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Lord, give Nigeria bold and incorruptible judges

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By Olu Fasan

EVERY Easter, like the one celebrated this week, Nigerian leaders send messages to Nigerians, exhorting them to be good citizens. Yet, if the leaders examine themselves, they would realise they are the ones who need exhortations: to be good leaders. Indeed, few people need the redemption and renewal that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ brought to humanity more than Nigerian leaders!


Throughout the Bible and other holy books, God places huge responsibilities on political leaders and judges. Not surprising; after all, God Himself established human laws and government. After man failed during the long age of freedom of conscience, God instituted human laws and government to regulate man (Genesis 8:15). It’s because human laws and government have their foundations in God that citizens are enjoined not only to obey governmental laws and authorities (Romans 13: 1) but to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-3). But God put a huge duty on leaders to run government and on judges to administer laws in accordance with certain ordinances. Unfortunately, Nigerian leaders and judges fail woefully to live up to these ordinances.

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Let’s start with the ordinances for political leaders. According to the Bible, a leader must, among others, be able and God-fearing (Exodus 18:21); truthful (Deuteronomy 16:19); conscientious (Deuteronomy 1:17); wise and understanding (Deuteronomy 1:13); of a disposition to refuse bribes (Exodus 23:8). He or she must hate covetousness (Exodus 18:21) and love justice (Deuteronomy 1:16). These Biblical injunctions have their modern law equivalents, but my aim here is to remind Nigerian leaders of the responsibilities that God places on them to govern and administer laws in accordance with His moral injunctions.

So, here is the question: Which of these injunctions do Nigerian political leaders, at whatever level, keep? How many are really able and God-fearing? Would able, wise and conscientious leaders allow Nigeria to become a nation adrift as it is? How many hate covetousness and have a disposition to refuse bribes or refrain from looting the public treasury? What about justice? Do Nigerian leaders love justice? If they do, why is there so much poverty, inequality and injustice in this country? Nigeria, sadly, is a country where politicians wear their religion on their sleeves, but are hardly influenced by any religious or moral code in their actions: they govern without the fear of God; they display appalling incompetence in running the affairs of state, failing to provide even the most basic amenities for the people; they amass stupendous wealth in office, enriching themselves, families and cronies; and, above all, act with absolute impunity and arrogance!

But where politicians fail, judges must not. Which brings me to my real focus: judges. God Himself established the institutions of judges and courts. Indeed, the first lower court and the first Supreme Court were established by God. In Deuteronomy 16:18, God said: “Judges and officers shall thou make thee in all thy gates …” And in Deuteronomy 17:8-10, He said: “If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgement, then thou shall bring it unto the priests the Levites, whose judgement shall be final”(I paraphrase!).  However, in Deuteronomy 16:19, God laid down the basic laws of justice, the basic ordinances for judges: “Thou shall not pervert justice; thou shall not respect persons; neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous”.

The judiciary is not just the last hope of common man, it’s the last hope in any democracy. In any society, politicians may be corrupt and rig elections, powerful elites may abuse their influence, but if judges adhere to the rules in Deuteronomy 16:19, there is hope for the society. Which is why the United Nations’ “Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary” contains provisions on impartiality and inducements similar to those in Deuteronomy 16:19. As one UN report puts it, “judges who cannot be corrupted inspire and compel corruption-free conduct in society as a whole”. Fearless and incorruptible judges are powerful countervailing forces against corruption and abuse of power.

But the prevailing view is that the Nigerian judiciary is largely corrupt. The image last week of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, in the dock and his subsequent conviction by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on a six-count charge of corruption were a sad moment for Nigeria’s judiciary. And at the heart of this, let’s face it, are gifts and bribes. The CCT said Onnoghen failed to explain how he amassed “huge amounts of money in his account”. Many countries have introduced “Unexplained Wealth Orders, UWO” for such reasons. Surely, if such monies come as “gifts”, as they probably do, judges must remember Deuteronomy 16:19. Gifts are the innocence that often constitutes the crime!

After the Bible, the greatest authority on human government and laws is the Magna Carta. Here’s what it says in Clause 45: “We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs or other officials, only men that know the law of the realm and are minded to keep it well”. Sadly, many Nigerian judges don’t fit that description. Pray, therefore, that the Lord will give Nigeria bold and incorruptible judges and officers!

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