By Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Bartholomew Madukwe
ABUJA—THE National Judicial Council, NJC, has directed that judges participating in “sensitive and highly visible trials such as election petition proceedings” must declare their personal assets before and after conclusion of such cases.
To give effect to the directive, the council, yesterday, constituted a 10-man Judicial Ethics Committee with a mandate to review the code of conduct for judicial officers in the country.
According to the NJC, henceforth, judges entrusted with sensitive cases, “may be required to submit themselves to dedicated assets declaration.”
Also, allegations of misconduct against judicial officers or employees of the Judiciary shall not be leaked or published in the media.
It said the Revised Judicial Code of Conduct will contain, among other things, sanctions for persistent under-performance, inability to utilize time efficiently, low standard of judicial management and persistent failure by judges to comply with sitting requirements as well as, “provisions relating to the responsibility of judicial officers, so as to avoid inordinate and excessive length of proceedings causing delay in justice delivery.”
The legal body said it has mandated a Judicial Performance and Evaluation Committee to request various heads of courts to compile and submit regular statistics of ages of pending cases.
Kill corruption, spare Nigeria — SANs tell FG
Meanwhile, Chief Adekunle Oyesanya, SAN, and former Director-General of the Nigerian Law School, Professor Tahir Mamman, SAN, have applauded the Federal Government in its bid to tackle corruption in Nigeria, but warned that caution should be taken to prevent killing the country.
Speaking on the NJC claim that it did not receive petitions from the Department of State Service, DSS, before its raid on judges’ homes, Oyesanya said the Federal Government’s way of tackling corruption is like cutting off the head to stop a headache.
“If this government continues like this in their bid to kill corruption, at the end of the day, if they are not careful, they will kill this country. They are fighting a just cause through unjust means. Nobody is saying that government is wrong in tackling corruption. It (corruption) is so endemic that it goes from the top to the very bottom,” he said.
Oyesanya pointed out that corruption is a moving target in the country and requires keeping eyes on the ball to avoid losing it.
Also, Mamman, who is the Vice-Chancellor of Baze University, wondered why the NJC has not been using the investigative capability of the DSS when it had cause to investigate members of the bench and any collaborator at the bar.
“The question of whether NJC has received petitions from DSS or not is largely a matter of fact, which outsiders may not know. NJC has no such capabilities and no prosecutorial powers. So, the sensible thing to do is to use the discreet approach usually used by the DSS to generate information whenever there is a complaint bordering on criminal conduct against a judge.
“I believe with sufficient understanding, such information will be kept confidential in-so-far as no culpability is established. Both agencies are working for a common purpose which is to rid the country of criminality. It is therefore a surprise that there is this game of hide-and-seek between the two agencies.”
NGOs accuse NJC of shielding suspected judges
A forum of civil society groups, under the auspices of Forum of Non Governmental Organisations in Nigeria, FONGON, yesterday, accused the National Judicial Council, NJC, of shielding alleged corrupt judges in the country from prosecution.
The forum also said none of the judges sanctioned by the judicial body for various acts of corruption since year 2000, had been prosecuted, even as it blamed the NJC for failing to investigate several petitions sent it by Nigerians, while playing double standard in other cases.
Chairman of the Forum, Wole Badmus, said at a news conference in Abuja that it was an irony that some of the judges indicted by the DSS in their recent raid waited until they were arrested before making allegations against some public officers for attempting to bribe them.
Kutigi leads 10-man ethics panel
Meanwhile, the NJC has appointed a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, to head the 10-man Ethics Committee that has former Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, as a member.
Other members of the panel are former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru Abdullahi; President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Babatunde Adejumo; Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello; President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN; two retired Justices of the Supreme Court, as well as former President of the NBA, Chief Okey Wali, SAN.
Inaugurating the committee shortly after he unveiled a new National Judicial Policy, the CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, tasked it “to do all such things necessary to ensure a continuous high standard of judicial accountability and probity,” as well as to, “monitor and report on laxity by judicial officers in observance of ethical standards in the performance of judicial duties.”
The CJN said the National Judicial Policy, NJP, was borne out of the realization that the Nigerian Judiciary had been adversely affected by the absence of a clear, co-ordinated policy framework that defines its core morals, values, objectives and aspirations.
He said such concerns bordered on the need to make qualitative and integrity-driven dispensation of justice, which is transparent, honest and trustworthy the hallmark of a transformed Nigerian Judiciary.
The CJN acknowledged that corruption is the greatest single menace challenging the justice system in Nigeria, saying the judiciary is committed to weed out bad eggs from its ranks, “strictly with due process and the rule of law.”
He said: “It is indeed a privilege to witness and celebrate the launching of the National Judicial Policy 2016, which will herald a steady transformation of the Nigerian Judiciary. This document is a meticulously considered and well-drafted response to calls for the Judiciary to reform and harmonize its standards.
“I am therefore pleased to say, following great efforts by the Council, this Policy will indeed tick the right boxes, while launching this great institution, the Nigerian Judiciary, into a new level and trajectory that will signal the re-birth, re-invigoration and re-dedication to nobler values that distinguish us.
“We could not ignore the fact that today we are faced with misguided impressions as to the operations of our Judiciary, while its more laudable qualities and achievements are arcane to some fellow Nigerians. Thus, our resolve and commitment to a publicly accessible, value-and-integrity driven policy for our courts, caused some of the brightest minds in the Judiciary to be gathered together in order to create a clear and credible road map towards the transformation in the Judiciary that fellow citizens expect in Nigeria.”
Provisions of the NJP
Specifically, he said: “The policy provides clear guidelines that embrace the broad thematic areas of: The appointment, discipline, code of conduct, education, training and performance of Judges; Access to Justice; Case flow management, judicial administration and court management; Transparency and Anti-Corruption; Judicial Independence; Collaboration; and Public enlightenment.
“It would be stating the obvious to opine that the greatest single menace that challenges the justice system in Nigeria today is corruption. This endemic vice is not peculiar to any region and ethnic group, cutting across faiths, religious denominations, levels of education and economic status. Corruption has serious implications for both the rule of law and access to justice, and must be fought both institutionally and individually.
“This is why the National Judicial Policy contains clear provisions restating the Judiciary’s commitment to transparency and accountability. This is clearly spelt out in Paragraph 5.1 of the National Judicial Policy 2016, thus: “The National Judicial Policy recognizes that the greatest and most damaging challenge to administration of justice is corruption and that tackling this challenge must go beyond mere exhortation and sentiments.”
“The policy gives the legal backing for several multi-faceted strategies and guidelines to be developed while the Judiciary continues to walk the talk in ridding corrupt Judicial Officers from its ranks, strictly in accordance with due process and the rule of law”.
“The Committee will conduct periodic surveys on behalf of the National Judicial Council so as to provide empirical measurements of compliance with the Policy, as affects the administration of justice and application of ethical standards by all Judicial Officers and Court Staff.
“This periodic measurement will also act as a form of oversight, ensuring that any report of laxity on the part of Judicial Officers are investigated and appropriately dealt with by the Council”, the CJN added.
Legal luminaries at the unveiling ceremony included former CJN, Justice Mohammed Uwais, CJN-designate, Justice Walter Onnoghen; President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa; Administrator of the NJI, Justice R.I.P. Bozimo, as well as Chairmen and Members of the Senate/House Committees on Judiciary.
Among issues covered by the new judicial blueprint are policies relating to appointment of judicial officers, Judicial Discipline Policy, Judicial Code of Conduct, Judicial Education and Training, Judicial Performance Policy, Access to Justice Policy, Case flow Management Policy, Judicial Administration and Court Management Policy.
Others are Transparency and Anti-Corruption Policy, Judicial Independence Policy, as well as issues relating to the office of the CJN.
Under the Judicial Code of Conduct Policy, Judges and Court employees were barred from accepting gifts from other arms of government.
According to the document, “Judges must be accountable for public funds and property in their care and should be prudent in the management and use of resources”.
Likewise, under Judicial Discipline Policy, allegation of misconduct against judicial officers or employees of the Judiciary shall not be leaked or published in the media.
It gave institutions of the judiciary concerned with investigation or implementation of decisions taken on complaints against Judicial Officers to cease further action where such complaints are leaked or discussed in the media.
The Judicial Appointment Policy stressed that the process must be transparent, merit-based and skill-based.
“A transparent and carefully designed appointment process is indispensable to an efficient and independent judiciary, able to command public confidence in the administration of justice and capable of promoting and protecting the rule of law and human rights.
“Every aspect of judicial appointment process should, therefore, be such as would command public respect and confidence that the best persons in terms of skill, learning, integrity and courage are appointed as judicial officers”, the document stated.