Of Corrupt Justice And Fight Against Corruption | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe

Comment, Opinion

Of Corrupt Justice And Fight Against Corruption

Posted: Jan 28, 2016 at 11:18 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Niran Adedokun

Judges in Nigeria are taking the flak for the intractable failure of the rule of law in the country. Every waking day, you hear and read postulations about how corruption has become the nature of judges in Nigeria. A lot of our people have concluded, even before the fact, that judges may be the albatross of the anti-corruption war of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. I think these arguments need some deconstruction.

There are corrupt judges in the country, to be sure. A lot of them possibly, pretty much in the same way in which you have corrupt journalists, teachers, policemen and clergymen. Petty dishonesty has become a way of life in Nigeria and hypocrisy, a national pastime.

Even when we identify the motivation for corruption, we all still play the ostrich, lift no finger to ameliorate the situation but pick up our anti-corruption flag at a convenient turn. We see, live with and romance corruption in our every day life, amending our disposition as the occasion demands.

But then, what do you expect from a society in which head is treated as tail, where penury and scorn, instead of success and appreciation have become rewards for hard work and honesty.

Take a journalist who, ab initio earns a pittance, does still not get one single paycheck in 10 months or more, yet he has a wife and children in addition to an extended family to look after. This is the reality of most journalists in Nigeria as just a few media organisations bother to pay their staffers when due let alone offer them living wages. Gratefully, PUNCH tops the pack of this group of few.

However, this same gentleman has a powerful platform with which he is able to influence and set agenda for the populace. He would be a saint not compromise on the job. Unfortunately, saints no longer live on earth since Adam bit the Apple. So, he takes advantage of his position, makes a buck or two to take care of his needs and leads the people astray!

The circle of self-preservation grows in a similar fashion amongst all deprived groups in Nigeria. This mite scale of untoward concessions buds as those involved attain greater responsibilities and by the time they attain positions of authority, they are award winning thieves with monster-sized appetites for appropriating the commonwealth. Hence, our dear country has become a specimen in the sociology of corruption even though we mostly live in denial.

Of course, all of this does not justify corruption but a society which abandons its people at sea will only reap the whirlwind of impunity. Nigerians are not particularly different from other people in the world; decorous living is only a function of how leaders consider the well-being of their people. But I digress.

I am saying that it will be foolhardy to imagine that Nigeria will not have its share of men who are unable to resist the air of lucre that blows over the land nonetheless, painting this respected institution with the tar of corruption is hyperbolic and detrimental to the image of the country and the chances that anyone will take us seriously. No country can risk a loss of confidence in the integrity of its courts.

This is why we must refrain from dragging the judiciary along the lane of disrepute. We cannot continue to have everyone including the Presidency, the Attorney-General of the Federation, the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, lawyers and a sizeable number of our population speak like the totality of the bench in Nigeria wear compromise as cloth.

And while we are at weaning ourselves of this penchant, this country must urgently begin to reform the justice administration system to ensure more efficiency and make it easier for people on the bench, perform their duties without fear or favour.

Of utmost urgency in my opinion, is insisting on the unfettered independence of the judiciary at all levels. This is especially so in the states where the judiciary is more or less still appended to the executive. Nothing signifies this anomaly more than the lack of financial autonomy in spite of a 2014 judgment of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja. The judiciary in Nigeria should secure a first-line charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federation. Period!

In addition to this, attention must be paid to the welfare of judges. Salaries and allowances of judicial officers should be periodically reviewed in line with economic realities while the entitlements of judges should be promptly paid. At no time should this country allow any of its judges to feel destitute, this opens the gate to temptation and engender compromise.

There should also be a revamp and upgrade of basic infrastructure in the judiciary. Currently, most, if not all, judicial officers in the country write proceedings, rulings and judgments in longhand. That is in spite of the daily innovations and breakthroughs in technology. Nigeria must do away with this laborious disincentive to the judiciary. Judges in Nigeria also bear heaps heavier than those of machines in terms of the volume of cases that they attend to. Personal experience shows that judges in many of our judicial divisions handle tens of cases daily. This is one of the reasons why cases go on endlessly,

We should also reconsider the parameters for the appointment of judges. As with all areas of national life, we now factor geopolitical balance in the appointment of judges. Aren’t scholarly and ethical considerations more beneficial to such appointments? Going forward, Nigeria should kill the growing tendency to foist cronies of politicians or descendants of retired or serving judicial officers who want to create personal dynasties on the country’s bench. We should go for quality in the appointment and elevation of people to the bench.

In sanitising the Nigerian judiciary, attention must also be given to the reform of integral and complementary bodies like the prosecuting agencies. Prosecuting agencies in Nigeria are generally underfunded. Operatives lack training and out of tune with modern investigation and professional trends. The absence of cutting edge investigative techniques results in lacunas which lawyers exploit to slow down proceedings or even frustrate cases to the benefit of accused persons/defendants in a lot of cases.

These agencies also need to be cured of all tendencies to overreach themselves. Despite the protective shield provided for the rights and liberties of persons by the 1999 constitution as amended, the prosecutorial agencies are overzealous and sometimes careless. They arrest and detain suspects for periods unapproved by the constitution and often fail to provide credible evidences. These frivolous conduct and occasional excesses are the reasons why most of the cases are thrown out for want of evidence!

In addition to all of the above, our substantive and procedural laws need constant reviews and contemporaneity. Some of our laws are nothing but relics of our colonial heritage and absolutely at variance with 21st century realities. Judicial officers are inevitably hamstrung by these.

One piece of reform which would ultimately serve the cause of justice in Nigeria is the separation of the office of the Attorney-General from that of the Minister/Commissioners of Justice as with the states. This amendment was proposed in the Fourth Alteration of the 1999 Constitution by the 7th National Assembly and I hope that this will free the judicial system from a lot of politics.

The most heartrending thing about our legal system, in my opinion, is that the weak and the poor are generally incapacitated in the event of any contest against the rich or even the state. Such a dislocation is at the root of our social and institutional dysfunction and a reversal is expedient.

There is no better way to conclude this than adopting the words of African-American anti-slave campaigner and writer, Frederick Douglass, that, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” A country’s legal system is one guarantee for the equality of all men. Its reform is one legacy that one hopes the Buhari administration would benefit Nigeria with.