Opinion: The Judiciary and the making of Immoral Society

The recent clampdown on corruption in the judiciary has once again thrown up a moral question and the perversion or otherwise, of the mind of an average Nigerian.

The arrests of the suspects by the DSS was greeted with sharp criticisms of both the agency and the government particularly on social media, despite the fact that DSS explained it was acting on petitions written to it by victims (mostly lawyers) of judicial corruption – but which were either treated with kid gloves or not treated at all – and the assurances from the executive that it is only fighting corruption as well as corrupt elements in the judiciary but not a siege on the third arm of government.

Many Nigerians, rather than collectively condemn the corruption in the most sacred organ of government, accuse DSS of ‘overzealousness and usurpation of other agency’s roles’.

However, a section of the citizens applauded the move, though long overdue, as a welcome development. They argued that the fight against corruption that has exposed the once highly revered arm of government must be embraced wholesomely, stressing that those who hold the ‘power of life and death’ must be above board in all circumstances. How can the lords who even the Presidents of nations must bow to his proclamations be soiled with corruption? They wondered.

Consequently, ridiculous coinages that smacks of corruption as: Nigerian Bribery Association, (NBA) and Senior Advocates of Naira (SAN) and JudiSharing  appeared in the milieu.

On the contrary, members of the other group of citizens simply turned legal experts overnight, espousing and interpreting the laws just as they usually assume the role of technical advisers whenever teams play football matches as far as Europe, faulting every move by the coach.

Intriguing question

But one wonders why Nigerians always leave the real issues to beat about the bush in a matter of serious magnitude.

Is the issue about the offence or about the procedure? The procedure of arrest, this time is not even about warrant of arrest, but about the status of the enforcement agent – the DSS.

Whenever Nigerians speak about why their country is not moving along the path of greatness, they are quick to remember how Jerry Railings took Ghana from grass to grace, always too eager to showcase China’s approach to corruption, and pray for a bold leader who could take the bull by the horn and abrogate the above-the-law syndrome in Nigeria.

But when it seems God has accepted their prayers, they will be blinded by party affiliations, tribal sentiments and personal hatred – refusing to applaud the move, hiding under the same laws that the criminals never respected.

Where then has our conscience vanished into, and when and how has our morality becomes so depreciated, with the emergence of critics as Nigeria Bar Association, (NBA) and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) that never raised a voice against the National Assembly for:- appropriating almost the entire nation’s resources to themselves, for refusing to key into Treasury Single Account (TSA) and for refusal to pass virtually all executive (particularly anti-corruption) bills and for daring to suspend the whistle blower.

Why did these accidental critics allow Abdul Mumin Jibrin to carry his cross alone? Why did they applaud not the presidency for sacking tens of officials involved in budget padding saga but feel at home as lawmakers get away with their loots and padding proceeds? And why were they unperturbed and chose to be unruffled when judges who were supposed to rot in jail were merely ‘sacked’ to go home to enjoy their ‘loot’? These and many more questions beg for answers.

Such pseudo-critics are quick to accuse the government for moving against the criminals. Funny enough, they even accused the detectives of usurping the role of security operatives, acting as spokespersons for other agencies.

The disposition of some die-hard loyalists of opposition parties indicates they care less for the future of the country and the generation yet unborn. Must we fold our arms and mortgage the future of our children by allowing them to meet a Nigeria where judgement (as high as the Supreme Court) goes to the highest bidder? Can we afford to have a Nigeria where the last hope of the common man resides gets riddled with stinking corruption? Should we refuse to investigate a Governor if he engages in drug peddling and gun running and leave criminal judges to roam the streets and enjoy their loot while they give unbelievably long sentences to petty thieves? I think not.

Nigerians are living witnesses of how corrupt judges in Nigeria freed James Ibori of all 172 criminal charges and Femi Fani-Kayode of dozens of corruption charges in the NPA case; how a corrupt judge in Nigeria “grudgingly managed” to find Lucky Igbinedion guilty of N25 billion theft but merely fined him N3.5 million which the convict promptly removed from the booth of his car and paid. We all live in a country where corrupt judges reportedly conspired with a President to sack Justice Ayo Salami – the then sitting President of the Federal Court of Appeal in 2012 – for his refusal to be compromised by the ruling party, just as we all know of a corrupt judge in 2013 that unashamedly fined a pensions thief who stole N32 billion, a paltry sum of N2 million – which the pension thief also paid from the booth of his car.

As many critics hurriedly tagged DSS arrests as ‘bad omen for democracy’, the question that must be asked is: which one is the ‘worse omen’ between the DSS arrests of criminals (who disguise under the robe of judges) and the rouges who rubbished the concept of the Rule of Law and bastardised the principle of Separation of Power, hiding under the Independence of Judiciary and the privilege of being honourable arbiters to perpetrate evil.

NBA Intervention and reactions

Key watchers of the scenario wondered to know why there was no single response from the NBA when Justice Ayo Isa Salami was rough handed, illegally suspended and forcefully expelled from the bench; when a promising young lawyer was killed in Rivers state recently; when several courts proceedings/sittings were disrupted in Ekiti and a High Court Judge slapped by Ayodele Fayose; when Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson led thugs to a Court sitting in Yenagoa – the judge was attacked; when the Supreme Court nullified the right of citizens in electing their leaders through free and fair elections in Rivers and two other states by declaring Smart Card Reader illegal; but witnessed powerful response from NBA threatening a show down when corrupt Justices were apprehended and to be prosecuted.

Responding to the NBA’s allegation of DSS going beyond its core mandate of guaranteeing the internal national security, Femi Falana (SAN) has this to say:

“Is the NBA not aware that lawyers who wish to be elevated to the bench are mandatorily required to be screened by the DSS? So, if you allow an agency to screen you before appointment, can you turn round to question its locus standi if it decides to monitor your performance? If a judge collected money in an election petition and declared a wrong candidate the winner of a presidential or governorship election, it can lead to the breakdown of law and order. Can you say that has nothing to do with the internal security of the nation? In the instant case, the DSS wrote to the NJC requesting to interview some judges. Neither the NJC nor the NBA questioned the competence of the DSS to investigate the judges. It is so sad that some aggrieved persons who had sent petitions to the NJC had to ask the DSS to intervene because the judges involved were not investigated.

On the declaration of a state of emergency by the NBA, Falana said: “I represent the majority of lawyers and their clients who are being chased out of our courts because justice has been fully commoditised.

“The figures being bandied around are so scary. The dismissed Justice Kabiru Auta (allegedly) sold justice in his court for N197m. Justice Ladan Tsamiya had (allegedly) concluded arrangement to collect N200m to sell justice in one single appeal. A SAN recently charged N5m (allegedly) as his professional fee and N100m for the judge. Others are purchasing justice in dollars and pounds. Right now, many lawyers are being driven out of legal practice as they can no longer compete with the judicial tycoons that have taken over some of our courts.

“I just cannot fathom how the NBA can be issuing threats to protect judges who are alleged to have converted our courts to the last hope of very rich criminal elements. Or is the NBA still saying that a court where justice is sold for not less than N100m remains the last hope of the common man? When some of the bar leaders and I joined the legal profession some decades ago, you could predict the outcome of a bad case. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case in many of our courts.

Falana disagreed with the NBA that the arrests of a few judges is an indication that the state has become fascistic and warned all stakeholders to stop using the rule of law to cover up grave economic crimes that have ruined our country.

Constitutionality of arrest and prosecution

It is on record that Justice Donald Ikomi, the then Chairman, of the old Bendel State Robbery and Firearms Tribunal, Benin, became a guest of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Benin City on July 4, 1985. He was  on January 13, 1986 put in the dock and made to face a criminal charge of murder.

Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Ajibola Aribisala also berated the NJC for indulgence, as it is now obvious that many SANs and notable NBA members are accomplices in the humongous corruption in the judiciary.

“There is nothing that is unconstitutional about the raid of the residences of the judges by the operatives of DSS. This raid should have happened about five years ago. The corruption in the judiciary has got to a condemnable level. We lawyers know that something like this was bound to happen. It is happening rather too late.

“No law says a criminal cannot be dealt with. The NJC cannot even say that the DSS should not make arrests in the midnight. It is only when one has committed an offence or suspected to have committed an offence that such a person can be arrested. You can even be arrested on a Xmas day or New Year day.

“A lot of terrible things are happening in this country.
One would have expected the NBA to have intervened and cried foul. When a judge was attacked in Ekiti  some years ago, what did the NBA do? What could be more humiliating than a governor going to a courtroom to attack a judge? The same governor is the one leading those who are condemning the DSS. This is the same governor that beat up a judge. Then the NBA was silent.

“Why are they talking now? How can anybody defend a judge that money was found in his residence? Nobody keeps money at home. The monetary evidence is suggestive. The DSS simply acted on the petition received. The DSS acted based on the evidence. It was as a result of complaints. I don’t think those condemning the DSS got it right. The DSS only went ahead to procure evidence. If they have told the judges they are coming, the judges would have cleared their houses and kept the evidence.

“Imagine a judge going to the supermarket to take money. Sometime ago, one of the judges collected N200m, the NJC only told him to pay it back in instalments. Is that not a pact?

“If you have been found to have collected a bribe, is the punishment to merely pay it back in instalments? It is very wrong,” he stressed.

The culpability of notable politicians is another mind boggling twist to the scenario. The Force Public Relations Officer, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Donald Awunah said it was Goveror Nyesom Wike of Rivers State who drew the attention of the Commissioner of Police Mr. Foluso Adebanjo to
the incident, knowing full well a fracas might have broken out at the gatehouse of the judge.

“When the CP arrived the scene, he met the Governor of the State, Mr. Nyesom Wike. Apparently, the Governor must have had pre-knowledge of the arrest, so what the CP went for was to arbitrate and mediate between all the stakeholders including ensuring the security of the judge.

“The governor, PDP chieftains and several other people running to about 200 persons had besieged the residence,” he said.

Ostensibly, available reports revealed that it was the refusal by the NJC to cooperate with the DSS that prompted the crackdown on the judges across the country.

The NJC had informed the DSS that it was not amenable to “invitations being extended to judicial officers by departments and agencies of government for any reason”.

The morality question lead to the unpleasant public perception of the judiciary, for it is the same judiciary that has been frustrating the efforts of the government, the Nigerian Police, the State Security Service, EFCC and other law enforcement agents, making it look like they usually do shoddy investigations that could hardly stand the test of legality or judicial technicalities.

Little wonder why policemen do prefer to kill robbers at police stations instead of arraignment in court? Policemen often allege that criminals do find their ways into the society and eventually turn back to get patriotic police officers ‘punished’.

It is equally not surprising that, rather than rescue the four University of Port Harcourt students from the mob at Aluu Village on 6th October, 2012, for allegedly stealing phones and laptops, the  policemen who arrived the scene reportedly advised the mob to simply ‘finish them off’ because of similar fear that ‘the accused may escape justice’ if arrested and subsequently taken to court.

Nigerians know why they always prefer to lynch suspected kidnappers, thieves or robbers rather than surrender them to the police for prosecution.

LBN intervention

It is for these reasons that Lawyers for Better Nigeria (consists of mainly young lawyers) at its emergency meeting in Abuja on Sunday 9th of October, 2016 backed the government and condemed the arrested judges and their corrupt brethren (mostly senior lawyers).

LBN said in its communique: “Corruption in Nigeria cuts across sectors, and it is a major source of concern to every well meaning citizen of this great country, especially those of us in the Justice Delivery Sector.

“In our nation’s Justice Delivery Sector, corruption has nearly eroded our system to the point where some lawyers would nearly always add to their service fees the cost of bribing a judge for favorable judgement; where litigants engage and retain lawyers not on the bases of what they have to offer legally but on the bases of their relationship with Judges; where judgements and orders are no longer granted on the bases of judicial precedents, but on the bases of payment (highest bidder wins it); where Judges no longer exercise discretion in or care about their partisan relationship with politicians or the public perception of their outside-the-courtroom relationship with litigants that appear before them.

“As junior lawyers, who either have no competing powers or have resolved not to join the bandwagon, we are the most affected. We lose our clients daily, we lose our chances of growth, while the same persons use their proceeds of corruption to perpetuate their hold on the profession, planting their children, wives and cronies either as Judges or Senior Advocates of Nigeria even when their said children and wives have no real knowledge or values to add to the development of the Justice Delivery Sector.”

LBN consequently dissociate itself from the position of NBA, in addition to issuing a threat of likely parallel orders!

“…This is in order to avoid internal frictions within the NBA that would create room for independent Associations such as ours to begin to make public statements as body (Association) of Lawyers for or against the official position of the NBA. We do not think that this would be in the best interest of the Bar,” they threatened.

The young lawyers were also quick at defining the limitations of the principles of Separation of Powers and Independence of Judiciary, in addition to urging the NBA to allow those who have been cited for violation of the Nigerian Laws to answer to the Laws.

“We note that the Nigerian Criminal Justice System is a process and this process admits and permits ARREST as one of the procedures of the process. These Judges have just been arrested, preparatory to prosecution.

“Therefore, NBA should not be seen as a vehicle for self protection against prosecution; for shielding these judges from prosecution. None of these Judges is arrested for delivering judgement against the Executive, but for indulging in corrupt practices. NBA has a lot to fight against, the unfriendly policies of government, the unfulfilled promises of the Executive, the insecurity in the country and the economic hardship.

As submitted by the LBN, many Nigerians also felt that the Judges who have been alleged of corruption should be allowed to defend themselves since they understand the letters of the law. They also posited that it would be criminal for the government or DSS to close its eyes to petitions against the Judges because of mere confusion that may emanate from the propagandist campaign of their sympathisers and accomplices.

Non lawyers’ position

In a reaction to NBA’s position, a social commentator and a neurologist at the National Hospital Abuja, Nura Alkali condemned the legal society and spoke on the privileges of the judges and the limitations of the powers of NJC.

“Judges may be VIPs but they are not above the law, and when they commit heinous crimes, they are treated like criminals. There is no law saying judges can’t have their houses raided when arresting them and preventing them from tampering with evidence. The FBI does it regularly in the US.

“President Buhari’s government has charged the Senate president to court. No immunity covered the Senate President despite the fact that the Senate had internal mechanism to resolve it’s maters. Be that as it may, this power of the Senate to resolve it’s internal issues is limited to issues that bother on ethics and privileges and does not extend to criminal matters,” he said.

Effects of primordial sentiments

It is therefore important for those who are being blindfolded by sentiments to realise that corruption knows no boundary and corrupt individuals distinguish not between tribes and regions. We are all witnesses to how Governor Wike virtually put his life on line to save Justice Abdullahi Liman – a Muslim, Hausa/fFulani, a Northerner, and supposed Buhari’s kindred during the botched arrest. It is equally noteworthy that the Commissioner of Police Mr Francis Odesanya who risked his career to aid the obstruction is a Yoruba man.

Hence, if the oppressors and enemies of the masses who gang up to mortgage our future for their children’s are united with no cognition for tribe or religion, why should we allow ourselves to be divided along ethno-religious lines rather than call a spade a spade?

Nigeria is indeed a difficult country to govern. When government takes its time to be thorough with investigation in its bid to fighting corruption, it is accused of paying lip service, but when it moves against corrupt individuals, it is accused of witch-hunting. When it takes its time in negotiating with insurgents to ensure it is not duped like the previous administration, BBOG and others accuse it of not doing enough, but when the release of the abducted girls was secured some allege ‘arrangee’, claiming that no one was ever abducted in the first instance!

The moral question

Are we then saying that corrupt judges should not be arrested but be merely summoned ‘honourably’? Are we saying thieves, crooks and criminals be treated with honour and dignity?

Nobody should therefore sympathize with the corrupt. Let us collectively pray for the government to succeed in its anti corruption campaign and in its effort to secure sound future for the younger generation.

Let the Bar minds its business, deals with criminals within its rank and allows the executive to cleanse the rotten stable of the judiciary.

For me, a state of emergency should be declared on Judiciary.

By Yinka Salaam
Voice of Nigeria, Lagos
[email protected]

 

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