Discreet Elite Versus Discrete Judiciary

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By Adetutu Bashorun

 Corruption in the Nigerian judiciary has forever been a bane of the legal system and the common man on the street of our dear nation. The system is embedded and rife with lack of confidence in the judiciary that the courts will mete out justice even in the greenest of cases. The judicial components in the persons of lawyers, court officers and clerks do not conceal the extent of twist apparent in the third arm of government.

Nigerian judiciary has attained a point where the distinction between the words discreet and discrete has to be featured. The dictionary defines ‘discreet’ as showing of reserve and prudence in one’s behaviour or speech. Whilst the word ‘discrete’ implies something quite different, distinct, separate and unrelated.

A joke about the face of corruption in the US judiciary was passed round a few years ago. There was a judge-led criminal case before a jury. This case was highly publicised not due to the matter at hand but due to the corruptible nature of the presiding judge. The trial proceeded for close to three months.

At one but the last hearing, the judge arrived in court and announced that he needed to make a ‘declaration’. Upon getting the prosecutor and defendant counsel to approach the bench, the judge announced to the court that: at Day 1 (one) of the trial, the defendant’s counsel attended his chambers and gave him $15,000 to sway the case in favour of the defendant. As it was undeniably expected resulting from his well-known reputation as a corrupt judge, he collected the money. The trial continued.

Two days later that is after 87 days from the commencement of trial the prosecutor attended his chambers. Be known to all, the prosecutor litigates for the State and is quite tight-fisted and slow in disbursing unaccountable funds. Anyway, the prosecutor gave the judge $10,000 to sway the case his way. Considering that as the prosecutor and the judge are servants of the State, he (the judge) would like to correct the anomaly. He would exercise his judiciary discretion and refund $5,000 to the defendant’s counsel. Upon making this announcement, he gave $5,000 to the defendant’s counsel. The judge then made a further pronouncement in these exact words: “Now, let justice be served”.

By way of analysis of this joke, the discreet matter was the bribe from each side of the case that had to be handled discretely that is separately/aside from the trial. The judge had considered that arising from the bribes; there were several discrete matters to be aired. Basically, it was a known fact that he was a corruptible judge.

The subsequent issues remained that time was of the essence and the price had to be agreeable. The defendant’s counsel had their leg in first and had staked the price of $15,000. As a result, each matter must be handled in a totally discreet manner. The judge considered that he was showing reserve and prudence in his behaviour and/or speech by making the ‘declaration’ and refund of the difference in a sum to the appropriate counsel. Howbeit, he retained $20,000 for his reputation and to ensure that ‘justice’ be served as he deemed fit!

Let us connect the above preamble to the matter at hand: the position of the Nigerian judiciary in the ongoing anti-graft war. At the Presidential Media Chat on Thursday, January 30, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, PMB in responding to a question raised about corruption in the judiciary stated that “it takes two to tangle. And that someone must be offering …” In a nutshell, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has raised an issue of concern. No adjective can place any weight on the gravity of the implications associated with this ‘declaration’.

PMB has in his own stylish manner put forward a double edged sword situation in the play of the words ‘discreet’ and ‘discrete’. By this declaration, simple but grave, PMB is stating, more or less that his Vice President is a legal luminary and that both of them have their eyes on the judiciary with particular reference to the anti-graft war.

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