Why NJC Should Be Blamed For Judges’ Travails By Louis Okoroma
The recent storming of the abode and arrest of some alleged corrupt judges in the Nigerian Judiciary have continued to generate interest and excitement among Nigerians. While quite a large number of prominent Nigerians who belong to the legal profession have been railing and condemning the action of security operatives who carried out the landmark raid, other Nigerians, made up of the general citizenry who are appalled at the damage which corruption has done to the nation and its people, have been hailing the action of the Department of State Security (DSS).
It is worthy of note that even among the members of the legal profession who understandably expressed indignation about the effrontery of the security men who invaded the hallowed privacy of the judges, there are notable exceptions who believe that to stamp out corruption and restore sanity to governance and the principle of rule of Law, no one, not even a Supreme Court Justice should be spared if it is alleged or proven that the latter has been tainted by the sweet aroma of pilfering, bribery and misuse of their exalted positions.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari continues to get accolades from Nigerians for his focused, determined and courageous assault on the abode and exalted positions of prominent Nigerians who have made corruption their second or main occupation and its proceeds the ingredients of their obscene lifestyle without sparing a thought for the stability of the nation and the well-being of the majority of our people who have been pauperized by corrupt practices at all levels. Nigerians are applauding the fact that the anti-corruption war is not sparing anyone, the same way, that corruption all through the years has not spared the average Nigerian, many of whom have been reduced to animals in their own country on account of lack of access to jobs, and the basic things of life.
One is constrained to submit like the erudite and popular legal practitioner, Femi Falana did on the above matter, that the Judiciary and those among its officials alleged to be corrupt had it coming. The nation’s Constitution provides that the National Judicial Council (NJC) should be in charge of appointment, discipline, reprimand and all issues that concern the position, well-being and general condition of judges including investigating complaints against them. However, this has not been the case as over the years of rule by the then corrupt Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Judiciary including the NJC imbibed the indiscipline and indolence that characterized the national politics of the former ruling party. Before security operatives were forced to move against the erring judges, several petitions have been written and submitted to the NJC pertaining to acts of corruption in the Judiciary and among some individual members of the Bench. Most of the petitions were published in newspapers and other media notably by civil society groups, Civil Society Network against Corruption (CSNAC), as well as the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA). These petitions called on the NJC to investigate allegations of corrupt practices against the judges who have now come under the searchlight of the DSS. There were also allegations of corrupt dealings levelled against top members of the Bar, who go by the title of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) but who in many instances are advocates not for justice and prosperity for the nation, but advocate personal aggrandizement for themselves and their patrons and cronies in the Bench!
In all the above, the NJC failed to act. When it acted, it was feeble with no serious reprimand or sanction nor restitution for the offended party or parties. The NJC, established by the Constitution and funded with taxpayer’s money, took the people for granted, ignoring mammoth allegations of corruption and acts of impropriety against its members while the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) looked the other way as if nothing was amiss. And between the Bar and the Bench, a criminal silence and conspiracy subsisted by which they collaborated to frustrate acts of corruption and sleaze against the nation and its people for their mutual benefit. In an era of Change and anti- corruption, this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue as it would mean that the clamour for change and the desire to rout corruption from our national life is unserious if the Judiciary or any institution of the State is deliberately exempted from the scrutiny of anti-corruption. Thus something had to give. If the NJC for reasons of esprit de corps or to protect the dignity of a privileged class failed to cleanse itself of stench, it then means that it had exposed itself for cleansing by other concerned and Constitutionally- empowered institutions of State. Was it not said that a woman who brings home ants infested firewood is only inviting the lizards for dinner?
It is interesting to note that much of the protest against the actions of the DSS is not on the act of fighting corruption but on the way and manner the DSS carried out its assignment. The grouse of many is that the DSS embarked on a sting operation in the early hours of the morning when the erring Judges must have retired for the day and probably sleeping. The complainants see it as an invasion of privacy of these men and therefore lament that civic liberties are now mortally endangered!
One ventures to say that the economic recession into which corruption has thrown the nation, the growing insecurity in the form of armed robbery, kidnapping, stealing of food by poor Nigerians, widespread unemployment caused by corruption and misuse of public office, have for long compromised the enjoyment of civil liberties of the average Nigerian people. The action of the DSS and the EFCC and other anti-corruption bodies, diligently executed, would serve as an elixir to the restoration of liberties and rights especially the right to the basic things of life for the majority. Nigeria has been badly governed and exploited by these men in the Judiciary who sell justice to the highest bidder and their lackeys in the top echelons of the Legislature, the Executive and the organized private sector. Were it not for President Buhari, the poor in our country would have even lost the right to their citizenship, while some of the tainted Judges continue to enjoy themselves and acquire money and properties whose sources they cannot explain and which is way above their legitimate income.
It should be noted that the timing of the DSS action does not constitute an infringement of the rights of the concerned judges or any one for that matter who must face the law in case of a criminal offence or allegations of the latter.
In fact, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015) did not make a distinction as to the best time of the day or night or day of the week that a search or arrest of an accused person can be carried out by the relevant authorities. The timing, going by the provisions of the ACJA, is left to the discretion of the implementing authority. Therefore, the DSS is blameless and should rather be commended for its courage to bring the high and mighty to account.
It needs to be stated that Judges and top government functionaries in the Legislature and the Executive do not deserve lenient treatment if they are accused of or found guilty of corruption. The reason is that these people compared to the average worker or citizen is well paid in salaries and allowances and provided for with several pecks of office that enables them to live better than other Nigerians not so privileged.
Again, the Judges have no immunity under the Constitution; therefore they are subject to the same laws that govern the average citizen. And in this fight against corruption, immunity should not even be enough to protect any public servant whose acts of stealing or corruption has brought the society to disrepute.
Louis Okoroma, a Public Affairs Analyst, writes from Abuja.