By Innocent Anaba
Reactions have continued to trail the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad’s comment while appearing before the Senate last week for screening and confirmation, that the judiciary was corrupt and that judicial officers accused of corruption should face stiff penalties, same as other corrupt elements in the society.
Those who spoke to Vanguard Law and Human Rights, include Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, National President, Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR, Sub-dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Dr Simeon Igbinedion and rights activist and critic, Mr Israel Mbaebie.
Ugwummadu said: “ For the newly confirmed CJN, I humbly make the following recommendations as agenda; (a) The weak and vulnerable in the society should have greater access to justice in terms of general cost of litigation and restraining principles of law and technicalities including locus standi etc. (b) Institutional reforms to create capacity and empower state bodies such as National Human Rights Commission, Legal Aid Council etc., to play greater roles in granting access to the public to justice.
(c) See through the campaign for greater independence of the judiciary. (d) Introduce greater transparency and inclusiveness in the recruitment processes of judges and justice aimed at greater competence, integrity, legal knowledge and established sense of justice. (e) Confront known and perceived corruption in the judiciary. (g) Institutionalise regular and continuing legal education and training for judges and judicial officers on new areas of the law. (h) Strengthening disciplinary institutions and procedures to serve as deterrent.”
Dr Igbinedion on his part said: “It is simple. Corruption in the judiciary portends grave danger for us all. With corruption in the judiciary, the court will cease to be the last hope of the proverbial ‘common man,’ justice will be to the highest bidder and justice would be inaccessible to the poor. There are other ripple effects: lack of credibility of justices/judges, court decisions, and prevalence of jungle justice and anarchy. Consequently, it ought to be tackled dispassionately in a manner devoid of politics.
“Without prejudice to my insistence on bringing the corrupt to the altar of justice, deposed CJN Onnoghen knows what I am talking about. Corruption ravages every level of the judiciary, not just the lower courts as claimed by the CJN. Effective tackling of such corruption must be even-handed and blind to the political, religious or ethnic affiliation of the offender.
“Unfortunately, the incumbent government has sufficiently demonstrated that the political will in its anti-corruption armoury is programmed only against those who are not in its good books or those who have fallen out of its favour. The implication of this is that corruption is business as usual in the (political or ethnic) camp of those anointed by the government to loot national patrimony with impunity. If you doubt me, ask Goje.”
Mbaebie said: “Incidentally, the judiciary is not different, separate or immune from the larger Nigerian society. The entire Nigerian society reeks of corruption of the highest form. This is contrary to the belief and official posture of the current government to the effect that it intends to confront corruption headlong. Nothing appears to be further from the truth. Realities on the ground tend to suggest otherwise. It has been all motion and no movement as far as the publicly avowed anti-corruption stance of the government vis-a-vis the realities on the ground.
“Corruption has more or less become somewhat institutionalised. So, how would anyone possibly expect the judiciary to be any different? Our Justices, Magistrates and other judiciary staff are not from outer space. Undeniably, there is massive corruption going on in the judiciary but then, so are there in many institutions and parastatals of government. The judiciary is only a microcosm of the macrocosm. That is not, however, to say that the scenario is acceptable. Corruption must and should be condemned anywhere, anytime.
“It is, therefore, a little of an absurdity for the Chief Justice of Nigeria to complain of corruption within the judiciary. How does one begin to reconcile and or rationalise the process that brought the said CJN to his current position? The process in itself smacks of same corruption he just complained of. It is even more worrying if not troubling when one notices that the current CJN made himself a ready tool for the Executive arm of government to be used against a fellow Learned Brother.
“The fight against corruption in the judiciary should first and foremost start with our current CJN by him admitting that the process that brought him to his current position smacks of corruption. He will not be the first person to so do. The late President Yar’Adua acknowledged that the process of his election as President was flawed. The CJN should take a cue. Never too late to start.”