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Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Written by: Madami Sabina, Liko


Imagine yourself in a vulnerable position, stripped of your powers, status, connection, and identity, where you have to rely on the judiciary system to grant justice on your behalf. Your greatest fear becomes real because you know justice belongs to the highest bidder, the hope of the common man is lost.  “A corrupt judiciary system is a normal system in Nigeria, but more harmful to the society than a madman who runs carrying a dagger in a crowded street, because the latter can be restrained physically. But a corrupt judiciary deliberately destroys the moral foundation of society and causes incalculable distress to individuals through abuse of office.

Also Read - Incorruptible Judiciary as a Catalyst for an Equitable and Progressive Society (by - Muoka Chibuzor G)
In every country, the judiciary comprises the third and in many ways the most important organ of the governmental machinery. The executive and the legislature, of course, have a vital role to play in the multifaceted task of governance, but in a federal set-up, it is the judiciary that holds the balance. Lord Bryce, the famous British Jurist and constitutional expert, rightly commented that there is no better test of the excellence of a government than the efficiency of the judicial system.

Corruption is an evil cancer worm that has eaten deep into the fabric of the judiciary which in effect, the Nation. The reason is that the judiciary is the fulcrum of every society; the last hope of the common man. If I say that there is no corruption in the Nigerian judiciary, I will not be telling the truth because the judiciary, like most Nigerian institutions, is also afflicted. It, therefore, suffices to say that the issue of corruption in the Nigerian judiciary is not a new issue. Corruption has made fairness, equity and justice a mere illusion and has made it impossible for the Nigerian society to grow and develop beyond what it is today.

Corruption is a criminal conduct which manifests itself in various ways; the most common is the outright offering and receiving of bribes to subvert the course of justice. Here, both the giver and the receiver are guilty. It is also corruption for a judge to deny a detained person his right to bail and insist on receiving bribe before doing so. This is a common occurrence at the lower level of the judicial ladder. It is outright corruption for a person to use his personal relationship or association with a judge in order to influence him to decide a case in a particular manner. It is also outright corruption for a judge to decide a case in favour of government either out of fear for his job or for the purpose of gaining favour with the government.

The dangers posed to the society as a result of the evils of corruption are there for all to see. Its endemic nature and its debilitating effect on the cultural, economic, social and political foundation of our society have been most harrowing and disconcerting. Corruption is indeed the bane of our society and it becomes worst when it is associated with the judiciary, and this has been the harbinger of the messy situation in which we found ourselves today. It is a very clear injunction in the Holy Bible that judges should not even accept gifts from the litigants that are appearing before them because gifts have the capacity to temper justice.

Deuteronomy16:18 19 “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous.

It is as a result of this endemic nature of corruption in the judiciary that our economy has been ruined. Our hopes for greater tomorrow have been dashed. Our value system is destroyed so much so, that the world began to see us as men and women without honour or dignity. This is very clear in the way Nigerians are treated at foreign Airports especially in the west, where hearing you are from Nigeria is so alarming, you have to go through thorough search different from others; we become ashamed of our identities. 

Sad to say, Nigeria, which in the past was the pride of the black race, sank into the nadir of degradation in the last few decades and it is a known fact that the judiciary has contributed in a very great measure in this downtrend that we currently are in this Nation. The judiciary which was supposed to set standards and lead by example rather than precepts, from all available indicia, is part of the unholy alliance in the grand game of corruption in public life. In that state of flux, it is difficult to talk of fighting corruption in Nigeria without addressing corruption by the judiciary.

An example should be given of the resent event in the country that led to the arrest of some judges even at the apex court, the Supreme Court of the land. As Caesar’s wife, judges should be above board. Allegations of this nature levelled against them should not be heard; the contemplation of it alone is obnoxious to the human mind and repugnant and totally reprehensive to the rules of natural justice. This event and as well the numerous witnessed over the decades that were left unchecked have withered the confidence that we once had in the legal system as the last hope of the common man. It makes one go with the notion that the “so-called justice” has a price and that it is the highest bidder that always obtain it. 

For whatever guise and under whatsoever circumstances, judges should not be heard receiving gifts or favours of whatsoever kind from litigants – for gifts have the capacity to thwart justice.

It is trite that every developed society is founded basically on rule of law and social justice which cannot be achieved where the judiciary is not incorruptible; for faith in the judiciary is the fulcrum of every developed society. An example can be related as to the case of India. The India of today is not the India that was known some thirty (30) years ago. It was an Indian Nation that was driven by social inequality, corruption and high rate of crimes. The caste system had created a social disorder. The masses had no recourse or a place to ventilate whenever their rights were infringed upon. Justice was solely for those in the higher class. 

The trend continued until some people began to feel discontent with the state of the society. And what did they do? They reformed their legal system; effected major changes in the judiciary and other institutions. Today, India has become a pacesetter and a trailblazer in the area of law and justice and medicine and the sciences generally. Imagine how reforming their legal system improved their economy, how much more will an incorruptible judiciary in Nigeria help a well-blessed Nation like ours boost the economy and other institutions.

According to the 'Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11thed.). (2005)', "the word incorruptible means incapable of being bribed or morally corrupted". "It also defines equity as the state of fairness or impartial". A catalyst has also been defined as "an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action". It suffices to say that for the judiciary to serve as a catalyst for an equitable and progressive society the following must be the basis of it existence:

1. Rule of law
2. Rule against bias
3. Rules of natural justice
4. Equity and good conscience
5. Separation of power

Basically, the Rule of Law entails equality before the law and the supremacy of the law. It implies that all men are seen as equal before the law and there is no individual that is above the law, not even the Government. The ideals of the rule of law can only be attained in a society whose judges are not perceived to be corrupt. One will call to question the recent event of flagrant abuse and disrespect of the court's orders by the executive arm of the government. We have witnessed in this country even in broad daylight how some elements of the Nigerian Police Force and the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation do deliberately violate, disobey and ignore court orders and other judicial processes served on them.

This is not unconnected with the view held by many and even the Government that justice in this country is always and more often for the highest bidder. It is my humble view that if the Government does not promptly and decisively move to bring these clear abuses of executive power to an end, what remains of the semblance of the rule of law in Nigeria will disappear with dire consequences to our country’s image, prestige and credibility in the eyes of the rest of the world at this critical time in our nation’s history. The judges are as well called upon to do justice by enforcing the law without fear or favour. If reforming the legal system in India by bringing everyone equal before the law boosts her economy and other institutions, much more will it yield higher development in the once known giants of Africa.

The Bible also talks about being good judges in 2 Chronicles19:6-11. And he said to the judges, “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the Lord. He is with you in giving judgment. Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God or partiality or taking bribes.” 

Moreover, in Jerusalem Jehoshaphat appointed certain Levites and priests and heads of families of Israel, to give judgment for the Lord and to decide disputed cases. They had their seat at Jerusalem. And he charged them: “Thus you shall do in the fear of the Lord, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart: whenever a case comes to you from your brothers who live in their cities, concerning bloodshed, law or commandment, statutes or rules, then you shall warn them, that they may not incur guilt before the Lord and wrath may not come upon you and your brothers. Thus you shall do, and you will not incur guilt.

This shows that the rule of law has been in existence long ago, and this will help our country to experience great progress since there is no single individual that is above the law and therefore for every wrong thing you do, adequate punishment will be meted out on you without fear or favour. People will become afraid of committing crimes, this will make the rate of crime very low, and it will encourage business activities, foreign investors will not be so scared of kidnappers and fraudster and they will be encouraged to invest in the growth of our economy.

The principle governing the issue of bias is not based on the fact that the judge is biased or not, but on the ground that an independent on-looker in court will leave the court with the impression that there was real likelihood of bias or the party will leave the court with the belief that the judge was not impartial. The real likelihood of bias may not be capable of exact definition since circumstances giving rise to it may vary from case to case but it must mean, at least, a substantial possibility of bias. 

This may arise because of personal attributes and relationships such as personal hostility, personal friendship, family relationship, professional and vocational relationships, employer and employee relationship, partnership in relation to the issue at stake and a whole lot of other circumstances from which the inference of real likelihood of bias may be drawn.
Judges should, therefore, aver their minds to the possibilities of bias and avoid same. 

It, therefore, opines that where there are elements that could force a judge to be biased, like where he is related to one of the parties, he should refrain from adjudicating in such matter. One important object at all events is to clear away everything which engenders suspicion and distrust of the court or tribunal and so to promote the feeling of confidence in the administration of justice which is so essential to social order and security. 

It was Lord Denning, the renowned English jurist that said and I quote:
“The reason is plain enough. Justice must be rooted in confidence and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking the judge was biased.”
Even the Holy Bible warns against bias in Deuteronomy16:20 Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you. This shows therefore that there is blessing attached not just to the nation but also to the judge in concern that does justice.

Leviticus19:15 “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor. Or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly”.

So, when as a judge or a magistrate you are faced with a complaint by any of the parties or their counsel, that you are likely going to be biased and the circumstances are reasonable and arguments advanced are sound, do not hesitate to transfer the case to another court of competent jurisdiction.

This will, therefore, curb to a great extent the rate of crime in the country. One will become scared to commit a crime since you know you can get caught, and when you do, you will be appearing before the court as just anybody without a connection, status or wealth to bribe your way. And we know the evil crime has done to the Nation's economy, there will be fewer issues of embezzlement of public funds, contract awarded will be fully executed for the fear of punishment, there will be more schools, good road, adequate power supply, business will flourish and Nigeria’s economy will experience massive growth.

The rules of natural justice are to ensure that due processes of the law are observed and the attainment of justice. It is centred on fair hearing, otherwise called fairness. This is a principle that accords every party in litigation the right to be heard. The person accused should know the nature of the accusation made against him. Such person should be given an opportunity to state his defence and the court trying him must act in good faith. These rules have always been in our codes of procedures. The judges should ensure their compliance. Even the Bible encourages this in the book of

Deuteronomy 19:15
"A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed’’.

Deuteronomy 17:6
"On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness”.

Deuteronomy 19:18-19
“The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst”.

This shows therefore that the rules of natural justice is almost as old as man himself and the Bible has encouraged fair hearing, if this rule is strictly adhered to by the judiciary in the country it will go a long way in bringing justice because without enough evidence people will not just be punished wrongly on the account of a single person who detests them or want to get them off the way. And this will go a long way in bringing the lost trust back to the judiciary which is very vital for every society to strive, develop and process.

The rules of equity are the principles that are biblical in nature and founded in the scriptures. They are a kind of derogation from strict compliance with the common law as to its legality. They are principles that are founded on good conscience. It comes as a mitigation of the harshness of the common law. For our society to become equitable and progressive, these principles must be applied in their wholeness by our judiciary.

And again, it is on good conscience that the police will be expected to carry out their duty of reporting, investigating and prosecuting what they believe in every honesty are offences. The Bible commends the Gentile on good conscience even in the absence of law according to the book of

Romans 2:14-15 “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them”.

It, therefore, goes beyond just keeping the law to show us that good conscience is a very important part of human existence especially for the judiciary, which can help make the country great and the world at large because every issue will be fully attended to with all seriousness and without carelessness. This will help our great country to gain back the lost glory, the weak, less privilege, poor and vulnerable will have a say too, since their rights will be protected at all times.

This is to ensure the independence of the judiciary from the other arms of government. It is a well-known fact that he that pays the piper dictates the tone. The independence of the judiciary cannot be maintained where the executive arms of the government continue to be the one financing the budget of the judiciary. 

There should be financed from the consolidated revenue account as it is obtained in the case of the National Assembly. It is only when this is achieved that a judge will sit with confidence and deliver a judgment even against the government where the need is, without thinking of any possible repercussions.

The most important contribution the Nigerian judiciary can make to promote the growth of genuine democracy in Nigeria is to remain independent – independent to ensure the protection of the constitutional right of every Nigerian to choose their leaders freely.

1 Corinthians 12:7-8 “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit”;

Ephesians 4:7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. This Bible passages therefore have been able to make us understand that no single individual or group can handle everything; everyone is given roles and responsibilities according to their field and capacity.

Even the Bible has made us to understand that a single body or group of individuals cannot and should not monopolize the control of any sector or institution because to everyone grace is given that differs from one to another, and there is no single group that can perform the duties of everyone therefore separation of power should be strictly adhered to in order to encourage justice in the part of the judges when passing judgments.

These are my recommendation which I believe in all honesty can be a catalyst for an equitable and progressive Nigerian society. They are not in any way exhaustive:
Judges at all levels of the judicial ladder and their supporting staff like registrars etc. should be made self-sufficient in all respects to enable them discharge their responsibilities. 

A situation where a court is established and a judge is left to maintain the court from his own pocket can breed nothing but corruption. In fact, this amounts to privatizing justice at that level or leasing the court to the judge.

Greater care should be exercised in the appointment of judges at all levels.
Investigation and punishment of corrupt judges and judicial staff should be publicized and not kept secret.

The doors of all our courts should be opened to both the electronic and print media (including television) to record and broadcast judicial proceedings. Judges should be made more accountable for their conduct by permitting appellate courts, in appropriate cases, to report erring judges to the relevant judicial council for disciplinary actions.

Nigeria will be a greater nation if corruption is curtailed at the judicial level because even the Bible shows us how much God has promised to make his people great, if only they will turn away from injustice, wrongdoing and robbery. In the book of Isaiah 61: 8-9 “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed.” I believe strongly that if all the measures are strictly adhered to, in few years’ time we will once again be looking at our giant of Africa rising beyond imagination.

1. Aliyu Umaru, Esq. 8th August, 1990 NIGERIA'S DOMESTIC POLITICS AND RELATED MATTERS. A memorandum submitted to the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) published in New Nigeria.

2. CORRUPTION AND THE JUDICIARY Text of the paper presented at a Transparency in Nigeria (TIN) Workshop, National Library Kaduna, 10th December, 1997

3. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11thed.).(2005).Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.

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