By Kayode Ketefe
Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Muktar
Of all the three arms of government, the Judiciary is the most educated and most professional! But most importantly, the organ is very critical and strategic to national survival. This rests on the fact that the Judiciary of any nation plays a cardinal role in the harmonious co-existence of the populace; it furnishes a popular medium of social engineering for resolving the conflicting interests that would otherwise induce fractious tensions in the polity.
It is the bastion of hope, the succour for the downtrodden, and the vanguard of social justice. It is the proverbial reinforced concrete upon which the entire superstructure of social order is balanced. So when this hallowed institution is afflicted with self-destructive cancer of corruption there is a genuine reason for concern.
This explains why this writer felt pained when the National Mirror broke the news that Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), has uncovered illicit funds in the accounts of some serving judges.
In the said report, the anti-graft commission claimed it had vetted the bank accounts of some six judges allegedly involved in this scandal and confirmed that they are in possession of and have ownership of multi-million naira assets, the origin of which they could not satisfactorily explain.
The EFCC further claimed it would meet with the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Muktar, who heads the National Judicial Council, to work out the modalities on how to proceed against the affected judges.
The modus operandi of alleged bribe-taking by these judges was said to be by receipt of value cards which have no external accounts attached to them and therefore make verification and tracing of their owners extremely difficult.
This immediately pops up multifold ironies; it is not only ironic that some officers in the temple of justice are allegedly taking bribes, it is also ironic that they are allegedly compromising the society’s values through the instruments called “Value Cards”.
This incident, unfortunately, would further erode the confidence of the common man in the sacred organ which had already taken a bash with the famous scandal of the open attrition between the former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami and the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Iyorgher Katsina-Alu.
It is the postulation of this writer that the Judiciary, in spite of all these, is still the least corrupt democratic institution in Nigeria!
The reason is very simple, while there is no any specific requirement other than basic O-level education for any person to be elected a legislator or even the Executive President; it is a different ball game for lawyers and judges who invariably constitute the Judiciary. Every member of a Judiciary is not only a graduate, but also someone who has undergone some special training conditioning him to be the advocate of the rule of law.
To start with the Council of Legal Education engages in thorough screening of candidates before admission into the law school. Even after this the Honourable Body of Benchers would conduct its own screening before calling candidates to the Bar.
In addition to this, if a person aspires to become a judge, he would first have to post ten years of unblemished record as a legal practitioner, after which he would have to brave the selection process of the appropriate Judicial Service Commission, then the NJC is ever at alert to cast him off the bench ignominiously if found to be corrupt!
Even if a person did not set out as an honest person, all these built-in mechanisms would have equipped, even the most deviant character, with some measure of moral censorship. And suppose the indoctrination did not do it, what about perpetual fear of being derobed or removed from the bench with ignominy?
There have been many cases of judges being removed from the bench. The list of victims in this regard include a former judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja, Justice Chukwuemeka Nwaogwugwu; ex-judge of the Lagos High Court, Justice Adebayo Manuwa; a former Chief judge of the Abia State High Court, Justice Kalu Amah and former judge, Federal High Court, Justice Wilson Egbo-Egbo.
Other victims were Justice Stanley Nnaji – a former judge of the Enugu State High Court who was sacked for his ignoble role in the Anambra State political scandal in 2004. In February this year, Justice T.D. Naron and Justice Charles Achibong, were suspended from the hallowed bench.
Which of the other arms has this kind of nurturing and self-cleansing for its members?
This never means we don’t have corrupt judges on the bench, one is only stressing that their number is far lower relative to members of other arms of government.
That is the reason I have a great faith in the Judiciary. That is why I believe the Judiciary can survive the present crisis. The ongoing investigation of the affected judges should be real and conducted in manners that should be seen by all to be thorough, open and transparent. Any judicial officer found culpable, no matter how highly placed, should receive commensurate sanctions.
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