The judiciary and failure to tame corruption – Max Amuchie

The judiciary is generally seen as the beacon of hope for any society. It is the last resort for any aggrieved individual to seek redress. The judiciary, as an institution, should be such that, once it is approached for justice, the judiciary should dispense it without any delay, fear or favour. After all, it’s not for fun that there is the popular maxim that justice delayed is justice denied.
Regrettably, in Nigeria, delay of justice has become the rule rather than the exception. There have been several instances where innocent persons are left to languish in detention for more than 10 to 20 years, even longer than the prison terms prescribed for such offences they were accused of if they had been tried speedily. When the judiciary in any society is weak, the institutional fabric of that society is broken.
The judiciary’s actions, as an independent body, are directed and controlled by the Constitution and the law. The Ribadu
judiciary ensures that both the Executive and the Legislature operate within the laws of the land. Since the Constitution is the supreme law, this means that the Judiciary ensures that all laws should be in line with the Constitution. It is the job of the Courts therefore to decide whether laws passed by the Legislature are constitutional or not.
The judiciary guards all fundamental human rights and liberties. Its authority is vested in the Supreme Court, the High Court and other courts. Independent of the legislature and the executive, as earlier stated, the Judiciary enforces laws, and also ensures that the other two arms of government do not act beyond the powers granted them by the Constitution or by the National Assembly, that is, the Legislature.
There have been some concerns among Nigerians about the integrity of the judiciary. In addition to allegations of corruption up to the Supreme Court, accusing a Chief Justice of corruption, right to his face in 2005, it has been alleged also that Court paper works would disappear from the Court room without any trace. In such circumstances, only God knows how the case would be determined since the Judge has to determine his judgment based on the strength of evidence before him.
Corruption in the judiciary, it is widely believed commences in the Registry of the Nigerian judiciary. The Due Process Unit staff as they are called, are responsible for missing contents in a litigant’s file, contrary dates of adjournments. Apart from extorting a litigant by claiming that there is no file to house his writ of summons and other originating documents, these junior staff, often willingly suggest to litigants which judge is open to receiving bribes.
Another source of corruption in the Nigerian judiciary is the lawyers. A good number of lawyers in a bid to get ahead encourage the corrupt practices perpetrated by these junior staff. A good number shun due process and compromise the judiciary staff into inserting documents into a file out of time; while some go to the extent of informing litigants that there is need to pay certain amount of fees to facilitate favourable judgment. When their matter is not assigned to an amiable judge, they refile and grease palms in order to get their process before the “appropriate” judge.
In 2007, Nuhu Ribadu, then chairman of EFCC, raised an alarm, regarding how some people buy justice in Nigeria. This might be different from the fact that lawyers were trained to make their points credible to the judges to win cases for their clients. In most cases, the judge might rule otherwise, against common human expectations. That is all right. However, what Ribadu might be talking about, to the interpretation of a layman, is that judges could be bribed to influence their rulings on some high profile cases.
The single most devastating menace and threat to political and economic stability in Nigeria is elite corruption whereby educated persons placed in charge of public administration ‘help’ themselves and their usually large families with the commonwealth of Nigeria. This accounts for the most reason that public utilities and infrastructure are shamelessly in perennial disrepair, resulting in frequent avoidable deaths and low quality of life. The fact that these deaths are usually non-discriminatory does not bother successive elites in public administration. On this, the Nigerian judiciary has been found wanting. As an institution, it has not made itself an instrument to fight this menace that has contributed in no small way to keep Nigeria lying prostrate.
Many Nigerians will remember Justice Gregory Okoro-Idogu, the High Court judge that jailed the late afrobeat king, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in 1985 for a foreign exchange offence. It turned out that the judge went to the afrobeat musician, begged for forgiveness and confessed his “hands were tied,” meaning that Fela was after all innocent but that higher authorities wanted him nailed at all costs. The revelation caused national outcry and the judge was compulsorily retired.
Since the Okoro-Idogu affair, more sordid incidents have happened in the judiciary that has tended to aid elite corruption. In the case of Tafa Balogun, the former Inspector General of Police, despite the billions of naira in cash and landed property he stole, he got only six months jail term. He has since returned to society to enjoy his loot. In many other cases, such as that of Abubakar Audu, former governor of Kogi State, the courts granted bail despite good evidence of corrupt enrichment in abominable proportion. He boldly contested the 2007 election on the platform of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP).
Former Governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamieseigha was accused of helping himself to the public till to the tune of several billions of naira. He was prosecuted and with the aid of the judiciary, he was given soft-landing. Today, the self-styled governor-general of the Ijaw Nation is not only a free man, he is a lord of sorts, consulted and consorted in the Niger Delta.
The same happened also in the corruption case involving Lucky Igbinedion, immediate past governor of Edo State. Despite the lengthy charges against him, late last year, he walked out of the courtroom a free man with a kind of sentence that makes looting public treasury an attractive venture. There was national outcry, but the court had ruled.
Between 2003 and 2007, the image of the Nigerian judiciary sank very low because of the way election petition cases were handled. Tribunal chairmen gave very questionable judgments. In few cases, the National Judicial Council had to discipline some judges.
The Code of Conduct Tribunal with the responsibility for handling cases of improper conduct of government officials is even perceived to be worse. The tribunal gives long adjournments as in a way that makes the entire process childish.
Why does the judiciary in Nigeria lack the political will to combat corruption? The answer to these questions may not be far-fetched. The Nigerian judiciary itself appears to be a corruption haven that needs to be tamed. If the judiciary and also the police had shown enough capacity to stem corruption, there would have been no need for ad hoc and interventionist agencies like the EFCC and ICPC. That these bodies have been established to do some of the duties are statutorily the responsibilities of the judiciary and the police is a testament to their