Judiciary pixIt is trite fact that justice delayed is justice denied. But what happens when justice becomes a mirage; a phantom that remains only in the world of day-dreamers and wishful thinkers. What happens when the rich and powerful have despoiled the temples of justice with their odious, toxic lucre stolen, in the first place, from the very people that the institutions of justice are meant to serve and protect? What happens when the revered priests in the temple of justice abandon their oaths and carry on with reckless perfidy and assiduous demagogy at the feet of dispensers of the ‘Dirty Billions’? What happens is what Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, the present Chief Justice, Nigeria’s first female in that hallowed position met on the ground and is beginning to rise to the occasion to cleanse a temple so defiled.
A justice system is only as good as its operators. The litigants; the lawyers; but most importantly, the judges. The late Justice Kayode Eso, a respected jurist in his time, shortly before his demise lamented the sudden rise of ‘Billionaire Judges’, most whom had sold their souls for hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of Naira in return for patently perverted judgements. His accusation was never challenged. Even during the military era, the justice system retained a level of respectability, decorum and remained a viable and revered brand but strangely, now in a democratic system, the Nigerian judiciary is facing its biggest brand test. Its credibility is at stake, its esteem, at its lowest ebb.
In 2012, General Electric , a Multinational Corporation based in the US and patronized heavily by the Nigerian government and oil companies, in its Motion for Summary Disposition of a petition before a Detroit, Michigan Circuit Court, to recognize a Nigeria money Judgment which was filed against it by Q Oil Services Nigeria Ltd, another Nigerian Company, General Electric International Company urged the US Court not to recognize the Nigerian judgment because the Judgment “was rendered under a judicial system that does not provide impartial Tribunals or procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of law”.
It pointedly accused the country’s judiciary of understaffing, inefficiency and corruption. It submitted to the court on why the Nigerian judgment must not be recognized in the US, the General Electric relies on the US State Department’s country’s Report on Nigeria for 2012 which contains the following findings about the Nigerian judicial system: “Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches and the business sector…”
As if that is not not bad enough the import mentality of Nigeria has shifted to the judiciary. Even the federal government is not left out as political criminals are better prosecuted in foreign lands, with James Ibori as the leading example. The erstwhile governor of Delta state was cleared of all of 82 charges in a federal High Court in Asaba but using the same evidence Ibori and his cohorts are getting deserved justice in London jails today. Human and environmental rights groups now flock abroad to import justice that seems s elusive in their fatherland. If this plunge to the abyss is not immediately arrested, the only other thing for aggrieved parties is the resort to self help and anarchy. It is in this context that we congratulate Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar for setting the tone on what we hope will be a thorough cleansing exercise with the decision by National Judicial Council (NJC) on the compulsory retirement of Justice Archibong of the Federal High Court, Lagos and Justice T.D. Naron of the High Court of Justice, Plateau State. Archibong, who presided over the case involving former MD/CEO, Intercontinental Bank, now Access Bank, Mr. Erastus Akingbola while Justice Naron allegedly ‘gave tainted justice’ over the ruling he led three other judges to deliver in an election petition tribunal in Osun State, following the controversial 2007 polls. In the same vein President Goodluck Jonathan must be commended for his speedy approval of the NJC’s recommendation. According to Mohammed Adoke, Nigeria’s Justice Minister “It is Mr. President’s belief that once we are able to cleanse the judiciary of corruption, then our fight against corruption in its entirety will take a firm root and will be on its way to success,” We could not agree more.
Conversely, the setting up of a fact-finding committee to investigate the allegations leveled against Justice Abubakar Talba of FCT High Court in the Police Pension case filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) vs John Yakubu Yusuf & Others is a right step. It is alleged that Justice Talba, against the spirit of a verbal plea bargain agreement, went ahead and gave the disgraced pensions thief an option of fine.
We assure the NJC that they should be ready to receive many more petitions as more than a few judges have comprised their good names in exchange for money. Lawyers, especially of the silk hue who have contributed to this sorry state of the judiciary brand must also be investigated by the ethics and privileges committee of the Nigerian Bar Association and NJC and brought to book. It is also apparent that a review of the salaries and emoluments of judges be brought at par with the Executive and Legislative arms of government. It is presently badly skewed in favour of the latter arms, meanwhile, the judicial officers arguably face greater risks and offer more sacrifice in a sequestered lifestyle that their positions mandate them to live. It is also clear that the thorny issue of Justice Ayo Salami, the suspended and recalled but unrecalled President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) should be resolved once and for all to really get this cleansing mission off the ground.
We have a duty to make our brand of justice sellable at the global stage.