Judgement for sale: Who are the buyers?

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) had on February 17, 2012 vowed to expose how politicians used “consultants” to buy election cases with “incredible sums of money.”

The legal body, which made the allegation at a valedictory court session held in honour of the late Justice Anthony Nnaemezie Christopher Aniagolu, said it was aware of all the senior counsel and eminent retired judicial officers that served as conduit between election courts and parties in electoral matters, saying it would forward their names to relevant anti-graft agencies for prosecution.

In a speech presented by the then NBA President, Mr J.B Daudu SAN, it said: “Corruption is now a live issue that is threatening to tear apart the foundations and fabric of the society. The Bar believes that though it does not possess the machinery and infrastructure to battle this scourge such as the EFCC and ICPC possesses, but it can be proactive in its battle against this vice which if left unchecked will sink the whole ship of state.

“We are no doubt aware that some of our colleagues including very senior counsel and at times eminent retired judicial officers go about offering their services as ‘consultants’ particularly in election cases for incredible sums of money so as to act as conduit between his client and the election court.

“The end result is to facilitate ready-made justice for the persons they are acting for. We must strongly deprecate this practice. Our members and members of the public should feel free to avail themselves of the services of this NBA anti-corruption body. We do ourselves the greatest disservice if we fail to fight this ill which renders irrelevant the work and skills of hardworking lawyers who daily toil in and out of courts and who do not have the advantage of knowing with certainty the outcome of cases as these ‘consultants’ are privileged to know.
“Secondly, this charge falls at the feet of the Bar, particularly counsel who for political manoeuvres or the gratification of ‘varying interests’ misuse the process of the Supreme Court and other courts by bringing applications that are clearly frivolous or contemptuous.

“I have approached the Attorney-General of the Federation to call a meeting of the General Council of the Bar so that inter alia, the existing rules of Professional Ethics can be amended to include such areas that will safeguard the dignity of the courts and integrity of judicial process. Let us call ourselves to order in this regard. The essence of a just judicial system is to provide prompt qualitative justice for the people. Justice is meaningless when it is delayed, hurried or perverted,” it stressed.

Since it has become seemingly attractive to revel on “Judges’ Corruption Mantra’’, the current NBA President, Augustine Alegeh SAN, seized the opportunity of the mammoth crowd that gathered for the special session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the 2015-2016 legal year and the swearing-in of newly conferred Senior Advocates of Nigeria, to accuse some judges of rendering judgments for a fee. The Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) was also in attendance.

Alegeh said: “It is indeed very worrisome that certain judicial officers still engage in rendering judgments for a fee.

“Instances abound where judicial officers have resorted to turning the law on its head and making pronouncements which are at variance with the provisions of the law.

“A few others have formed the bad habit of ignoring judicial precedents even when such authorities are brought to their attention by counsel.

“This trend is quite injurious and erodes the confidence reposed in the judiciary by society.”
While Daudu’s NBA promised to set up an anti-corruption commission to identify and hand over the culprits to EFCC or ICPC for prosecution, Alegeh also said the association would take the matters as prima facie evidence of corruption. Up till the end of Daudu’s tenure 5-6 months after the famous speech, even till date the NBA’s anti-corruption commission has failed to release or even disclose the names of corrupt judges to the appropriate authorities. Time shall tell if Alegeh can walk his talk.

Lawyers are regarded the world over as guardians of the law, and consequently play a vital role in the preservation of society. Unlike the judges who are often only seen and seldom heard, they have unfettered access to the public, are often easily heard and very publicly seen.

The Rules of Professional Conduct of the Legal Profession as contained in the Legal Practitioners Act (Chapter 207 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria) are intended for maintenance of respect for and confidence in the judicial office.

Rule 1 for instance, specifically states that; “It is the duty of the lawyer to maintain towards the court respectful attitude, not for the sake of the temporary incumbent of the judicial office, but for the maintenance of its supreme importance. Judges, not being wholly free to defend themselves, are peculiarly entitled to receive the support of the Bar against unjust criticism and clamour. Where there is proper ground for serious complaint of a judicial officer, it is the right and duty of the lawyer to submit his grievances to the proper authorities.”
Perhaps, this becomes imperative when the CJN, Justice Mohammed, described the allegation that judges were taking bribes as ’unfortunate unguarded comments’, because every litigant has at least a lawyer that prosecute his or her case before a judge. The lawyer, at the risk of sounding immodest must be in the know of the conduct of his client, overtly or covertly. In other words, common sense dictates that lawyers have the dossier of how his client’s case was fought and won.

It is even understood if an outsider or laymen hawk the allegations all over the streets. The CJN therefore, in his remarks during the special session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the 2015-2016 legal year and the swearing-in of newly conferred Senior Advocates of Nigeria insisted that the allegation by prominent members of the Bar that some judges were corrupt was unfortunate.

He said: “I regard as unfortunate unguarded comments of some prominent members of the Bar that the judiciary is corrupt.

“Such comments coming from the members of the Bar mean that they know the identity of the corrupt judges and as such, they should fish them out to be dealt with by the National Judicial Council (NJC).”
The CJN noted that the Bench was a product of the Bar and that unless they both work in synergy to ensure that only fit and proper persons remain in the Bar, it would be impossible to expect a different Bench.

The immediate past CJN, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar had in the Judicial Reforms Conference co-organized by the National Bar Association on 7 July 2014 held in Abuja, also lamented that many lawyers were quick to accuse the judiciary of being corrupt, yet refused to report judges who they knew to be corrupt to the NJC.

“You (lawyers) all know those judges that are corrupt, but you won’t report. However, you will be the one who will raise the issue that the judiciary is corrupt. You will not do your part.”

In conclusion, maybe lawyers and all concerned should borrow a leaf from the Ifa divination principles and posit as follows: “Some judges engage in the sale of their court judgments on some cases, ably filed, prayed and argued by lawyers before same judges on behalf of some people known as litigants who are clients to the lawyers. Who then are the buyers?”

Ahuraka wrote in from Abuja

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