By Tonnie Iredia
Chief Anthony Ashaolu, pragmatic educationist and veteran historian has aged gracefully in his Ado Ekiti home but is still quite strong. He was my history teacher at the famous Loyola College Ibadan in the 60s.
One day, he walked into class reciting a statement which goes as follows: “There is always a period in history, when it seems as if a chasm has opened; separating all the went before from all that came after, forces that have long been gathering strength unnoticed are suddenly released; thus creating a new world and a new heaven.”
Half a century later, the statement which all my classmates memorized reechoed in my brain a few days ago while trying to comprehend the news of the arrest of some high ranking Nigerian judges accused of corruption. According to media reports, the judges were arrested in their homes in the dead of night by officials of the Department of State Services (DSS) in what was called a sting operation.
We commend the DSS for its recent display of courage and sagacity. Although some citizens were critical of the method employed in effecting the arrests of the Judges, this column along with a few people are more concerned about the end result. We are obviously not alone in this, considering that since after the sting operations; the DSS has been inundated with petitions by several persons who remain aggrieved about how they were shortchanged in court. In other words, we are many that have for longer than makes sense, cried incessantly but in vain against Justice for sale in Nigeria.
The malaise has been on since the military era. The Abacha military, government for instance, was reportedly forced to disband local government election tribunals at the time because as the then Chief of General Staff, General Oladipo Diya told the nation, “petitions, allegations of bribe taking and even confessional statements by some members of the election tribunals threatened to undermine the credibility of the judicial process.”
Justice Kayode Esho a retired Justice of the Supreme Court was probably more apt when he opined that “the election tribunals were turning judges into billionaires.” The initial belief that corruption in the judiciary was limited to the lower courts was however dispelled by Supreme Court Justice Samson Uwaifo who at his valedictory session, in 2005, revealed that corruption “had gradually crawled to the Higher Courts and would appear to have had a foothold among a noticeable number of judicial officers there.” His learned brother, Justice Stanley Shenko Alagoa, was to later admit that some judges collect bribe from politicians and traditional rulers to pervert the course of justice. No wonder we have conflicting judgments on issues like the PDP crises by Judges loyal to each faction.
The earlier revelation by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa also a former Supreme Court Justice that “there are dishonest lawyers who after charging their normal fees, charge extra for the judge” throws some light on this. Itse Sagay, renowned Professor of law and Senior Advocate imagines that the lawyers involved are mostly the senior members of the Bar, In other words, the Nigerian Bar Association knows them. Indeed, another Senior Advocate, Femi Falana regretted how the legal profession allowed the denigration of the hallowed temple of justice because of the misconduct of a few corrupt judges. According to him, judges who committed grave criminal offences were for several years not prosecuted but merely retired by the authorities on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council” (NJC).
Of course everyone now knows how the Council deals with cases; a good example being the weird handling of the squabbles at the very top between former Chief Justice Katsina-Alu and Justice Salami the then President of the Court of Appeal over the Sokoto governorship election petition. Regrettably, the NJC spoke from 2 sides of its mouth on the subject. As if to suggest that it acts sometimes, younger judges with no godfathers are sacrificed.
Till today, the sacking of Justice Gladys Olotu was swept under the carpet amidst her allegation that she was punished for refusing to do a wrong bidding by her superiors in a case before her. Similarly, a retiring judge, Justice Okechukwu Okeke said the other day that he would “like to be remembered as a victim of injustice in the Nigerian Judiciary.” With all of these, particularly the failure of the Judiciary to call its erring leaders to order the Judiciary cannot now complain that one proactive institution has been forced to wash its dirty linen in the public. What most people do not seem to know however is that the rot in our Judiciary is not a local matter; it is known to the International community. Some 5 years ago, a report titled: “Department of State’s Country report on Human Rights practices for 2011″, which was submitted to US Congress by the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said that “Nigerian judges frequently failed to appear for trials, often because they were pursuing other sources of income.”
Against this backdrop, the DSS should refuse to be distracted by the crocodile tears of the elite class that is worried about the scope of the sting operations and whether or not it may soon come their way. What is happening is the change Nigerians desire. It must not stop just as it must never witch-hunt.
And because charity must begin at home it would be wise for the sting operation to introspect and take a peep at the controversial security excuse for shifting the recent edo governorship election. Was it purchased as alleged? Again why do thousands security operatives just watch thugs snatching ballot boxes at election venues?
The sting operation should indeed visit many other areas especially issues like the rumoured padding of the 2016 budget. How, in actual fact have our legislators over the years handled the controversial constituency votes? A heavy blow will also be dealt to corruption if those who collect money to impeach innocent Deputy Governors are made to account.
Meanwhile, we say bravo to the DSS for its sting operations and more importantly for its prominence in the other cheering news of the week; the release of some Chibok girls held by Boko Haram.