By Innocent Anaba, Henry Ojelu & Onozure Dania
LAGOS—Senior lawyers and civil society groups in the country, yesterday, concurred with the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, SAN, that the nation’s judiciary was deeply enmeshed in corruption but threw him the challenge of sanitising the system.
The CJN had, while being confirmed as substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria by the Senate on Wednesday, said the judiciary was corrupt and also said judicial officers accused of corruption should be given stiff penalties, same as other corrupt elements in the society.
‘’I always say Nigerian judiciary is part and parcel of Nigeria and I am not surprised seeing some judges being corrupt but must be treated same way other corrupt elements are treated,’’ the CJN had said.
Those that agreed with him, yesterday, included former president of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN, Norrison Quaker, SAN, Executive Director, Cadrell Advocacy Centre, Evans Ufeli, and Convener, Voters Initiative, Wale Ogunade, among several others.
Agbakoba, others react
Concurring with the CJN yesterday, Dr. olisa Agbakoba, SAN, said: ‘’The CJN should urgently announce measures to tackle judicial corruption, including implementation of Agbakoba vs AGF, declaring the financial autonomy of the judiciary and, therefore, Judges can be paid adequately without which the war on judicial corruption may likely fail.’’
on his part, Prof Ernest Ojukwu, SAN, said: ‘’The CJN spoke honestly when he admitted that there are corrupt judges on the bench. His duty and ours is to take all necessary actions to identify these corrupt judges and get them out of the Judiciary.
‘’We need to do this urgently. The CJN will give the nation additional hope and create trust for the Judiciary if we see the next appointment of judges based on criteria of honesty and transparency. That will reduce the possibilities of having corrupt persons slip into the Judiciary as judges and judicial staff.
‘’Our rule of law and democracy can only thrive if we have an independent and corrupt-free judiciary. We should all support the new Chief Justice of Nigeria to cleanse and reform the judiciary fundamentally and radically. “
In his reaction, Solomon Akuma, SAN, said: “It is a worrisome development that needs to be checked. It is hoped that the newly confirmed CJN will take the necessary steps to address it.”
Speaking in a similar vein, Norrison Quakers, SAN:, said: ‘’A problem identified is half solved. It is a welcome development that the head of an arm of government has openly admitted that there are corrupt judges. The implication is that evidence subsists to substantiate the admission. Perhaps with this admission, the NJC will start the disciplinary proceedings.
‘’The house cleaning exercise will ultimately impact on the administration of justice and make it more effective and efficient. Encourage confidence in court users and investors.”
Similarly, John Odugbela, SAN, said in his reaction,: ‘’Well, I think that in itself is a challenge which he identified and recognized and it is now left for him to put his own policy in place to eradicate or reduce it to its minimum.
‘’For the country, it’s important for the citizenry to see the efforts he will begin to put in place to see his positive steps in curbing the menace, knowing full well that this arm of government is the last hope of the ordinary citizen or the common man.’’
Reacting, another lawyer, Destiny Takon, said: ‘’Well, there is corruption in every fabric of our national life, so you don’t expect the judiciary to be exempted. The Judge in every court did not drop from heaven, he was raised in the same sick society as the corrupt politician or policeman.
‘’My concern is what the judiciary has become under the Buhari administration. The judiciary under Goodluck Johnathan was highly independent and robust to the extent that majority of irregular elections were overturned, even against the PDP and we witnessed serving officials of that administration go to jail.
‘’The narrative has since changed under the Buhari administration. The judiciary has since the coup against Onnoghen, become an appendage of the Executive : the shameful Supreme Court judgment on Osun guber election is still fresh on our minds.
‘’I do not see any prospect of improvement under the new CJN, he is an “establishment guy,” Buhari booted Onnoghen so he could have a surrogate for a CJN. My palpable fear is that more corruption would reign in the judiciary under this administration.’’
On his part, Evans Ufeli, Executive Director, Cadrell Advocacy Centre, said: ‘’First of all, the new CJN must admit that the process that brought him in as the acting CJN and now the substantive CJN is one that was orchestrated by the executive through violation of extant laws, given how the former CJN , Justice Walter Onnoghen, was suspended by the President.
‘’The aforesaid act is in itself corruption as the President’s action brought the judiciary on its knees with ridicules powered by executive lawlessness. Having said that, it’s not untrue that some members of the Bench are corrupt and I think the challenge can be streamlined to that fact.
‘’It’s worrisome, no doubt, but there are many incorruptible Judges in our judicial system too and they have held this arm of government tacitly and judiciously. However, what corruption portends for the Nigerian state as it relates to the judicial system is a prognosis that may have the state thrown into socio-economic turmoil, that may lead to democratic paralysis and endemic political disturbance.
‘’The judiciary is the last hope of the common man and that premise is sacrosanct. We must, therefore, be reminded that the affliction of the judicial arm of government underscores in great magnitude the fall of nationhood.
‘’The judicial arm of government is the chamber of justice or if you like; the temple of justice, it must be kept holy, it must only admit noble men to the bench who will keep the stream of justice clean at all times.
‘’The current trend of corruption in Nigeria which has caught up with the judicial system is one that is undesirable and such must be subjected to national discourse and concrete criticism.
‘’The intention here is to save the judiciary first and by extension the country from invidious hands of treacherous men who are bent on desecrating the temple of justice with contempt. The state must, therefore, fish these disconcerting men and women and bring them to justice.”
Reacting, Wale Ogunade, Convener, Voters Initiative, said: ‘’The ball is in his court now to sanitize the judiciary. He has every power at his disposal.
‘’I want to believe that the legislature too will support him in this move. And I know that the NBA too will be supportive, the executive is interested.
‘’All we want is somebody who will have the political will to drive the process and give it a meaning. it is not as if there are no laws to deal with corruption in the judiciary but what we heard so far is that the political will to drive it is not there but if he can come, have the political will, have a character of strength to drive it, obviously we will go far.’’
Another lawyer, Emmanuel Ochai, said in his reaction: ‘’The judiciary is the product of the Nigerian society at large. Judges do not fall from heaven, but are part and parcel of the society. If Nigeria as a whole is battling with the menace of corruption, then the judiciary is also affected, same as the executive and legislative arms of government.
‘’It was very bold of the CJN to have admitted that the judiciary has challenges of corrupt judges. Having admitted same, I believe he has identified the problem and will definitely find the solution to the said problem”
‘Reacting in the same manner, Malcolm Omirhobo, said: ‘’The new CJN should first remove the speck from his eyes before removing the log from the eyes of other judges. What corruption can be more than the gross violation of the constitution and helping the executive to undermine the independence of the Nigerian judiciary ?
‘’As it stands, he cannot be talking of corruption because the judiciary is bound to be corrupt under his watch, especially when the executive and judiciary arms of government in Nigeria are fused together as one.’’
Former Vice President, NBA, Monday Ubani, said: ‘’He is not the first CJN to admit that. It is of public knowledge. The issue is whether it is pervasive or of a smaller dimension. If pervasive, it is dangerous. If smaller, it can be curtailed and those who commit the crime of corruption should be shown the exit door.”
‘Situation better than before’
Another lawyer, Olanrewaju Ajanaku, said: ‘’The truth is that the situation is better than before. There had been a rejuvenation in terms of remuneration and, therefore, attendant severe consequences for those found wanting.
‘’The ‘war’ is on and I believe so many of them will sit up and not be caught in the web of corruption. It is good to keep the war going but, it cannot be totally eradicated. So many underlining issues are involved.
‘’One, will individuals who are family members, business partners or people who have favoured some of our judges over time who then need favour from them say no to requests for help? The answer is obvious as it would be deemed a payback time.
‘’In other instances, where families are not involved, where there has been an involvement of certain individuals in the eventual appointment of the person to the bench, then, it is an unwritten code to ‘help out’ when the need arises. All these help, assistance or by any other name you might call it is corruption.’’
Dele Igbinedion, another lawyer, reacted this way: ‘’First, the CJN should be commended for His Lordship’s candour and courage in calling corruption in the judiciary by its name and not window dress it. Any other Jurist in his position would have gone to great lengths to bury his head in the sand like an ostrich. So, this is a commendable step.
‘’Secondly, this is a good day for the Judiciary. An admission that there is corruption is a demonstration of the will to confront it. So it should be done.
‘’I am gratified that the Judiciary is moving in the right direction by confronting the monster of corruption and taking steps to deal with it decisively. The future of the Judiciary in Nigeria looks bright.’’
Ogu Ogedi, said: ‘’As embarrassing as the admission may seem, I personally think the admission on the part of the CJN is a ‘confessional’ statement in the right direction. This is because having discovered and admitted this fact, the onus is now on him to take drastic measures to salvage the judiciary from the said corruption.
‘’The era of suspension and/or sitting on the fence is no longer tenable as a defence. He must challenge himself as the leader of that arm of government to ensure utmost sanctification of that section. He has just by that admission stated that he knows, it is now incumbent on him to either remedy the situation or allow same to further swim in oceans of corruption.’’
Boniface Ohemu said: “It is true, the Judiciary, even before now, has challenges of corruption, particularly with Judges, which portends danger for the country but you know the Judge is also a product of the society. If the society does not create the opportunity, the Judge won’t be corrupt, that is not to make excuses for a corrupt Judge anyway.
‘’In facing this issue critically, we have to look at the procedure for appointing a Judge. Where politicians play deciding role, there is bound to be problem. For instance, where a political case or any case concerning a powerful personality is pending before a Judge and he is approached with an inducement in other to decide the matter in the person’s favour, some will give in because the consequence could be heavy on them.
‘’Faced with this kind of tempting challenge, you either get corrupted and do their bidding or not but you see, most of our Judges are too timid, that is a problem. Another problem is that, like I said earlier, a Judge is a product of his society, the average Nigerian wants to make money by any means, live flamboyant life and secure a future for his family.
‘’I believe strongly that if the Judiciary can rejuvenate itself, the country will be put on the right track but how can this be achieved? First, it should purge itself totally of corruption; two, it should be resolute in deciding matters as it is.
‘’Pedigree, know how and temperament are some of the virtues someone should possess to fit in, against knowing a powerful politician as qualification for appointment as a Judge.’’
In his reaction, David Fadile said: ‘’The common man whose last hope is the judiciary is in dire trouble. Corruption among the judges is the worst plague that can ever befall a nation. Rather than the CJN bemoaning the institution he heads, he should as a matter of urgency set all machinery in motion to address this avoidable plague, beginning from justices of appellate courts.’’
Morah Ekwunoh said: ‘’No doubts, the statement coming from the person and occupant of the office of CJN, who is in the position to see and know it all, metaphorically speaking, is akin to an earthquake on the foundation of Nigerian judiciary, with the attendant reverberations and ripples. ‘’This is because he is eminently placed in such vintage position as CJN and Chairman, National Judicial Council (NJC), which deals with complaints against judicial officers, from where he could sieve facts constituting the substratum of his assertion.
‘’His proclamation and declaration of war is, certainly, worthy of considerable commendation, it being the first time in the long and unbroken anal of Nigerian judicial history that it’s head is taking the bulls by the horns, and visiting his colleagues and peers with such intense public stricture, particularly as it is coming at the peak of the government’s relentless and apparently irreversible war against corruption.
‘’Notwithstanding His Lordship’s laudable declaration, solemn and contemplative pause over it raises serious, and some curious and worrisome issues of, among others, whether, by calling for the corrupt judges’ treatment the same manner common criminals are treated, presupposes breaches of constitutional safeguards open to them, particularly in the area of constitutional requirements of the said erring judges’ referral, first, to the National Judicial Council, prior to their humiliation, as common criminals.
‘’It is against the background of the imperative of constitutionality and rule of law in such corrupt judicial officers’ handling that caution is advised, much-as the CJN’s declaration is, as said before, salutary.’