I doubly submit that the establishment of Special Courts for special crimes, chiefly corruption, is imperative and that the cleansing of the Nigerian judicial system is matter of national importance. And it is an exercise that must be carried out with clinical dispatch if (to borrow the words of the President) “the country is not be further dragged back.”
That the judiciary system has failed Nigerians in more ways than one is more than an established and immutable fact. Stories of corruption and corrupt practices among lawyers and judges are rife, while apologists make excuses for the iniquities of our men and women of the bar and the bench. That the current administration has not moved against the judicial structure as presently constituted in Nigeria one year after it took office still beats me. I thought that by now our judicial system should have been one of the major national institutions to undergo relevant scrutiny and sanitisation, if the ongoing anti-corruption campaign is to be vigorously executed.
This is the same system that is notorious for its complicity in various cases of the miscarriage of justice, graft, political meddlesomeness and criminal antipathy. And, that the anti-graft agencies have not extended their tentacles to expose and arrest corrupt judges and lawyers remains one of the surprises of the current dispensation. Except for the ongoing Ricky Tarfa case in which the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is accused of bribing two sitting federal judges to the tune of N8.83 million over a period of four years.
Even the most daft among us know that our judges and lawyers are purveyors of corrupt practices. That is the perception and reality on the ground in today’s Nigeria. And as part of the preamble to this commentary, let me quickly add that some of us are old enough to remember the Golden days of Nigerian jurisprudence when it was the envy of many other countries and our luminaries were widely celebrated by their peers around the world.
That corruption and corrupt practices have festered in Nigeria find their roots largely in the decadence of our judiciary. It is absolutely disheartening to say that the Nigerian justice system has of late been up for sale, and that judgments are most often returned in favour of the highest bidder while the fate of some of the cases are decided at social clubs, golf courses and tennis courts. That’s why some years ago, on December 17, 2009, a derelict judge, Marcel Awokulehin sitting at a Federal High Court in Asaba, Delta State, discharged an acquitted the felonious former Governor of Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori of all of a 170-count charge of corruption only for him to be later hunted down by British authorities, extradited from the UAE to the United Kingdom to be convicted on same and related charges for which he sits in jail today in Her Majesty Prisons.
The Awokulehin verdict marked the tipping point for the integrity of Nigerian jurisprudence thus destroying any hope of ever restoring any of the vestiges of nobility to the deeply troubled Nigerian judiciary. That institution has since not recovered from the damage from the Asaba charade. With that was the dissipation of the hope of the common man and woman to ever find justice in a Nigerian court. Not that we all did not know it, but the unbridled arrogance with which that disgraceful judgment was thrown in our faces was legendary, and stunk. And still stinks.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian court system is strewn with shameful cases of judicial travesty. All that an accused needs to get away with murder in Nigeria is to have the financial muscle and the societal mooxie. And the sort of ominous cloud under which justice is dispensed in Nigeria creates a perfect cover for most of Nigeria’s big men, many of who are outright thieves, tax evaders and wheeler-dealers.
…we have witnessed with disgust how Nigerian courts have been nothing short of a theatre of the absurd where bails and adjournments are frivolously granted, thus bucking the wheel of justice. We have also heard of Nigerian judges whose ostentatious lifestyles defy logic and commonsense.
And we have witnessed with disgust how Nigerian courts have been nothing short of a theatre of the absurd where bails and adjournments are frivolously granted, thus bucking the wheel of justice. We have also heard of Nigerian judges whose ostentatious lifestyles defy logic and commonsense.
That’s why the recent statement credited to Professor Itse Sagay, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption about the plan to set up Special Courts whose jurisdiction is limited to a set of crimes including corruption sounded like music to my ears. This dovetails the suggestion I had made in a piece in the Premium Times of April 8 in which I said that Nigeria has been long overdue to join the pantheon of nations such as Malaysia in the establishment of Special Courts exclusively for the handling of corruption cases – “courts that will be independent of the judiciary – another pathologically sick Nigerian national institution”.
At a lecture of the Lagos State Chapter of the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents recently, the respected constitutional lawyer blamed legal practitioners and the judicial system for the long delays in the prosecution of a number of corruption cases in the country. “There is a justifiable frustration in the country about the (apparently) ineffectiveness of the prosecution of corruption cases.
“People will cite the fact that cases started in 2007 have not been concluded (while) some are in suspense (and) we’ve even forgotten about others. It’s not a very encouraging picture”, he told his audience. Sagay also added that his Committee has established a new manual that gives the prosecutor and the investigator a step-by-step process towards an efficient and effective prosecution.
“We will establish a special court with special judges, whose jurisdiction is limited to a set of crimes,” he said. He lamented the number of corruption cases unearthed within the last nine months by the anti-graft agencies which he described as “mind-boggling and unprecedented in the nation’s history.”
We are a corrupt nation. As a drastic situation, corruption demands a drastic solution. Again, I believe that President Muhammadu Buhari has a rendezvous with history. His legacy will rise and fall on his anti-corruption record.
In Nigeria, the virulence with which corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of society cannot be checked by conventional methods. I am a firm believer in employing extra-judicial measures – when need be – in solving societal ills. And I maintain that corruption to the health of the Nigerian nation is more deadly than all the militancy and insurgencies put together.
Let’s accept it: We are a corrupt nation. As a drastic situation, corruption demands a drastic solution. Again, I believe that President Muhammadu Buhari has a rendezvous with history. His legacy will rise and fall on his anti-corruption record. However, addressing State House staff recently, his pledge to Nigerians to vigorously sustain the ongoing war against corruption proved reassuring, especially in the face of all the scheming to discredit the campaign by means of political blackmail.
Hate him or love him, Buhari boasts of an impeccable world renowned anti-corruption credential. According to him: “I have never in my life believed in corruption. If we make any mistake in what we are doing and compromise our integrity, the country will be further dragged back.
“We’ll not touch anybody that did not touch public funds. If you behave yourself, you will sleep soundly, your children and families will enjoy respect. But if you have short-changed the treasury, you will be caught and you’ll have your day in court.” he told Nigerians.
In conclusion, I doubly submit that the establishment of Special Courts for special crimes, chiefly corruption, is imperative and that the cleansing of the Nigerian judicial system is matter of national importance. And it is an exercise that must be carried out with clinical dispatch if (to borrow the words of the President) “the country is not be further dragged back.”
That is my story. And I stand by it.
Charles Anyiam is Editor-In-Chief, The African Times/USA.