By Okanga Agila
The Department of State Security Service (DSS), a few days ago, created a novel chapter, unknown in Nigeria’s farthest history. In an attempt to take the anti-graft war of the current regime to the Landlords of justice, it embarked on a sting operation to fish out suspected corrupt judges.
Simultaneously, it stormed the houses of some serving Justices or His Lordships in Nigeria in locations like Abuja, Kano, Gombe and Port Harcourt over allegations of compromising their integrity and ethical codes.
The State Secret Police recovered various sums of cash in local and foreign currencies during the sting operations in the private homes of these judges.
The incident has attracted a flurry of reactions, especially from members of the Bar and the Bench. In a fashion reminiscent of the comradeship some Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) rose in defence of Mr. Ricky Tarfa, SAN, who was arrested over allegations of bribing judges to influence the outcomes of cases brought to his chamber, the Nigerian Bar Association’s (NBA) President, Mr Abubakar Mamoud, SAN, did the same.
He instantly addressed a press conference demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the Judges, especially the two Supreme court Justices, Sylvester Ngwuta and Iyang Okoro. Lawyers threatened courts boycott and court workers union joined the fray. The DSS has released them.
But curiously, those against the DSS action are merely questioning the manner the DSS sting operation was conducted.
However, no one is thinking about national integrity and the anti- corruption campaign, cum the attitudinal change as presently canvassed by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. They are more preoccupied with treating the proverbial “symptoms, rather than the disease.”
The hordes of unions, associations and individual lawyers who have voiced out against the incident are hardly prepared to speak about the “raw” evidence of cash the DSS recovered from their forceful entry into the homes of these suspected judges.
But without a doubt, the unfolding scenario is a straight battle between the elite, presumed to have substantially contributed to the destruction of Nigeria’s judicial system and the mass of ordinary Nigerians who have lived under the crushing pains of an apparently tainted legal system for years.
Much as the comrades try to camouflage and confuse others with the impropriety of the DSS action on the judges, some Nigerians who have tested their bitter pills know the truth and the pains about seeking justice in Nigeria. So, they have backed the DSS and the Presidency on this score, only if this can mitigate the impunity in Nigeria’s justice system.
Some sound minds in the Bar like retired former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami accused the NBA of often complaining of corrupt members of the Bar, who have become “arrangees” of bribes for judges to influence court verdicts.
Human rights Lawyer, Femi Falana chided the NBA for shielding corrupt judges and lawyers, which he claimed, the association has abundant information “to the embarrassment of incorruptible members of the bar and the bench.”
Padded to it, the Judiciary in Nigeria advertises itself as a house that stinks odiously because some of its members have redefined the meaning of the temple of justice based on fraudulent discretions. Like former President of the Appeal Court, Justice Ayo Salami stated in the wake of the DSS invasion of the homes of the Judges, Nigerians hate the truth and avoid it like a plague.
Just yesterday, the National Judicial Council (NJC) under the chairmanship of the CJN had cause to recommend the suspension, dismissal or sack of some very senior judicial officers. The NJC’s action was necessitated based on proven misconducts, after a thorough probe of the judges.
Members of Bench as high as a Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya and another on whose shoulders the entire temple of justice in a whole state rests, the Chief Judge of Enugu State, the (in)Justice I. A. Umezulike and Justice Kabiru M. Auta of the High Court of Justice, Kano State were among those affected.
While expressly admitting that not all members of the Bar and the Bench are corrupt, it is also plausible to argue that the Nigerian judiciary has sufficient stock and share of its bad eggs, like any other profession in Nigeria.
Nigerians, especially politicians who contest elections and have to further drag it to the Elections Petitions Tribunal can testify to the horror and cruelty of the Nigerian judiciary. At the end of every general elections and the ensuing season of litigations, the NJC receives petitions bordering on the misconduct of members of the Bar and the Bench.
Some get sacked, quite okay! But to conclude that all judges who soil their fingers in filthy lucre, while presiding over election petitions get caught is untrue. Some still escape with their illicit funds and pervasive judgments.
Recently, two courts with coordinate jurisdiction- a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt and another in Abuja gave very conflicting verdicts in the stalled PDP national convention. That’s where the Nigerian judiciary hangs its pride. There were two conflicting verdicts; on the same matter and by courts of equal adjudicatory powers. The same spirit created two governors for Abia state simultaneously months back.
President Buhari has lodged war against corruption from his first day into office and the EFCC under Acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu has arraigned scores of alleged looters of the states and Nigeria. But the first courts of adjudications have been unable to convict, discharge or acquit any suspect nearly two years after.
President Buhari has publicly lamented this ordeal a number of times as frustrating his anti-graft war. But some Nigerians prefer to blame him, instead of the judiciary for failing to secure the conviction of alleged looters.
Those crying foul and calling President Buhari a fascist and a dictator like the opposition PDP, which has a blurred vision of the concept of separation of powers should note that the sting operation by the DSS on the suspected judges in not peculiar to Nigeria.
Far more advanced democracies like the USA also subject corrupt judicial officers or those suspected to have abused ethical codes to such surveillance and arrests. It happened in 2010 to a Senior U.S. District Judge, Jack T. Camp whom the FBI arrested and charged to court for drugs and firearms offences.
The Justice system of the neighbouring Ghana was such a cesspit of filth. But Ghanaians supported the sanitization of the system under Ghana’s Chief Justice, Georgina Theodora Wood, as over 20 judges were flushed out.
It is time Nigerians demonstrate that the conscience of a nation is in her people. The bandwagon effect which significantly blurs the sense of dispassionate judgment is injurious to national progress.
So, like preceding incidents have shown, it is not unlikely that in the temple of justice too, there are bound to be deviants. Let the law prevail and let the judges prove their innocence in court.
Okanga writes from Agila, Benue State.