS that all due processes of the law, including the possession of search and arrest warrants were obtained before the searches,” the statement said.
However, Nigeria's Bar Association and rights groups have condemned the recent raids.
“We are not under military rule and we cannot accept this unholy event and Gestapo-style operation,” Bar Association Chief Abubakar Mahmoud said on Sunday.
Adetokunbo Mumuni, chief of the human rights body Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, also called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of judges detained in the raids.
“We are seriously concerned about the wave of arrests, intimidation and harassment of judges across the country by the DSS,” Mumuni said. “We cannot accept anti-corruption strategies and methods which patently offend the rule of law and undermine the authority, integrity, sanctity and independence of the judiciary.”
The DSS said the raids against the senior judges belonging to the Supreme Court and Federal High Court were launched on the basis of allegations of “corruption and professional misconduct.”
The agency added it had seized $800,000 in cash from their homes.
“The searches have uncovered huge raw cash of various denominations, local and foreign currencies, with real estate worth several millions of Naira (1 USD =314.9 Nigerian Naira) and documents affirming unholy acts by these judges,” it said.
The agency also said it was preparing criminal cases against the judges.
At least two of the judges in the probe had recently ruled against the DSS and condemned its disregard of the laws of the land during its operations.
Buhari was elected last year on an anti-corruption platform, vowing to stamp out the endemic graft plaguing the oil-rich country, but critics have accused the former military ruler of using his anti-graft crackdown to silence political opponents and crush dissent.