Critics say arrest of judges a step to witch-hunt and halt opposition

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ABUJA Oct 9 (Reuters) – Raids targeting senior Nigerian judges carried out by the country’s security agency were part of an anti-corruption drive and were not an attack on the judiciary, a spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari said on Sunday.

The Department of State Services (DSS) on Saturday said it seized $800,000 in cash found during raids on the judges’ premises that were conducted in the last few days. It said the judges were from the supreme, appeal and high courts.

Buhari, a former military ruler, returned to power last year after winning an election largely fought on his promise to crack down on corruption. Since taking office he has vowed to recover “mind-boggling” sums of money stolen from public coffers.

But his critics have accused him of mounting a witch-hunt against political opponents.

“President Buhari remains a committed democrat, in words and in his actions, and will not take any action in violation of the constitution,” his spokesman, Garba Shehu, said in a statement.

“The recent surgical operation against some judicial officers is specifically targeted at corruption and not at the judiciary as an institution,” he added.

Shehu said Buhari respected the judiciary and did not seek to undermine its independence, adding that the DSS assured the president that the relevant search and arrest warrants were obtained before the searches were conducted.

The statement comes after the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) accused the DSS of a “Gestapo-style operation” and demanded the release of judges arrested in the investigation. The NBA also urged the president to respect the rule of law. (Reporting by Felix Onuah and Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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