RESTORING INTEGRITY TO THE BENCH

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All the relevant stakeholders must join forces to restore credibility to the bench

In a bid to restore a measure of integrity to the judicial arm of government that has lately come under serious scrutiny, the National Judicial Council (NJC) last week recommended for dismissal the Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya; the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike and a judge of the Kano State High Court, Justice Kabiru M. Auta. The three men were found guilty of breaching the codes of conduct for judicial officers and the NJC statement was very detailed about the weighty nature of the allegations against them which reportedly were proved.

To the extent that such disciplinary action against erring judges and magistrates should be routinely carried out to salvage the bench from moral degeneracy, we commend the efforts of the NJC to put an end to judicial rascality in our country. Yet, we must also reiterate the point we have made on this page on several occasions: when our judiciary is perverted by the very people who should maintain its integrity, the inevitable outcome is bare-faced injustice and ultimately, anarchy. That is why the efforts of the NJC are in the right direction.

However, we must nonetheless express our concern about the growing number of judges who abuse their trust. According to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, within the last five years, no fewer than 64 out of about 1,020 judges of courts of record were penalised for unethical conducts, ranging from falsification of age to deliberate perversion of the course of justice. “While the judiciary has been in the spotlight of public scrutiny, we continue to take active steps towards sanitising the bench. Where petitions are received in respect of judicial officers, they are promptly investigated via internal procedures put in place by the National Judicial Council and where culpable, such officers are disciplined in accordance with established procedures”, the CJN said.

In the past, it was the military that was emasculating the judiciary with ouster clauses and draconian decrees. But today, those bringing shame upon the institution are the same custodians charged with maintaining its integrity and prestige. Indeed, the crisis of credibility afflicting the country’s judiciary in the last few months has taken a serious toll on the institution. Its image in the eyes of many Nigerians is now severely battered. Restoring this credibility has therefore become the task of all the relevant stakeholders.

To the extent that the function of law as instrument of social engineering is made difficult by the corruption of judges, our men and women on the bench should desist from anything which robs the institution of its impartiality, fairness and independence. But while there are serious issues of corruption in the judiciary that must be dealt with, it is also obvious that cleansing the Augean Stables is beyond what the NJC alone can handle. Indeed, the CJN lamented recently that while erring judges were being weeded out, “public officials and persons, who benefit from corrupting judicial officers, are never investigated, apprehended or even prosecuted, even though the judiciary disciplines its own.”

Therefore, we urge the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to as well focus its searchlight on its own members many of whom facilitate bribes to judges. Court registrars who extort money from litigants and lawyers should also be exposed and brought to justice. All court staffers extorting money from litigants before rendering them administrative services due to them should be brought to justice as well. NJC should recommend to the NBA to discipline the lawyers involved in forum shopping while the Senior Advocates of Nigeria among them should be sanctioned by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee.