IT is very reassuring that the Judiciary under Hon Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, has seized the gauntlet in efforts to reduce corruption among members of the Bench. By so doing, the Judiciary has voluntarily keyed into the anti-graft programme President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
On Thursday, 11th May 2018, the NJC’s Director of Information, Mr Soji Oye, disclosed that seven NJC panels are looking into allegations of misconduct levelled at 25 judges by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The NJC’s 16-member Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (FCCTMC) headed by a retired Supreme Court Justice, Suleiman Galadima, is to entertain petitions and allegations against judges and recommend to the NJC for further disciplinary actions and possible sanctions.
With this proactive step, the Judiciary under Onnoghen is reasserting firm internal control which will make it unnecessary for external forces to meddle in its affairs in the name of fighting corruption. The Presidency had openly complained that the Judiciary was hindering its anti-corruption efforts. The Directorate of State Services (DSS), had on 7th and 8th October 2016, staged a series of “sting operations” on several judges whom the Presidency alleged were corrupt. This created uproars amidst allegations of impunity, but it also drew attention to the need for the Judiciary to wake up and clean its own Augean stable.
Since 11th of March 2017 when Onnoghen was confirmed as the CJN, he has followed through with his pledge to maintain the independence of the Judiciary without allowing that arm of government to be a stumbling block to good governance. He has justified that pledge by ramping up the self-cleansing of the Judiciary as an avenue to restore its pride of place as a credible institution to dispense justice. A rotten Judiciary does not have legitimacy; it does not command the respect of the government and the people.
It is only when the self-cleansing mechanism of the Judiciary is active and effective that corrupt judges can easily be subjected to the rule of law. Most of the cases against the judges affected by the sting operations failed in the courts. This confirmed that there are no two ways to sanction judges except through the already well-laid down due processes. We give the NJC thumbs up for oiling up the wheels of internal cleansing to douse the perception that corrupt members of the Bench are being shielded from the long arm of the law.
This is of particular import as we approach the heavy electoral season when judges will be called upon to dispense justice at the electoral tribunals. With the NJC committee in place, those who intend to steal elections can be sure that the Judiciary might no longer offer them an easy escape route.