Change Begins With Me: Safeguarding The Integrity Of Nigeria’s Judiciary
By Idowu Samuel
Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed most recently stunned the Lagos-Abuja bound passengers at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MM2), Lagos with an austere appearance. He had walked briskly to the departure lounge, clutching his travelling bag with some newspapers, accompanied by no aide! After submitting himself for security checks, he walked calmly to take his seat among the crowd of waiting travellers, not at the VIP lounge.
Expectedly, those who had never seen a serving minister demonstrate such abstruseness were stunned and began to x-ray the Minister’s ‘strange’ conduct in hushed tones. Nonetheless, there are reports that more ministers and heads of government agencies are increasingly shedding the culture of haughtiness and the showmanship long associated with people in government.
The aggregate view now is that the Change Begins With Me agenda of the Federal Government crafted to stir-up attitudinal change in Nigerians has started making open display of modesty and humility most compelling for government officials. Indeed, the best way to hackney and mainstream the Change Begins With Me ideology in Nigeria is for leaders and those in positions of authority to lead the way in demonstrable conduct and attitude. Indeed, the Change Begins With Me agenda is the first step towards deflating the over bloated incubus of corruption in the country.
Reports from the Presidential Villa are indicating that President Muhammadu Buhari is on the driver’s seat in display of the right attitude towards taming corruption in Nigeria. Allusions had severally been made to his modesty, dedication to duty, humility and strong aversion to opulence and flamboyance. His government is cutting costs and schooling Nigerians to be parsimonious in the face of daunting economic challenges. Perhaps, the unique selling point for the President in his fight against corruption is his refusal to indulge members of his family; the wife, Aisha and his children in the life of ostentation, systemic exploitation of government and the idea of dropping his name to covert heart wrenching favours from high quarters.
Although some entrenched interests are stiffly opposed to the vigorous approach the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has been taking in the fight against corruption, indications are rife that the fight is assuming some measure of successes, given the wide spread keen interest that the citizenry are according it.
Consistently, some civil society groups in Nigerians have been staging street protests in support of the anti-corruption stance of the government, taking their advocacy to the Three-Arms-Zone, Abuja as they galvanized more supports for their actions. All over, more Nigerians are rooting for an agenda of the government to smash the heads of past and present officials of government who had connived to wreak the economy of their country through the phenomenal acts of stealing and pillaging.
Recently, the war against corruption by the government swirled violently like a hurricane and blew across the judiciary. By a sting operation, the Department of State Security (DSS) stormed the residences of top Judges suspected as exceedingly corrupt in a bid to make them get a taste of bitter recompense. Many Nigerians hailed the move by the DSS prodded by the mind-boggling reports on how Judges in Nigeria have now allegedly made it a tradition, or rather a norm to trade justice with the highest bidders.
In Nigeria, watchers of democracy are of the view that the country has been driven to a cliff-hanger on alleged monumental acts of corruption perpetrated by a few Judges. Judges had continued to attract suspicion to their conducts through some judgement they gave on specific election petitions at Tribunals, drumming it trenchantly that such judgement should not be cited! To any layman, that a judgement could not be cited is an affirmation that some incongruities had crept into the script that had been handed to the public as judgment. In Nigeria, it is always easy for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a candidate with bails of ‘believable’ evidence at the Tribunals to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that he won in an election.
It, therefore, presupposes that Nigeria would be doomed eternally in the event that the alleged pervasive corruption in the judiciary is left un-investigated with intent for clearing the Aegean stable. During his electioneering campaign, President Buhari had warned that corruption will kill Nigeria if not killed on time. He had affirmed more than ones that the Judiciary has constituted a major stumbling block to the zeal by his government to fight corruption. It took the sting operation by the DSS on marked judges to understand the dilemma of the President on matters of Judiciary in Nigeria.
Incidentally, while in Nigeria, Judges being investigated for alleged misdemeanour have the avowed grace to remain on duty to continue to adjudicate; the story is different in other climes. In the past few months, almost a dozen Judges had been weeded out of the judicial system of Ghana on alleged acts of corruption. In advanced democracies, voluntary resignation by judges has always footnoted every allegation raised on their conduct or rather when caught in the act.
It is against this background that the call by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for judges being investigated to step aside or be put on compulsory leave appears to make some meaning. By refraining from heeding the call by the NBA, the suspected judges may have imposed on themselves some huge moral burdens in which case suspicion will continue to trail their steps.
The wisdom in the position by the NBA is that Judges will have the time to prove their innocence and the seeming omission by the DSS, which many believed took an extra-judicial step in exposing them to humiliation.
At this time in Nigeria, that the clamour for a total overhaul of the systems is graining traction, it is NOT only the President, his cabinet members, lawmakers and others who should be purveyors of the Change Begins With Me agenda, the Judges, should be in the lead. Judges being accused of acts of corruption, should, therefore embrace the wisdom of submitting themselves for probe, if anything, to first protect the sanctity and integrity of the judicial processes, while saving their own image and that of the judiciary in Nigeria.
Idowu Samuel, public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.