By Ochereome Nnanna
THE midnight raid of the homes of judges by agents of the Directorate of State Services, DSS, has triggered a national discourse on how best to deal with corruption in the Judiciary. Some have applauded it on the grounds that something drastic had to be done to either force the Judiciary to clean itself up or get it done for them by the Executive branch.
Those who hold this view point to the fact that, at last, the Governor of Kano State, Alhaji Umar Ganduje, has succumbed to the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, NJC, to sack and prosecute a corrupt judge, Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court for collecting N197 million bribe. Also, the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I A Umezulike, has been compulsorily retired and set for prosecution for corruption. And so on.
These, to me, are beside the point. I haven’t seen anyone who does not agree that there is corruption in the Judiciary as in every facet of our life. I haven’t seen anyone who says corrupt judges or judicial officers are above the law and should be spared if found culpable. Virtually everyone agrees that corruption in the Judiciary is a danger, not just to our democracy (because it has led to daylight robbery of people’s mandates) but also to the nation at large because that institution is the last bastion of a society that is serious about law and order.
The question is: how do you tackle corruption in the Judiciary without destroying that institution? If a person is sick, how do you kill the disease in his body and save his life? Is it not by sending him to qualified medical personnel who will carefully conduct tests and determine the process of medication and care the patient needs to save his life? Do you poison the patient to kill him and his ailment?
That was exactly what the DSS raid accomplished. They called it a “sting”, but it was nothing of the sort. If it was, by now there would be cast-iron evidence strong enough to put the accused judges in the dock. The problem the Service and the Attorney General of the Federation now face is that whatever the agents said they collected as evidence against the accused judges may not be admissible in court. Those of them who could be genuinely corrupt might go free, as we have seen in so many cases of Gestapo busts organised under President Olusegun Obasanjo and the incumbent administration.
Nigerians must learn to be patient and allow due processes to play out to their logical conclusion. Impunity has never done us any good. We are always looking for messiahs who will use the sledge hammer to smash our problems, but these “messiahs” have always only worsened our problems.
General Murtala Mohammed, who some people still celebrate every February 13th, might have meant well for the country when he sought to fight corruption in the Civil Service by purging it. Today, the Civil Service has become the engine room of corruption in government at all levels. No one can steal a kobo of public funds without the connivance of civil servants. Again, General Muhammadu Buhari’s war against the political class in 1984/85 to recover alleged looted public funds impoverished the political class.
Today, politicians no longer steal in millions, despite President Obasanjo’s Gestapo raids on corrupt individuals using Muhammadu Ribadu’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. They now steal billions and trillions. Buhari’s Gestapo method of fighting corruption failed 32 years ago. It only provided lots of dramatic spectacle but no lasting impact. This episode will not fare any better. These military-minded strategies are shallow and hollow. These “strongman” antics are roads that lead to nowhere. When the strongmen (like Murtala, Buhari and Obasanjo) depart, corruption comes back with a vengeance.
The strategy to tackle corruption must change. We must fight corruption institutionally, adhering to due processes and the rule of law. We have seen the effectiveness of deploying technology to stop or track corruption even before it is perpetrated. The Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) introduced by the Umaru Yar’ Adua regime in 2007 helped the Federal Government to save N220 billion, according to the office of the Accountant General of the Federation recently. It helps to drastically control the incidence “ghost workers”.
Similarly, the Bank Verification Number (BVN) which the President Goodluck Jonathan regime introduced helps to monitor money laundering, while the Treasury Single Account (TSA) introduced by Jonathan but implemented by President Buhari, keeps a watchful eye on federal revenue. More of such tech-based measures are needed to fight corruption institutionally, and that is what government must do more of.
Buhari’s government must stop acting above the law. Obedience of court orders will not stop security operatives from watching those granted bail to prevent them from escaping. Law enforcement agents must also deploy technology to patiently monitor corrupt judges and any other corrupt individual. They must gather enough credible and admissible evidence against such individuals before arresting and turning them over to be prosecuted.
If we continue the way the DSS and other agencies are going, we will destroy the National Assembly and the Judiciary as we destroyed the Civil Service and the political class. This country will become a jungle. State agents can target anyone who is not dancing to the tune of the man from “above”. The state will steal our liberties.
We will hand over our rights to the strongman without a fight, including our right to choose our leaders through our votes! Without a strong, independent Judiciary, there will be no hiding place from state agents acting out the political fancies of the strongman against us.
No advanced country fights corruption without due process and the rule of law. State impunity creates drama, but it also scares away investors. It only waters the ground for civilian dictatorship and sectional perpetuation/domination. Let’s stop clapping for impunity!