The National Judicial Council, with Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, as chairman has just recommended a compulsory retirement from office of the Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Hon. Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya, Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Innocent Umezulike and the dismissal from service of Hon. Justice Kabiru M. Auta of the High Court of Justice, Kano State with immediate effect. This recommendation was sequel to a conclusive investigation following alleged corruption and official misconduct by the affected judicial officers.
We are compelled to recall our earlier editorial, “Redeeming the Justice System,” in which we reflected on the inadequacies in the justice system. The editorial is reproduced here.
President Muhammadu Buhari is not the first Nigerian leader to express worry over the inadequacies of the judicial arm of government in relation to the dispensation of justice particularly criminal justice. He has merely put on the front-burner of public discourse, again, what most Nigerians have, over the years, complained about without visible relief and have come to resign themselves to.
President Buhari, this time round, is probably exasperated by the delay tactics adopted by judicial officers and lawyers which have stalled progress in the dispensation of justice, especially in the ongoing fight against corruption.
Before now, the nation had to swallow the shame of letting self-confessed thieves get away from justice and with their loot intact. In many instances, the cases are so manipulated that they remain inconclusive in a manner that benefits the criminals and leaves, in the process, the negative impressions that crimes were ventures worth taking. In the present scenario that the president is lamenting over, it is hampering his commitment to eliminating corrupt practices from the nation’s body polity. His focus is on the judiciary which he rightly said should be in the forefront of efforts to develop rights-based jurisprudence.
We share the President’s concerns and in particular his opinion on the time tested averment that the judiciary does have a role to play in the fight against corruption by enforcing the applicable laws. We also note his remarks that it is critically important, as a sacred duty, for the judiciary to ensure that criminal justice administration is not delayed in view of the expectation of the public, a section of which is beginning to see the justice system as discriminatory and skewed against the less-privileged. And this in spite of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015.
The judiciary, in reaction to this negative assessment of it by the people it is out to serve, is beginning to take measures to sanitise itself. It has retired compulsorily or out rightly sacked judicial officers proved to have betrayed their oath of office. The cleansing is ongoing and we commend the leadership of that arm of government for courageously taking the bull by the horn.
As that self-examination is progressing, the judges have also come out to insist that they act on facts before them as they are not the proverbial Father Christmas. To some of them, the law is an ass. We have even heard others proclaim that their courts are there to adjudicate the law and not necessarily to give justice. And the law is as presented by the prosecution and argued by the counsels. This brings to the table the level of competence and efficiency or lack of them of the prosecutors as well as the security agencies whose duty is, primarily, to make sure that they have incontrovertible proof that the offence was actually committed by the accused person. It is common knowledge that in most cases, the security agencies and the prosecuting authorities collude with the suspects to turn the course of justice on its head.
We have had cause also to express our disapproval of the conduct of lawyers who, in our considered opinion, are the main culprits in this act of criminal manipulation of the justice system. They know how a criminal with money can evade justice. They also know the judges who are malleable and can easily be paid to give a desired judgement. They do not see anything professionally wrong with “winning” cases for their clients provided they are in a position to pay the usually outrageously high fees. For them, law is amoral and to that extent buying justice is legal. This is unacceptable just as we disagree with this horrendous and ignoble perception of what the rest of us know of the noble profession and urge the Nigerian Bar Association to appeal to its members to take another look at their conducts and see the urgent need to team up with the judiciary to salvage what is left of the justice system and its dispensation