Corruption has so incapacitated the Nigerian judiciary that it is only capable of bequeathing guilt to the poor and innocence to the wealthy and politically connected. – Omoleye Sowore
In 2005, a low-key legislator, Democrat and congressman William J. Jefferson came into public view when the FBI raided his residence and found ninety thousand dollars ($90,000) cash wrapped in foil and stashed in his freezer. Investigators believed “the money, obtained from an FBI informant, was intended to bribe the then vice-president of Nigeria to secure his help with a telecommunications venture”. After further investigations that cleared the FBI of any wrong doing in the bust, he was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
The American justice system, from 1904 to date, has prosecuted and convicted almost 50 federal officials in corruption-related offenses.
Justice demands that when a crime is committed, the system should follow the appropriate trajectory needed to avoid recidivism. A justice system supposed to be grounded in the values of truth and fairness, should ensure that everyone is treated in an appropriate manner if caught on the other side of the law.
Unfortunately, this is yet to happen in Nigeria and may not happen any time soon. When it comes to our justice system, a number of factors come into play:
First, there is justice that impacts the poor and justice for the rich and prominent personalities.
Second, justice is for sale. We have witnessed, many times, how corrupt public servants purchase their way to freedom and, sooner or later, form part of successive governments.
In fact, under the existing order, all a delinquent political office holder with bags of money needs to be free, is access to a high powered counsel who knows how to manipulate the system.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and current vice president Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in addressing the challenges of the criminal justice system in Nigeria many years ago alluded to the above assertions by saying “…many of the provisions are outdated and in some cases anachronistic. Besides, the loopholes in the law and procedures have become so obvious that lawyers, especially defense lawyers, have become masters in dilatory tactics. It has thus become increasingly difficult to reach closure of any kind in many criminal cases. Convictions and acquittals have become exceedingly rare.”
Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s notation is a chilling description of how our justice system has become a monumental failure. With this in mind, we, as a nation, should no longer ignore this crisis.
Some days ago, the Department of Security Service (DSS) raided residences of some allegedly corrupt Judges. Monies recovered included N93.6million, $530,087, £25,970 and €5,680.
But then, emerging public opinions, following the “sting operation”, have been conflicting. People from all walks of life have critiqued the raids in mixed reactions. A politician representing Kogi West on the platform of All Progressives Congress in the National Assembly openly described DSS’s action as “absolutely wrong and unacceptable.” The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) took it further by declaring a state of emergency in the judiciary. Perhaps the most common argument against the raid, astonishingly, is that “the Judiciary is independent and President Muhammadu Buhari has turned the DSS into a political retribution machine.”
These amusing premises shed light on, and are frequently the result of, many broken pieces in our political culture of selling our conscience to the highest bidder. I find these detours we often create around reasoning absolutely diverting.
To put it in another way, our public opinion circle has been overwhelmed by hard-edged duplicitous ideologies, in that despite the availability of facts and figures, the practice of misleading the public reigns supreme.
We seem to have, for the most part of this sequence of events, missed two very important observations.
In the first place, what are our judges doing with such colossal amount of cash hidden in their house? Second, how did they come across such kind of money?
I am having a tough time understanding why all we choose to complain about, with regards to alleged corruption on the Bench, is the principle of the rule of law. This, in my view, is contrary to logic, intuition and common sense.
Anyway, the law requires security personal to demonstrate that they have followed procedures and established rules in discharging their duties. To this effect, a spokesman for the DSS, Abdullahi Garba, has gone on air to defend the secret police’s action saying that its “action is in line with its core mandate… The judges involved were invited, upon which due diligence was exhibited and their premises searched.”
Whatever the case, there is something so terribly wrong with a society in which a poor citizen caught stealing can spend years in jail, while “authority thieves” are defended and supported in the manner we are becoming accustomed to. This is an extreme and unjust practice that grossly undermines the values of our image as a nation and is a clear sign of a disconcerted democracy. I do not think that anybody who wants our incipient democracy to survive should buy into this red herring of “judges are untouchable.”
Even more, the rule of law, which includes the principles of the supremacy of the law, equality before the law and individual rights, theorises that everyone in a country is equal before the law. Similarly, section 1.(1) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) affirms that our “Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on the authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Whether we admit or not, the judiciary and its entities are accountable under the law. Going forward, justice should be based on the rule of law as stipulated by our constitutional statutes.
To change the topic, we have gone from payroll fraud chronicle, otherwise known as “ghost workers”, to budget padding and now alleged corruption in our Temple of Justice under a political party that gained acceptance nationally by using the catchword “change” as its selling point. We should, by now, have realised that our problem is more people and political opportunism oriented than party oriented. These deeply rooted problems require remediation.
On the other hand, in order to uphold our constitutional values of justice and fairness, punishment must be served for every crime committed.
More importantly, we need to stop confusing challenges we must endure with those we can fight off or put an end to. Else, our democracy may, overtime, become a cynical game in which only a few benefit from.
Given these points, I like to ask: why should corrupt public officers receive little or no punishment for egregious crimes while the poor receive harsh punishment for much less? Why should the ‘rule of law’ only apply to the likes of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, Justice John Okoro, Justice Adeniyi Ademola Justice Muazu Pindiga Abdullahi and Justice Nnamdi Dimgba? The law must be allowed to take its course especially if they are found guilty.
– Dimas writes from Laurel, Maryland, U.S.A.