The current allegations of bribery by some public officers are not only self-indicting, but also a sign that critical institutions of the Nigerian state are in urgent need of overhaul. Vincent Obia writes
The latest accusations of bribery and corruption coming out from some institutions in the country are a monument to the legacy of decades of neglect by leaders of those institutions. These allegations expose the abandonment of the rules of behaviour in the wholesale pursuit of filthy lucre. And they picture an unfortunate attempt to turn institutions set up to order society’s development into forces for its very destruction. But this time, the country seems to have had enough. Corrupt people are being pursued and smoked out of various institutions.
Expectedly, the anticorruption drive in the judiciary has raised the greatest controversy. Judicial officers are guardians of law and order, and they are expected to be above board. They are expected to not only exhibit legality and honesty in all they say and do, but also be seen to be exhibiting such. But from negative perception to working through a seemingly endless gauntlet of accusations, judicial officers tend to be haunted by numerous dilemmas at every turn. However, the worst of these predicaments seems to be their own reaction to the troubles. These reactions seem to give Nigerians little reason to believe that there is anything but honesty of purpose in the deep recesses of their country’s judiciary.
The recent counter-accusations by some judges indicted for corrupt practices by the Department of State Services are some of the controversial ripostes that seem to expose the courts as a playground for shady characters. The judges have blamed their ordeal on their refusal to accept bribe offers, allegedly, intended to influence judicial verdicts. But the timing of such allegations raises concerns.
Justice Inyang Okoro, one of the two Supreme Court justices whose Abuja homes were raided by DSS operatives on October 7 and 8, alleged on October 17 that the security agencies came after him because he turned down pecuniary pressures from the Minister of Transport, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, to influence the outcomes of the Supreme Court rulings on Akwa Ibom, Rivers, and Abia states governorship election petitions. Okoro made the allegation in a letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
A few days after, another Supreme Court justice, Justice Sylvester Ungwuta, made a similar allegation. Okoro and Ungwuta were the most senior among the seven judges arrested for alleged corruption by the security agents during the operation.
Ungwuta accused Amaechi and the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, of being behind his arrest by the DSS for refusing to manipulate the outcomes of governorship election petitions in Ekiti and Ebonyi states.
In a similar vein last week, the candidate of the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction of the Peoples Democratic Party in the forthcoming governorship election in Ondo State, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, alleged that an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission demanded a bribe of $1 million from him. Ibrahim recently got a court order declaring him the PDP candidate, against the candidate of the Ahmed Makarfi-led PDP caretaker committee, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, who had already been accepted by INEC. Ibrahim said the INEC official had asked for the $1 million to facilitate the listing of his name as the party’s candidate.
All the accused officials have denied the bribery allegations. But these allegations of bribery, which appear to come only as an afterthought, are looming as a disaster for public institutions in the country. Their timing foretells what lies ahead for the country if necessary measures are not taken to fix bourgeoning anomalies in critical institutions of the state.
Many analysts have rightly argued that a public officer who is put under pressure to do illicit things has a legal and moral responsibility to formally report such matter to the appropriate authorities. Within the public service rules, such a report is usually to the immediate boss or supervisor of the reporting officer, who would then decide whether to take it up within the service chain of command or invite law enforcement agencies.
In the case of the indicted judges, their immediate bosses are the Chief Judge of the High Court, President of the Court of Appeal, and the CJN, for the high court judges, judges of the Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court justices, respectively. The questions are, at the time the inducements were allegedly offered to the judges, what was their reaction? Did they feel duty-bound to report to the higher authorities, as their service rules require? And if they did, were such reports formally recorded?
The judicial authorities have yet to respond to these questions.
Instead, the National Judicial Council seemed to worsen the judiciary’s growing image crisis when on Monday the CJN launched the National Judicial Policy, which prohibits media reportage of allegations of misconduct levelled against judicial officers. This policy, which is an apparent response to the latest move against allegedly corrupt judges, has been widely criticised as an attempt to broaden the veil of secrecy that has tended to shield corrupt judicial officers from prosecution.
As for the allegation by Ibrahim, INEC has stated that two members of staff of the commission witnessed the encounter between the politician and the official that received him at the commission’s headquarters. It said the witnesses had confirmed that the officer never tried to put Ibrahim under any financial pressure when he came to INEC to present the court judgement.
But INEC should have kept an official record of what was said or done during such a sensitive meeting with the politician, instead of the rather informal in-house witnesses’ account, to put the commission’s honesty beyond question.
Beyond corruption, what the current bribery allegations also tend to expose is the levity with which public officers in the country approach the otherwise serious business of their offices.
Those who have been entrusted with public office should conduct themselves properly and ensure that the right things are done. “But to wait until you are implicated or accused in a particular case before you come up to say this person offered this to me and it was because I turned it down that this is happening to me, will be difficult for rational beings to believe,” as the West Africa Director of Ford Foundation, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, put it. “This is because it is easy to raise the question, if you are not facing this situation would you have reported as is required of you under the service rule that guides you?”