The recent invasion of some judges’ residence by the men of the Department of State Security (DSS) has indeed thrown the legal profession particularly the judiciary into a great turmoil. The incident has split the members of the profession into camps debating whether the action of the DSS against those judges was right or wrong. Regardless of which side of the divides any lawyer belongs to, the question that must be asked and answered is: Does two wrongs make a right?
To really appreciate this question we must cast our minds back to some of what had happened in the past and relate them to the present situation so as to see where things have gone wrong and make a serious amend. Some years back, when Hon. Justice S.O. Uwaifo, a former Justice of the Supreme Court was retiring from the bench, he had this to say: “There are indications either from the comments made by the public or from personal experience that there is need to be concerned about the lowering standards in the judiciary of this country. It was once thought to be only the magistracy because of the disturbing ways some of the personnel tended to abuse their offices.
It gradually crawled to the High Courts and would appear to have had a foothold among noticeable number of judicial officers there. It is not unusual for even senior members of the bar to complain about the general disposition of those High Court Judges. There is the aspect of their attitude and orientation to duty, late sitting, laziness, incompetence, doubtful integrity. Now there is real apprehension that the appellate court may soon be infested if not already contaminated with some of these vices. Some recent events seem to sound an alarm bell ….. What omen does this trend of falling standards portend for the country? First, a culture of compromises will take root in the dispensation of justice. Second, public confidence will be badly and broadly eroded. Third, democracy will suffer or can even collapse.
Can we afford any of these consequences because we fail to think ahead for possible solution to contain the situation?” Before the above remarks made by Justice Uwaifo, it is necessary also to mention here that between 1993 and 1994, the Hon. Justice Kayode Eso of blessed memory was made to serve as the Chairman of a Judicial Panel on the Re-Organization/Reform of the Judiciary in Nigeria and at the end of the day the panel found about 47 judges wanting for corruption and allied offences. Some of these judges were given red cards and sent packing from the judiciary. It was the same Justice Eso that once raised an alarm that the Nigerian judiciary had begun to breed billionaire judges. Professor Wole Soyinka , the Nobel Laureate on an occasion strongly asserted that : “Today, many judges can be bought for a penny.
We know cases where judges have been bought for half a million naira…”. Probably for the first time in the history of judiciary in Nigeria, two Justices of the Court of Appeal were sent packing during the regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as Nigerian president. Almost at the same time a judge of the Federal High Court was also given a red card for collecting money from politicians under the pretence that he would use it to influence some judges of the election petition tribunal. It should be noted that most of the times that some judges were found wanting and said to be sanctioned, the real meaning of this is that those judges were sent on compulsory retirement with allowances and entitlements intact. I doubt if there has ever been anything like outright dismissal of those judges found wanting without entitlements.
The recent one that was recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to the police for prosecution was because the erring judge was already having a petition against him before the police authority. One need to ask why the incessant dismissal or compulsory retirement of erring judges has not proved effective enough to discourage such vices on the bench. If the truth must be told, it is the failure of the disciplinary mechanism that only sends the judges found wanting for breach of trust repose in them by our nation to mere compulsory retirement without more, even with their entitlements and pensions intact, that continue to breed more corrupt judicial officers .
Since we live in a country where people value money than their integrity, the business will always be as usual. The thought of many corrupt judges will always be that at least if they are caught in the very act of corruption and dragged before the National Judicial Council (NJC), the punishment that would be meted on them is to go on compulsory retirement to enjoy the loots and nothing more. This situation has made many of them to develop the audacity to continue collecting bribe. If the practice has been that any judge caught in the act is not only dismissed but also prosecuted and sent to jail as it is being done in some developed countries ,surely this method would have seriously checked and discouraged the practice on the bench.
By Abdulrasheed Ibrahim