Corrupt judges, purchased or procured judgements and miscarriage of justice
Recently operatives of the security service stormed the residences of some highly placed judges across the country to arrest and question them on corruption charges and collection of bribe in exchange for favourablejudgements. In spite of the initial uproar from a section of the Nigerian Bar Association NBA, Sources within the Department of State Security (DSS) have revealed that the implemented Bank Verification Number (BVN) was responsible for its operative to trace several millions to alleged corrupt judges – DSS access to the bank accounts of the detained judges revealed that they had been taking bribes from many sources in the discharge of their duties but used the names and pictures of their wives, children and siblings to open such banks account. It would be recalled that seven judges- Justice InyangOkoro and Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court; AdeniyiAdemola of the Federal High Court, Abuja; KabirAuta of the Kano High Court; MuazuPindiga of Gombe High Court, Mohammed Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal in Ilorin, and the Chief Judge of Enugu State, I. A. Umezulike- were arrested and later granted bail on self-recognition. DSS access to the bank accounts of the detained judges and revealed that they had been taking bribes from many sources in the discharge of their duties but used the names and pictures of their wives, children and siblings to open such banks account. Therefore, the decision by the DSS is a right step in the right direction; Nigeria’s judiciary stinks to high heavens with corruption and this is something that has been recurring over the years; the courts are usually referred to as the last bastion of hope for the people, but in Nigerian courts people don’t get justice, what they get instead is procured or purchased judgement. In fact, in some cases, it has been said that the NJC itself needs cleansing as it has become a cesspit of corruption and selective treatment of corrupt cases. It is therefore good news that the DSS has said that there are more judges under investigation as well as registrars and very senior lawyers, it only by so doing that the issue of corruption in the judiciary can be properly dealt with. It is however, disheartening that the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association that should be the leading light in the cleansing of the rot in the judiciary is on purpose working against the anti-graft agencies and wants the issues of corruption to be treated as a family affair. But thank God that there are still principled and reasonable lawyers that are supporting the stance of government of eradicating corruption in the judiciary in the country. A situation where judgements are procured by the highest bidder is dangerous to the peace of the country, this is because when the people no longer have confidence in the court, the other option available to them is to take laws into their hands, which is violence and no reasonable as well as responsible government will ever allow such to happen.
It would be recalled that, according to the DSS, when we brought in most of the children, wives and relatives of the suspects based on the papers we got from the banks, they did not even have an idea that their names had been used by the judges to open such accounts. “But you see under the Bank Verification Number, you must put in your passports, name, signature and others. So, for some of the judges, who used fake names and their wives names to open the accounts into which they paid in the proceeds of crime, they foolishly appended their signatures or used their pictures, something that gave them out. “From what we have found out, some of the suspects acted foolishly in committing the offence because they cannot prove that even if their children were to earn N1 million monthly since they were born till date, none of them can accumulate the amount of money we have traced to their accounts and the type of property they have. “Look, it may interest you to know that one of the two Supreme Court judges in our custody has a property worth N1.5 billion in one of the South-South states. If we may ask, where did he get the money to set up such project?”
It is important to point out that, three examples of when were judges were arrested in the US are as follows-The first case that comes to mind is that of traffic court judge, Willie Singletary, who was caught on video in a meeting with the Philadelphia First State Road Rattlers, a motorcycle club, soliciting for bribes. In the video, he was caught saying: “There’s going to be a basket going around because I’m running for Traffic Court judge, right, and I need some money. “I got some stuff that I got to do, but if you all can give me $20 you’re going to need me in Traffic Court. Am I right about that? … Now you all want me to get there, you’re all going to need my hook-up, right?” When he was arrested, so were eight other judges by the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI), for “conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, perjury, making false statements to the FBI, and aiding and abetting.” The judges subsequently faced up to 100 years in prison. In 2014, a Puerto Rican judge was also arrested for bribery. The 62-year-old judge, Manuel Acevedo Hernandez was accused of accepting bribes to pervert the cause of justice in a fatal drunk-driving case. He was detained at his home in the northwestern coastal town of Aguadilla, after the FBI concluded its investigation. The investigation also proved that he had agreed to acquit Lutgardo Acevedo Lopez, a certified public accountant, in exchange for help in being promoted to appellate judge and to find employment for two of relatives. US Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez speaking on the case said: “In my 35 years of experience, I’ve never seen anything like this,” said at the time. He pleaded not guilty and received a $50,000 bail. Another case was that of a judge, Arnold Jones II, a judge that attempted to bribe an FBI agent for information on what he described as a “family matter.” He reportedly approached the FBI officer whose name was not given in October 2015 and they later met in Goldsboro to exchange $100 for a disk supposedly containing the text messages. Initially he offered the FBI officer a couple cases of beer for his help but later agreed to $100 in cash. In November 4, 2015, the agency arrested the superior North Carolina court judge for bribery and corruption. He faced about 37 years in jail. Therefore, Nigeria cannot be an exception to international best practices.
Before now, according to President MuhammaduBuhari (PMB), corruption is so pervasive in the country that it requires the strong support of the judiciary to effectively fight. The President, who stated that he needed the support of the judiciary to win the anti-graft war, recalled that corruption in the judiciary stalled his presidential ambition for years. He also promised to overhaul the country’s judicial system, President Buhari, who spoke at a town hall meeting with Nigerians living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2015, said: “On the fight against corruption vis-à-vis the judiciary, Nigerians will be right to say that is my main headache for now. “If you reflect on what I went through for 12 years when I wanted to be the President, I attempted three times and on the fourth attempt through God and the use of technology, it was possible for Nigerians to elect an APC candidate as President. “In my first attempt in 2003, I ended up at the Supreme Court and for 13 months I was in court. The second attempt in 2007, I was in court close to 20 months and in 2011, my third attempt, I was also in court for nine months. “All these cases went up to the Supreme Court until the fourth time in 2015, when God agreed that I will be President of Nigeria.”
Also, while addressing judges recently, PMB said among other things that, the judiciary is a public institution whose job is to provide fundamental checks on other public institutions. Therefore, a fair and efficient judiciary is the key to all anti-corruption initiatives. He noted that Article 11 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption simply means that a corrupt judicial system not only violates the basic right to equality before the law but also deny procedural rights guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution. In carrying out its role in the fight against corruption, the judiciary must remain impartial. It is incumbent on the judiciary to analyze facts based on the applicable law without prejudice and penchant regarding the case they are dealing with, and without acting in any way that would favour the interests of any of the parties. Where judicial corruption occurs, the damage can be pervasive and extremely difficult to reverse. It undermines citizens’ morale, violates their human rights, harms national development and depletes the quality of governance. He added, the eradication of corruption is a joint task involving not only judges and members of the legal profession, but literally all stakeholders, including all branches of government, the media and the civil society. The challenge is to come up with an integrated approach that balances process and substance, promote clarity to ensure a coherent and realistic formulation of objectives. A corruption free Nigeria is possible therefore let every arm of government be the change we want to see in our country.
It would be recalled that, with the release to the public, through the National Judicial Commission (NJC), of the Justice KayodeEso Panel on the judiciary, and former President OlusegunObasanjo’s formal request then, for Senate’s approval for sack of the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice DahiruSaleh, one of the judges indicted by the report, the government appeared to be set for the sanitization of the country’s judiciary. The Eso Panel, inaugurated in 1993, submitted its report in 1994. But the report was pigeon-holed by the Abacha junta, which set up the panel, and skipped by the transition regime of Gen. AbdulsalamiAbubakar. The delayed implementation enabled 14 judicial officers, who were indicted by the report but who retired before now, to escape punishment. Among them was Justice G. I. Uloko, who resigned as the Chief Judge of Plateau State. Three other judges had died, while another indicted judge, Justice MoshoodOlugbani of the Lagos State Judiciary, has been relieved of his duties by the state government. Apart from Justice Saleh, others on the list of judges recommended for sack but who served out their tenure were Justices J. U. Obasse and R. I. E. Odu, both of Cross River State, and Justice M. D. Goodhead of Rivers State.
It is also on record that when the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice AloomaMukhtar, was appointed, she promised that cleansing the Augean stable of the Nigerian judiciary will be her number one priority. Mukhtar, whose appointment was duly cleared by the Senate, said there was corruption in the nation’s judiciary and pledged to rid the system of “bad eggs.” Mukhtar, who is the first female to be appointed as the CJN, assured the Senate, while defending her appointment, that there would be “internal cleansing” to shore up the image of the third arm of government. She said, “Corruption is in every system of our society and I cannot pretend that it is not in the judiciary. What I intend to do to curb this is to lead by example and to hope and pray that others will follow. “As the chairman of the National Judicial Council, I will encourage internal cleansing based on petition.” Mukhtar’s submission confirms critics’ allegation that the judiciary even as the last hope of the people has been taken over by the pervasive corruption in the country. Mukhtar expressed concern about the level of public confidence on the judiciary, and promised that she would work to bolster it under her tenure. “As I said I will try to make sure that the confidence reposed in the judiciary as it were before will be restored. I will try as much as possible to ensure that the bad eggs that are there are booted out, there will be cleansing by the NJC based on petitions. “It is sad that the ordinary man in the street now thinks and feels that he will not get justice and this is because of the situation we find ourselves. I will ensure that this perception is changed.”
The Judiciary is one of the three arms of Government under Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It has the responsibility of interpreting laws passed by the various legislative bodies. It also has the responsibility of checking excesses of the legislative and executive arms thereby ensuring that these arms of government do not act unconstitutionally at all times. But the judiciary has also suffered from both self-inflicted and externally-induced battered image. The cankerworm of corruption and other vices to which the judiciaries were isolated from, or so it seemed, stealthily crept into the system and stained its image. Therefore, the mode of appointing and promoting judicial officers must be revisited, a more transparent system of appointment, which ensures that brilliant, knowledgeable, hardworking, courageous and well-mannered persons get to be appointed as judges and promoted in the Judiciary is a must. Discipline of Judges should not be the exclusive affair of judges who are members of the National Judicial Council, members of the bar who are in the council must participate. Only a person that is economical with the truth will contend that the cankerworm of corruption afflicting our nation has not affected the Judiciary. The judiciary has its own share of allegations and proven cases of corruption. Admittedly, some erring judges have in the past been dismissed from offices but some instances others have been shielded from necessary disciplinary measures; there are double standards because there are sacred cows, hence the NJC itself should be purged of corruption. It is important to note that in the issue of graft, the receivers as well as the cheerful givers are both guilty of corruption. Corrupt judges and those who corrupt them should be arraigned and prosecuted for corruption. Where there is conviction, the proceeds of corruption must be traced and fortified. The judiciary should be helped to regain its lost glory and respect, salaries and allowances of judicial officers must be reviewed regularly in order to reflect with economic realities and entitlements of judges must be paid promptly. Judges should not be made to feel financially inadequate; also, the substantive and procedural laws should constantly undergo review to reflect present trends. The manpower should be upgraded and their welfare and economic wellbeing well taken care of, administrative bottlenecks, bureaucracy and other man made lapses which aid delays in the administration of justice should be eliminated, having a corruption free judiciary is a must.