Much to the expectation of many critical stakeholders in the justice sector, the National Judicial Council, NJC, at its meeting of Thursday , June1,2017, recalled six of the suspended eight judges, including two Justices of the Supreme Court. They had been suspended following allegations of corruption levelled against them.
The Department of State Security, DSS, carried out a “sting operation” on the affected judges between October 7and 9,2016, which led to their arrest and subsequent suspension from the Bench by the NJC which yielded to pressure from the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and other quarters outside the Judiciary before it took the decision. Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, had specifically requested that the judges excuse themselves from their duties pending the outcome of investigations of allegations against them.
Charges were instituted against three of the affected judges. Eight months down the line, the Federal Government is yet to file any charges against five others. Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court , the only one that stood trial among the six reinstated judges was discharged and acquitted of the 18-count charge by the trial court. The Federal Government had appealed the decision. Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court and Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court are still on trial.
We see the NJC’s decision to recall the judges after about eight months of failure to charge most of them to court as timely, an assertion of the Judiciary’s independence as an arm of government. It equally amplifies the widely-held view that security and other anti-graft agencies conduct shoddy investigations in most of the corruption cases taken to the courts. Often, suspects are arrested and kept in the cooler or arraigned while investigations are still on-going. In the end prosecuting agencies lack weighty evidence to secure conviction.
That is why the Federal Government has lost many graft cases in recent times, and this is totally unacceptable because it unwittingly undercuts efforts to fight corruption.
The oft-mouthed shibboleth by the Executive that the Judiciary is a clog in the wheel of its anti-corruption crusade is no longer holding water. Without prejudice to the fact that corrupt judges in the system need to be weeded out, the court is a hallowed temple where justice, civil or criminal, is dispensed on the weight of evidence adduced . Where there is no sufficient and compelling evidence to convict an accused person before a court of competent jurisdiction, the law presumes the person innocent except a superior court decides otherwise.
The Government’s interpretation of the NJC’s action as a betrayal of the administration’s anti graft war ignores the fact that its investigative and prosecutorial agencies flunked their assignments. After waiting in vain for eight months for the judges to be charged to court, the NJC was fully justified in recalling the judges to their duty posts to attend to cases which were abandoned while the nation waited.
We condemn the unhealthy media exchanges between the Presidency and the NJC after the recall of the judges and urge the Executive branch to work harmoniously with the Judiciary to recharge the flagging anti-graft war, including the internal cleansing of the Judiciary.
The anti-graft war is very popular with Nigerians and in the overwhelming interest of the nation. It must be supported to succeed.