The Nigerian judiciary today wears a crown of torns, one that screams corruption. The infamy is not limited to the seven judges recently arrested by operatives of the Directorate of State Service, DSS, but spreads far and wide to smear the judiciary as an institution. Perhaps only persons afflicted by some egregious naivité could insist that the judiciary, or any institution in today’s Nigeria, a Nigeria where corruption is a strong norm, will be peopled by saints.
That is why the recent revelations that judicial officers are allegedly enmeshed in corruption did not come as a surprise nor a development for which the DSS should expect to be given a medal, as it made out to do, for smashing a corruption ring in the judiciary. Truth be told, talks of corruption in the judiciary have, over the years, moved from whispers of alleged misdemeanour to actual shaming of indicted judicial officers. So the arrests by the DSS, on allegations of corruption and false declaration, did not open up any novel vista on this malaise; it, instead, put the directorate in bad light.
The National Judicial Council, NJC, in a way, drew attention to this while stating its commitment to the on-going anti-corruption war of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. It frowned at what it regarded as “a denigration of the entire judiciary”. It said the ‘sting operation’ would expose judicial officers to attack by criminals who, perhaps, would assume that all judicial officers are in the habit of keeping money, in different currencies, at home. It described in details how it had taken the pains to express much willingness to work with the DSS to prosecute the corruption war but only within the law.
The circumspection of the NJC seems to have become part of a rancorous debate with sharp divisions between those who support the action of the DSS and those who hold the view that the judges were unjustly treated by the directorate. The debate, in a democracy like ours that was fought for at great cost, is a necessary one. Any government, Buhari’s or any one else’s, waging war against corruption earns our support though with some qualifications. One of these is that in any campaign against corruption, there should be no sacred cows. We strongly oppose any opaqueness in the trial process that may suggest a hidden agenda by those whose privilege and power it is to levy war on this cankerworm.
Thus, the President, as we in TELL see it, should be invested with the needful backing of all right thinking people in this country when indicted persons are prosecuted with evidence, irrespective of their positions. We need, however, state much unequivocally, our condemnation of any encouragement of adventure that distracts from the noble cause or gives room for a rampaging force to trample on due process and the rule of law. This is because such a development allows some unscrupulous persons to prosecute personal or hidden agenda under the guise of a ‘holy’ state assignment. The allegations of some of the affected judges, (some of them detailing subterranean moves to subvert justice by members of the Executive arm), if true, bear credence to this fear.
The judiciary itself is conscious of the filth in the temple of justice. And we are aware that steps are also being taken to confront the demon that threatens to put justice permanently on the shelves for the highest bidders. From efforts made since the implementation of the report of late Justice Kayode Esho panel to subsequent efforts by the now vilified NJC, it was apparent that the council charged with the responsibility to see to the welfare and monitoring of the ethical conduct of officers in this arm of government have really not been in slumber, as officials of government hold out. Though we do not assign the council, its members and the entire judiciary, as it were, with some papal infallibility in matters of corruption and ancilliary issues, we however, condemn the campaign that due process be jettisoned in the attempt to rid this realm of our government of this dastardly phenomenon. That is why we hold the view that the DSS should have trodden softly and move more wisely in professionally tackling the menace.
Should the executive be helpless in their war against judicial corruption in the face of the sensible limits we advise be placed on their path? Not at all. In fact, where they realise that the NJC’s recommendation amounts to a slap in the wrist and is grossly inadequate for the weight of the offences of indicted judicial officers, we expect the federal attorney-general to appropriately advise it to go the extra mile by prosecuting the affected persons under the law. If he did that, he would not be doing anything new. In 2004, after approving the verdict of NJC in matters of some judicial officers, the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo sent their case files to the Independent Corruption Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC. The officials were indicted for receiving bribes in the election petition case in Akwa Ibom State.Follow Us on Social Media