During the electioneering campaigns prior to the 2015 general elections, President Muhammadu Buhari in tandem with his character and anti corruption philosophy which endeared him to vast majority of people at home and in the Diaspora, reiterated the fight against corruption as one of his cardinal programmes, to be implemented if elected into office by the electorate.And in keeping to his promise, President Buhari, since assuming office, has left no one in doubt about the commitment of his administration to frontally confront corruption, no matter whose ox is gored. Under his administration, the nation’s anti graft agencies, EFCC, ICPC, has woken up from their politically induced slumber and are vigorously implementing the war against corruption by going all out in line with their constitutional mandate.
However, we must recognize that the fight against corruption has remained on course despite campaigns of blackmail and calumny from expected quarters, who have always derided the war as selective, vendetta, witch hunt, persecution, etc without being able to produce evidence of persons or bodies who have been wrongfully alledged and prosecuted by the authorities. In all of these, every attempt both known and unknown scripted and acted to derail the anti corruption war has failed and will continue to fail.
Also, in pursuing the war against corruption, the present administration has not minced words in expressing its frustration over the unbridled corruption ravaging the temple of justice, the judiciary and this much has been restated on several occasions by the President himself at public fora.
Following from the government’s determination to confront corruption in all sectors of the society, the Department of State Services (DSS) on 7th and 8th of October 2016, armed with valid court warrants, raided the residences of some judges across the federation, alledged of corruption and effected the arrests of the judges and temporarily confiscated discovered cash of local and international currencies.
Ever since this action by the DSS, Nigerians, including members of the bench and the bar, have been sharply divided about the propriety or otherwise of the action. But be that as it may, one thing, Nigerians are united about is the fact that, they all agree, that there is massive corruption in the judiciary which needs to be tackled in order not to endanger national security.
But surprisingly, while Nigerians watched with bated breath, waiting for the DSS to legally prosecute the judges, who according to the constitution of Nigeria, are presumed innocent until proven guilty with facts or evidences obtained, the judges conducts and utterances has continued to cause irreparable damage to the integrity of the judiciary, national psyche and they must be stopped by the NJC.
The judges who represent God here on earth because of their sacred role as institutions constitutionally empowered to determine life and death on a person, have retorted to behaving like common criminals by resorting to scapegoatism and indulging in blame game over who and what is responsible for their travails of alledged corruption, what a shame.
The first in a series of statements which portrays the judiciary as an institution that is very sick and in need of redemption, came from Justice Adeniyi Ademola who stated that the DSS operatives held guns to his head to sign a document detailing items alledgedly found in his house as well as confessional statements. He also alledged that the DSS operation carried out against him was masterminded by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami for his role in Malami’s arrest and detention for alledged professional misconduct while serving as a Federal High Court judge in Kano between 2004 and 2008.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola wrote the above quoted statement in a letter addressed to the CJN. While, one would not want to take sides by questioning the veracity of Justice Adeniyi Ademola’s statements for now, some portions of it cast aspersions on his personal integrity in view of his standing in the society, as a federal high court judge.
If Justice Ademola claimed that guns were pointed to his head which made him to sign the confessional papers in the DSS office, the question thus is, haba Justice Ademola, do you mean that even when you got to the DSS office which you recognized and you were asked to sign a statement against your will, you still went ahead to sign it just because in your words, “Guns were pointed at you”? If this be so, with all due respect sir, your statement exposes you as a man not worth sitting in the temple of justice. With your statement, only God knows in how many cases you have dispensed injustice because of reasons of threats or otherwise rather than the facts of the matter.
A judge in any clime must be a man or woman of strong convictions because the professions exposes the person to risks and dangers in terms of inducements and threats from both official and unofficial quarters and by his own admission of fear for life to sign a confessional statement even when he recognized the operatives as agents of state, Justice Ademola not minding the fact that he is still innocent until proven guilty has exhibited the character of someone totally unfit to sit on the bench.
Another judge in the mould of Justice Adeniyi Ademola is Justice Inyang Okoro who is also blaming the transportation Minister, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi for his travails of being under the DSS hammer for corruption. According to Justice Okoro, Mr. Amaechi begged him to help influence the outcome of the governorship election cases in Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Abia states. He stated this in a similar pattern in a letter to the CJN. He alledged that the former governor alledgedly said that President Buhari and the APC were interested in the cases. He also alledged that the APC candidate for Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Umana Umana also visited him and pleaded with him to help influence the election cases involving the three states that were then pending before the Supreme Court.
From the tone of Justice Okoro’s letter, one can see clearly, even without examining the veracity of his statement, that he has exposed the judiciary to utter ridicule by this statement which is called, after thought in legal parlance. The following questions will suffice to expose this:
- Why did Justice Inyang Okoro wait till October 2016 when he was arrested by the DSS for corruption before coming out to inform Nigerians about Amaechi and Umana Umana supposed visit which alledgedly occurred in February 2016?
- If Mr. Amaechi and Umana Umana alledgedly visited Justice Inyang Okoro as claimed, to whom did he make an official report?
- If Justice Inyang reported to the CJN as claimed, why did he not make an official documentation of the incident?
- Can we ask Justice Okoro to provide either oral or video evidence of the alledged meeting with the two mentioned persons knowing the gravity of the offence alledgedly being committed?
- By not making an official report of the alledged bribe then, has Justice Okoro not violated his oath of allegiance?
- May we ask Justice Okoro to come out publicly to tell Nigerians exactly how much he was alledgedly offered, we deserve to know?
- If Justice Okoro was offered bribe to influence the Supreme Court judgements on Abia, Akwa Ibom and River states governorship cases, may we ask if he was the only judge sitting on the cases in the Supreme Court?
- How come it was only Justice Okoro that was approached to influence the Supreme Court judgements and not any of the other justices?
- By approaching only Justice Okoro to influence the judgements of the Supreme Court on the three mentioned states governorship election cases, is this not a recognition of his traditional role as a corruption courier in the judiciary?
If the Nigerian judiciary can be peopled by men like Justices Ademola and Okoro, then it has been desecrated and despoiled by agents and merchants of money and in need of redemption.
That the judiciary today is a danger not only to itself but to the entire country, in need of redemption and return to its lost glory is not in doubt and to borrow the words of Prof Itse Sagay, can anyone imagine Justices Chukwudifu Oputa, Kayode Esho, Obaseki, etc being arrested for corruption or approached to influence judgement by anybody or agency? Obviously, it is impossible because these great men were the glittering stars who bestrode our legal landscape like a colossus and bowed out of the judiciary and life in a blaze of glory.
As the President Buhari administration clampdown on corruption digs deep into the judiciary, we can only affirm that truly the Nigeria Judiciary is terribly sick and in need of redemption which must start now with an in-house cleansing from the NJC.
The judiciary must be saved from imperiling itself, democracy and the society at large and the time to do that is now!
Nelson Ekujumi, a public analyst, wrote this piece from Lagos.