• Insists they are entitled to fair hearing
Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, has attributed corruption in the judiciary to the failure of the executive arm of government to act on the recommendations by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
He said the council could not be blamed for not sanctioning judges because it promptly acts on any petition sent to the body.
Justice Mohammed made the statement in a letter dated October 26, 2016 and sent to Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
The letter, which was signed by his Senior Special Assistant, H. S. Sa’eed, was in response to SERAP’s request to Justice Mohammed asking him as the chairman of the NJC to “take over from the Department of State Services’ (DSS) cases of all the seven judges released by the DSS and refer the cases of those judges to the anti-corruption agencies for conclusion of investigation and prompt prosecution”.
But the CJN, in his reaction, said where there are clear constitutional provisions relating to the power of any individual, institution or arm of government, then it cannot deviate nor exceed such powers as this will be unlawful.
The CJN while restating the willingness of the NJC to act upon any petition as well as the commitment of the Nigerian judiciary to the fight against corruption, argued that any significant involvement in the fight against corruption would be upon a similar commitment of the prosecutorial agencies to actively prosecute their cases expeditiously when information about same is received.
“It is necessary to restate that the NJC is a creation of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) being established under Section 153 with its mandate clearly set out in Para 21, Part One of the Third Schedule to the Constitution.
“This provision clearly stipulates in Para 21(b) and (d) that the council may only ‘recommend’ to the president and the governors, the removal from office of judicial officers and to exercise disciplinary control over such judicial officers, which in effect is the extent of its power to discipline. Hence, the council cannot, suo moto (on its own) dismiss any judicial officer.
“The NJC can also neither ‘hand over’ corrupt judges to law enforcement agencies for prosecution nor recover proceeds of corruption, as you have suggested. It can merely recommend to act upon its findings, as it has always done.
“However, in exercise of its constitutional mandate, the NJC has enacted the Judicial Discipline Regulations, 2014, in order to ensure that petitions are received, investigated and addressed as appropriate.
“As SERAP’s own report attests, 64 judicial officers have been disciplined within five years even preceding the institution of the new guidelines.
“Any failure on the part of the executive arm of government to act upon such recommendations cannot therefore be blamed upon the NJC.
“With due consideration to the content of your letter, I am directed to acknowledge and address the concerns which SERAP have raised, which may reflect the wider opinion held by some Nigerians.
“While his Lordship doubtless appreciate SERAP’s concern for the incidence of corruption in the judiciary, it is indeed erroneous to conclude that the NJC has ‘felt satisfied with applying only civil sanctions and has not deemed it fit to hand over corrupt judges to law enforcement agencies for prosecution nor recover proceeds of corruption’, as insinuated in your letter under reference,” the CJN’s aide said.
He reminded SERAP that every citizen of Nigeria, inclusive of judicial officers, are entitled to the protection of the law, noting that a key provision of the constitution is the presumption of innocence, as enshrined in Section 36(5) of the constitution.
“I must also remind us that the seven judges, like all other persons, are entitled to a fair hearing as stipulated in Section 36 of the constitution. As such, it would be presumptive and indeed preemptive to sanction the said judges without exhausting the proper procedure for their removal.
“As a valuable member of the society, the CJN is certainly delighted with SERAP’s dedication to justice, fairness and justness. His Lordship also wishes to emphasise that it is indeed our collective responsibility to tackle any perceived challenges facing the Nigerian judiciary,” he said.
SERAP had in a recent letter expressed serious concern over the NJC’s inability over the years to deal with several cases of corrupt judges by failing to refer those cases to the EFCC and ICPC for prosecution.
It pointed out that any of these suspected corrupt judges were still alive and that their cases should be promptly referred to the anti-corruption agencies.