A legal practitioner, Mr John Oloyede, on Wednesday said corrupt practices in the Nigerian judicial system should no longer surprise Nigerians as it is part and parcel of that arm of government.
“It is no longer a surprise; it is part and parcel of our existence in the judicial arm of government and one can only hope that the situation will get better”, he said on Channels Television Sunrise Daily, adding that “that is where some of us make our daily living”.
He noted that there was a report jointly signed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the United Nations office on Drugs and Crimes that fingered the judiciary of collecting “big money bribes” compared to other government agencies and parastatals that collect bribes frequently.
He also pointed out that these corrupt practices predates the tenure of the present Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Maryam Aloma Mukhtar, who had noted that corruption is rampant among judiciary employees including secretaries, court registrars, process clerks and bailiffs nationwide.
“The Chief Justice of Nigeria only came into office in 2012 and that was the preface of her coming into office”, adding that she told the Senate during her screening that “she is going to do the major work of wiping corruption as long as she is there”.
He argued that though there are corrupt officials amongst the judges, clerks and bailiffs, “about 90 per cent of them are actually clean. It just that the few ones that are bad tarnish the image of the very good ones who are more; they are the silent majority”.
He also alleged that those engaged in the “big money corruption” as reported by the NBS, EFCC and UN Office for Drugs and Crimes are the “secretaries and registrars” adding that “the average amount that is demanded is about $87 as compared to Customs, Police, Water Corporation and NEPA, where the average amount demanded is something like $80.
“So you are not talking about hundreds of millions. The aggregate of it is so tiny because the money is demanded by the support staff”, he added.
He further noted that the few corrupt judges “could either be complicit or innocent; a judge is so powerful that he can write a ruling and turn a night to day” maintaining that “it is only by appreciating the full extent of their powers that some of these corrupt judges will fully appreciate how much they are affecting the economic life of Nigerians.
“There are high level corrupt practices going on and there are low level corrupt practices going on within the judiciary and known to everybody” warning that “it is not about the judges alone”, he maintained.
The legal practitioner further noted that since CJN assumed office, the disciplinary committee and the NJC have done well in checking the excesses of judges.
“The last time something was ever done, ironically, was under Abacha’s regime. Some judges were sacked based on the Justice Kayode Esho’s report” adding that “as soon as the Chief Justice of Nigeria came on board, two judges were dismissed, one was given a stern warning, one voluntarily retired and became a traditional ruler, instead of facing the onslaught of investigation.
“That was because the Chief Justice of Nigeria showed them that it is not going to be business as usual”, he said.
He commended the efforts of Justice Mukhtar in ridding the judiciary of corrupt officials and practices and hoped that the next person to assume office will continue from where she stopped.
Meanwhile, another legal practitioner, Mr Ikechukwu Ikeji, noted that there is not “outstanding” reform that has been carried out by the CJN since she is assumed office especially with regards to the criminal justice system, insisting that it only touches the system.
“For example, we saw a judge who decided to go for a slap on the wrist in giving a judgment on pension scam, that the CJN ensured was brought to book.
“It touches on the criminal justice system how judges are expected to apply criminal justice laws in cases before them”, he said adding that “we saw how the judge mishandled the case (pension scam case) and used the least punishment to conclude the case and we saw how the CJN also stepped in to suspend him and some other such cases.
“So why I may not say there is a direct intervention in the criminal justice system in terms of institutionalising or procedural changes is because actions against judges that misbehave touches on the effects eventually”, he said on Sunrise Daily.
He warned that due to the lack of a proper institution, the reforms put in place by Justice Mukhtar may not last the test of time, noting that “if you tabulate the problems and you put indices against the problems in the judiciary, you will realise that most of them do not actually touch on personalities; they touch on the weak structure and loop holes.
“For example, the mode of appointment, funding, composition of the NJC, social relationships” insisting that some of these things do not have direct personal implications, they have structural issues that when taken care of, who ever comes in there will have no option than to toe the line”.
He further noted that Nigeria’s judiciary system is taking the principle of fair hearing to a “ridiculous extent” and opined that it is “necessary to look at some of those principles that highlight right to fair hearing and see how we can tweak them to achieve our purposes” adding that stay of proceedings has over the years shown to be a negative instrument to delay justice.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Maryam Aloma Mukhtar, lamented yesterday there are real cases of massive corruption in the judiciary which have impugned its integrity.
While speaking at the opening of a national workshop organised by the National Judicial Institute (NJI), Mukhtar noted corruption is rampant among judiciary employees including secretaries, court registrars, process clerks and bailiffs nationwide.
She also noted that the conduct of these employees was in increasing breach of the Code of Court for judiciary staff.
Mukhtar warned that any act of misconduct and breach of the code would be punished decisively to arrest the eroding public confidence in the judicial process.