The plan by some 20 senior advocates of Nigeria (SANs) under the aegis of Justice Reform Project (JRP) to take up the gauntlet of cleaning up the Augean stable of what is left of the judiciary is, indeed, an indication that all is not well with the nation’s judiciary.

There is an obvious reason to step up the process of not only cleaning up the judiciary, but strengthening its integrity, especially with the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, from office by President Muhammadu Buhari.

As if this was not enough, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the suspended Chief Justice. He was eventually arraigned before the tribunal for charges bordering on false declaration of assets in violation of the code of conduct for public officers. It is no gainsaying that the judiciary under the Buhari-led administration is on trial, but for obvious reasons.

The third arm of government is sickening; it needs urgent surgical operation if it must regain its erstwhile constitutional role to dispense justice without fear or favour. Justice has taken flight and supplanted by cash and carry syndrome following activities of corrupt officers in collaboration with some senior advocates who serve as conduits for bribes.

From the point of registry, filing of cases to dispensing justice is corruption personified. Even though it has a self-cleansing mechanism, the nation’s judiciary has, no doubt, failed to promote constitutionalism and enhance adherence to the rule of law while its officers have abstained from ensuring maintenance of law and order in the country as tens of them are embroiled in corruption web.

The National Judicial Council (NJC) is more divided than to promote strict enforcement of self-cleansing mechanism as thrown up by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, when he accepted the offer to replace his boss, Onnoghen, in clear violation of ethics, values and Section 292 of the Constitution.

The rot in the nation’s judiciary came to the fore in October 2016 when the Department of State Services (DSS) raided homes of some senior judges to gather evidence of corruption.

Some of the judges whose homes were raided included retired Justice Adeniyi Ademola and Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court in Abuja as well as Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court. Between 2004 and 2018, no fewer than 68 judges had been sacked on allegations of bribery and corruption.

For instance, in 2004 during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, some five judges sitting on election petition tribunal were sacked by NJC for receiving  bribe to alter the course of justice.

This is indeed sad that the judiciary, which arguably is supposed to play critical roles in nation building, advance a nation’s sovereignty, promote constitutionalism and enhance adherence to the rule of law by maintaining law and order with a view to creating a better environment for economic growth, is now being caught in the web of corruption.

The widespread perception that there is corruption in the judiciary has thrown up the challenge that we need judges whose oaths of office would remain non-negotiable as it is ostensibly clear that any nation, which tolerates a corrupt judiciary, would never entrench justice. While we welcome the 20 concerned SANs, who are rooting for an urgent reform of the judiciary to apparently save it from ignominy, we call for paradigm shift that justice must take its course on corrupt judges.

Rogues in the judiciary and the legal profession must be made to go through the rigour of trial and thrown into jail if sanity must prevail as only a competent judiciary can detest corruption, expand the possibilities for a nation’s future. Judges all over the world are held in high esteem. They are known or presumed to be men of honour that cannot and should not yield to the gaudy and ephemeral attraction of filthy lucre.

In a sense, they sit in judgement over man as representatives of God as the ultimate architect and dispenser of justice. To compromise their exalted positions therefore is tantamount to falling from the Olympian heights to which society has elevated them.

This is indeed a great task before the 20 SANs; they must go beyond any identified underlying factors that may have caused the judiciary to fall from the Olympian heights if the undoubted loss of confidence in the judiciary and the legal profession must be restored. Also, major stakeholders in the justice system must play huge role if sanity, integrity and respect to the judiciary must be restored. We need a judiciary that would be insulated from the executive abracadabra; judges who would not soil their robes while those who have brought the temple of justice into disrepute should be punished. The stakeholders must also team up with the 20 SANs to restore integrity to the legal profession.

Cases of lawyers themselves caught in corruption web are also on the rise; forging courts’ judgements to be admitted into the Inner Bar is common recurrences among them. Consequently, the need to review process for appointing SANs should also top identified underlying factors if we must bring back a strong judiciary and the principle of judicial independence.

Source: New Telegraph

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