WAS Justice Olufunmilola Adekeye’s parting shot as she retired from the Supreme Court intended to exonerate judges from the corruption in the legal system?
She said at a book presentation that politicians sought out judges who they offered bribes on election petitions. She said nothing new, though Nigerians only speculated it.
Corruption in the judiciary is not only on election cases. From land disputes to murder cases, those who disagree with the decisions resort to allegations of corruption against the judge.
Election petitions are a class apart. The stakes are higher, as election winners have access to more national resources than their fantastic earnings. Elections have become the most profitable business for contractors (including legal consultants) and the winners.
When Adekeye made her case, she pressed the role of judges in the matter as passive. Few things can be further from the truth. Was she unaware that a federal high court judge was retired years back for accepting bribes on behalf of his colleagues handling election petitions? Or the more recent legal foxtrots between former Chief Justice of Nigeria Aloysius Katsina-Alu and former President Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, where allegations of interference with election petitions are still being traded? Were politicians the sole participants in these cases? There are more that did not assume prominence.
Corruption in the judiciary is an expressway with all the characteristics of such a thoroughfare. Judges and politicians are familiar with the applicable laws on the route. There may be politicians over speeding, just as there are traffic officers who refuse to enforce the law.
With all the allegations about politicians attempting to induce judges, “through their relations, friends and close associates”, there is no case of a judge ordering the arrest of a politician, or his contact for offering bribe, which ordinarily is an offence, moreso when intended to skew the judicial process.
Politicians are ruthless in their bid for power, but we also hear about the growing levels of desperation among judges to be included in panels that hear election petitions. Why would election petitions appeal more to judges than other cases? The judiciary requires higher standards for its integrity.
“We must always stand up and defend our judges and protect their integrity. It is a pity that most times, even the political class does not understand the role of judges in democratic settings,” Justice Adekeye suggested.
She may be right about a general ignorance of the role of judges. However, Nigerians know about integrity of the judiciary.
Judges accused of corruption, get soft treatment from fellow judges who recommend their retirement, usually with full benefits. Nigerians will not defend this type of integrity.