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Corruption: Uproar Over Senate’s Damning Verdict On Judiciary

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President Muhammadu Buhari had asked senate to approve appointments of Justice John Tsoho and Justice Benedict Bakwaoh Kanyip as Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and President of the National Industrial Court respectfully.

Consequently both appeared before Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on November 4, 2019 for screening.

Committee Chairman, Senator Micheal Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central), in his closing remarks after confirmation hearing session of the committee, had this to say: “As it is with the nation’s judiciary today, even if saints are appointed from heaven to serve as justices and judges, it is only strength of character that can prevent them from being corrupt and dispense justice as required”.

Since his guests didn’t have opportunity to reply him, the National Judicial Council (NJC) executive secretary, Ahmed Gambo Saleh who accompanied two heads of courts and retinue of judges and staff from their courts gave it back to senate.

“I don’t think that there’s all that corruption in the judiciary. But when the so-called corruption in the judiciary is weighed against what is obtainable in other systems (such as senate), the judiciary would be adjudged saint,” Saleh said.

Petter Langseth, Ph. D., Programme Manager, Global Programme against Corruption, Centre for International Crime Prevention, Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention, United Nations Office at Vienna said of Nigeria in 2002 that ‘’reports and commentary about corruption are a staple of the country’s vibrant media and among its writers and filmmakers’’.

Senator Bamidele’s remark about corruption in the judiciary smack so much paradoxes on the grounds that contrary to expectations, he ordered committee’s screening to proceed on closed session or in privacy. He had equally ordered journalists out when he led same committee for separate courtesy/oversight visits on October 10, 2019 to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad and President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa. Some justices of the Supreme Court and that of the Court of Appeal were in attendance of the meeting respectfully.

Senator Bamidele’s notorious attempts to shroud in secrecy some part of his committee’s meeting with judicial officers has raised soliloquies (background commentaries) on such conduct, most importantly when very many senators in the 14-member committee are having criminal and electoral cases in the courts.

Langseth said in his lecture entitled, ‘’Judicial Integrity and its Capacity to Enhance the Public Interest’’, the ardent participants or those fueling and aggravating corruption in Nigeria are the very people decrying the vice the most.

In the publication of its 10th edition of the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) – Africa on July 11, 2019, Transparency International, the world survey body said the police topped the list of most corrupt institutions in the country, and closely followed by the parliament (National Assembly).

The organization which partnered Practical Sampling International for the survey, showed that the police topped the list at 69%, followed by ‘Members of Parliament’-60% and local government officials 55%.

Others were government officials 54%, judges and magistrates 51%, business executives 44%, presidency 43%, non-governmental organizations 40%, traditional leaders 35% and religious leaders 20%.

The United States report titled “Department of State’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2011”, which was tendered before the United States Congress in May 2012 by the then Secretary of State, Mrs. Hilary Clinton, had observed that the Nigerian Judiciary is corrupt, because it is susceptible to manipulations by the rich elite in business and politics. According to the 60-pages report; “Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches and the business sector.”

Going into memory lane, less than a week in office, Obasanjo’s government encouraged a situation that turned the election of Senate President to a bazaar to ensure the emergence of a particular person as Senate President. Bribe money in ‘’Ghana-Must-Go (GMG)’’ bag were ferried from place to place and from floor to floor in the Transcorp Hilton hotel in Abuja where the then senators-elect were first lodged; in order to corruptly influence the election of Evan(s) Ewerem as senate president. Late Senator Chuba Okadigbo was then most favoured candidate among majority of the PDP senators-elect. The emergence of Salisu Buhari as Speaker of the House of Representatives followed the same trend, though not as obvious.

Hence, the foundation for a massive corrupt senate was laid. It also set in litany of woes and crisis-ridden Senate which are still in vogue till date.

In the same vein, there was unconfirmed report that the APC governors, bank executives and oil companies pooled over N10 billion to support Senator Ahmed Lawan’s senate presidency bid.

This was contained in a statement by some senators who claimed to have worked hard and campaigned Senator Lawan’s emergence but considered by him for juicy senate committee chairmanship by him.

According to them, ’’we are setting the record straight now and spill the Beans so that you can be reminded. This is a ‘secret’ that some of our colleagues knew, especially those now close to you. You received N50 million from every APC Governor which was mostly delivered to you in cash in Hilton Hotel.

‘’You received one Million Dollars from the CBN Governor and was delivered to you by a serving Senator whom you now rewarded with the Banking Committee Chairmanship.

‘’You collected money from Oil companies and Bank executives and Business men to the tune of over 10 Billion Naira. It will not be wrong to say you made Billions for yourself in the build up to your ascension’’, they stated.

In the 8th Ntional Assembly, more than 90% of the 21 ex-governors and deputy governors in the senate were either facing corruption trial in courts or under investigation for corruption. The 21 ex-govors and deputies in the senate then were: Bukola Saraki of Kwara, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano, Kabiru Gaya of Kano, Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom, Theodore Orji of Abia, Abdullahi Adamu of Nasarawa, Sam Egwu of Ebonyi, Shaaba Lafiagi of Kwara, Joshua Dariye of Plateau Jonah Jang of Plateau, Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko of Sokoto, Ahmed Sani Yarima of Zamfara, Danjuma Goje of Gombe, Bukar Abba Ibrahim of Yobe, Adamu Aliero of Kebbi, George Akume of Benue and Isiaka Adeleke of Osun- now late. Former deputy governors in the Senate were Ms Biodun Olujimi of Ekiti and Enyinaya Harcourt Abaribe of Abia. Danladi Abubakar Sani served as the acting governor of Taraba state. Senator Dariye was later jailed and still serving his jail term.

Recently, the EFCC, some lawyers and civil society organizations declared National Assembly members’ Constituency Project as fraud, adding that it is a scheme merely designed for official rip-off and fueling of corruption in the country.

This followed a N100 billion President Buhari allocated to fund the fraudulent scheme in his 2020 Budget Proposals which they said should have been channeled to ameliorate the deficit infrastructure of the country.

They said that beside diversions of the constituency project funds into private pockets of the lawmakers, the scheme is not provided for in the 1999 Constitution and other statute books.

‘’The doctrine of separation of powers are contained under Sections 4, 5, and 6 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). In particular, Sections 4(2) of the 1999 Constitution provides that the “National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof …”

Closely to the foregoing is the recent news reports that senate is aiding and abetting in the secret recruitments and job racketeering in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the federal government.

The agencies who have been involved in secret employments for some time ostensibly gave some slots to the senate in order to look the other way from their orgies of criminality.

The report has it that out of the 100 job slots given from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to the senate leadership, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North) passed 26 of the job slots for his constituents.

According to Barr Abanika Muktar Isah, ‘’After making a law, the legislature’s main role is to see whether the laws are effectively implemented and whether the laws capture the intent of their drafters. And this role is vesselled through investigative oversight powers of the National Assembly which are also enshrined in the 1999 Constitution as amended, in sections 88, 89, 128 and 129.

‘’The basic aim of oversight is exposure of corruption, waste and inefficiency in the management of public resources, as provided in Section 88(2)(b) of the Constitution. When the legislature effectively monitors/evaluates activities, programmes and policies of MDAs, corrupt practices are eliminated or drastically reduced with a view to enhancing transparency and good governance.

‘’Senate have already compromised and squandered its oversight role on the MDAs with job slots offered to them. The saddest part is that soiling began with its leadership, as evident that fish rots from the head down’’, Abanika said.

The first peep into highly shrouded secret and concealed ballooned incomes or the real earnings by senators was given by Senator Shehu Sani on March 7, 2018 when he disclosed that he and his colleagues receive N13.5 million monthly as “running cost.” He added that the running cost does not include a monthly consolidated basic salary and allowances which they also receive.

Besides, it was disclosed too that the N73.5 billion the 8th Senators received in four years as running cost for their offices were not retired. Of course, Senator Shehu Sani’s last year disclosure gave credence to this humongous national fraud when he explained that ‘’though there is no specification on what the funds was meant for, each lawmaker is mandated to provide receipts to back up their expenses’’.

“The constituency project itself is given on a zonal basis and almost every senator will go with a constituency fund of about N200 million, but it is not the cash that is given to you. You will be told that you have N200 million with an agency of government for which you will now submit projects equivalent to that amount. And it is that agency of government that will go and do those projects for you.”

Senator Sani said the process of executing the projects was fraught with fraud. “Now, the corruption comes when the projects are not done and the money is taken. But I can tell you that I would love a situation where we do away with running costs, constituency projects and leaves senators and members of House of Reps with salaries’’, he said during the interview.

The unretired running cost of N73.5 billion is said to be part of the N150 billion approved by the 8th National Assembly for senators and members of the House of Representatives as running cost.

The 9th senate led by Senator Ahmed Lawan has reportedly set to buy some SUV cars for the chairmen and vice chairmen of its 69 committees (with two extra) for N50 million each which would amount to about N5.550 billion in all. The cars will go round the 109 senators which would be sold to the senators at N1 million each.

This is just as unconfirmed report has it that leadership of the 9th senate is set to purchase a bulletproof Range Rover Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) for its use. It was the same brand of car allegedly purchased by the former Senate President, Bukola Saraki the Nigerian Customs officers in Lagos had on January 11, 2017, intercepted and impounded on the grounds that this car which was valued at N298 million attracted unpaid customs duty of N74 million. The seizure of this car led to the cold-war between the 8th senate leadership and the head of Nigerian Customs Service, Col. Ahmad Ali (Rtd) in that era.

On May 10, 2017, while the Senate INEC Committee was screening nominees President Buhari earlier forwarded to the senate for confirmations as Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), a question was put to one of the 27 nominees.

The late Senator Ali Wakili (Bauchi South) asked a nominee, Ibrahim Abdullahi who retired as a Director in the Department of State Service (DSS) attached to the National Assembly on how the National Assembly can improve its image.

In a characteristic mien and harmless innocence Abdullahi advised the Senators to amend their ways on the grounds that the lack of transparency in their activities is negatively affecting their images in the eyes of the general public.

One can go on and on and on without an end by counting all manners of corruption and fraudulent practices, including demands for cash bribes and job slots for budget passage, and budget padding.

CORRUPTION IN JUDICIARY

Whoever says there is no corruption in the judiciary is strange to truth. Before the Senate cleared Justice Mariam Mukhtar for appointment as CJN on July 11, 2012, she expressed concern too over the image of the Judiciary with a pledge to improve the situation.

For about two hours, the then new CJN answered questions from the lawmakers on the state of the Judiciary and the way forward, pledging to deal decisively with erring judicial officers.

“On the perception of the Judiciary by the public, indeed, as it is as at now, it is very bad and I am saddened by it. But then, as I said earlier on, I will try, I don’t want to sound like a broken record. I will try to make sure that the confidence reposed in the Judiciary, as it were before, will be returned. I will try as much as possible to ensure that the bad eggs that are there are flushed out. That there will be a cleansing by the NJC based on petition. It is sad that the ordinary man on the street thinks and feels that he cannot get justice. This is because of the situation we find ourselves. I will ensure that this perception changes”, she said.

She pledged to lead by example and instill internal discipline in the Judiciary. “Corruption is everywhere. I intend to live by example and hope everybody will follow. I will encourage internal discipline. I will not condone frivolous petitions. I will work with other colleagues to sanitize the system. The NJC will ensure that any judicial officer who contravenes the law is dealt with”, she pledged.

Perhaps, overwhelmed by deluge of accusations leveled against the Judicial Officers in the country, ex-CJN Justice Mahmud Mohammed had on June 24, 2015 decided to use the opportunity offered by a seminar that was organised by the anti-corruption commission of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to ‘’fire back’’ at some unintended targets.

He said contrary to the much talked about corruption in the Nigerian judiciary, only 64 out of the whole lots of 1,020 judges serving in the superior courts have so far been punished by NJC for various offences especially bordering on corruption between 2009 and 2014.

Besides, the Bench cannot be clean if the Bar that gives birth to it is filthy. “Unless we work in synergy to ensure that only fit and proper persons remain in our midst, it will be impossible to expect a different Bench when its origin remains the same. I hereby call on the leadership of the Bar to expunge from its ranks such persons whose conduct may be unfit, improper, dishonest or unethical’’, the ex-CJN thundered out.

Justice Mohammed went further to say that it is rather curious that none of the beneficiaries of those involved in compromising standard of justice or buying and selling of judgements have ever been tried and punished by those in charge of criminal justice administration in the country.

“It is however sad to note that the public officials and persons who benefited from corrupting Judicial Officers are never investigated, apprehended or even prosecuted, even though the Judiciary disciplines its own. The basic question, my lords, ladies and gentlemen is, how we can stop corruption when the scale is seemingly tilted in favour of the beneficiaries’’, Justice Mohammed asked.

The NBA had on February 17, 2012 vowed to expose how politicians used “consultants” to buy election cases with “incredible sums of money.”

The legal body which made the allegation at a valedictory court session held in honour of the late Justice Anthony Nnaemezie Christopher Aniagolu, said it was aware of all the senior counsel and eminent retired judicial officers that served as conduit between election courts and parties in electoral matters, saying it would forward their names to relevant anti-graft agencies for prosecution.

In a speech that presented by the then NBA President, Mr J.B Daudu (SAN), said: “Corruption is now a live issue that is threatening to tear apart the foundations and fabric of the society. The Bar believes that as it does not possess the machinery and infrastructure to battle this scourge such as the EFCC and ICPC possesses, but it can be proactive in its battle against this vice which if left unchecked will sink the whole ship of state.

“We are no doubt aware that some of our colleagues including very senior counsel and at times eminent retired judicial officers go about offering their services as ‘consultants’ particularly in election cases for incredible sums of money so as to act as conduit between his client and the election court.

“The end result is to facilitate ready-made justice for the persons they are acting for. We must strongly deprecate this practice. Our members and members of the public should feel free to avail themselves of the services of this NBA anti-corruption body. We do ourselves the greatest disservice if we fail to fight this ill which renders irrelevant the work and skills of hardworking lawyers who daily toil in and out of courts and who do not have the advantage of knowing with certainty the outcomes of cases as these ‘consultants’ are privileged to know.

“Secondly, this charge falls at the feet of the Bar particularly counsel who for political manoeuvres or the gratification of ‘varying interests’ misuse the process of the Supreme Court and other courts by bringing applications that are clearly frivolous or contemptuous.

“I have approached the Attorney-General of the Federation to call a meeting of the General Council of the Bar so that inter alia, the existing rules of Professional Ethics can be amended to include such areas that will safeguard the dignity of the courts and integrity of judicial process. Let us call ourselves to order in this regard. The essence of a just judicial system is to provide prompt qualitative justice for the people. Justice is meaningless when it is delayed, hurried or perverted”, it stressed.

Taking cue from Daudu, on September 19, 2015, the then NBA President, Augustine Alegeh (SAN), had during the special session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the 2015-2016 legal year and the swearing-in of newly conferred Senior Advocates of Nigeria accused judges of rendering judgments for fees. Vice-President Professor Yemi Osibanjo (SAN) was in attendance.

Alegeh said: “It is indeed very worrisome that certain judicial officers still engage in rendering judgments for a fee.

“Instances abound where judicial officers have resorted to turning the law on its head and making pronouncements which are at variance with the provisions of the law. A few others have formed the bad habit of ignoring judicial precedents even when such authorities are brought to their attention by counsel. This trend is quite injurious and erodes the confidence reposed in the judiciary by society.”

Corruption is in the judiciary, legislature and executive arms of government. The difference is that NJC of the judiciary continuously fishes out culprits for punishment while similar offenders in other areas get away with unpunished. In senate or National Assembly, corruption is official and wholesale because all members mostly involved.

 

 

 

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