He said contrary to the much-talked about corruption in the Nigerian judiciary, only 64 out of the whole lots of 1,020 judges serving in the superior courts have so far been punished by the National Judicial Council (NJC) for various offences, especially on corruption between 2009 and 2014. Besides, the Bench cannot be clean if the Bar that gives birth to it is filthy. “Unless we work in synergy to ensure that only fit and proper persons remain in our midst, it will be impossible to expect a different Bench when its origin remains the same. I hereby call on the leadership of the Bar to expunge from its ranks such persons whose conduct may be unfit, improper, dishonest or unethical’’, the CJN thundered out. The CJN went further to say that it is rather curious that none of the beneficiaries of those involved in compromising standard of justice or buying and selling of judgements have ever been tried and punished by those in charge of criminal justice administration in the country. “It is, however, sad to note that the public officials and persons who benefit from corrupting Judicial Officers are never investigated, apprehended or even prosecuted, even though the Judiciary disciplines its own. The basic question, my lords, ladies and gentlemen is, how can we stop corruption when the scale is seemingly tilted in favour of the beneficiaries,’’ Justice Mohammed asked. The last quiver of the CJN’s arrows would remind the legal system historians of the pre-modern Europe when crime was viewed as a private matter in Ancient Greece and Rome. Even with offences as serious as murder, justice was the prerogative of the victim’s family and private war or vendetta the means of protection against criminality. Corruption in the judiciary cannot abate unless and until the Federal Government stops regarding such criminality as the family affair or private matter for the judiciary. According to the former CJN, Justice Mariam Aloma Mukthar, the judiciary doesn’t have a garrison of army to fight its cause or enforce its orders and decisions. NJC, for instance, can only recommend disciplinary actions against erring judicial officers for approval and enforcement by the President. It cannot go further to levy charges against the judge for his or her criminal acts; neither could NJC prosecute the persons that bribed the judge for instance to balkanise cause of justice. The commission doesn’t have criminal investigation unit or ‘’Fraud Detective Squad’’ to detect and investigate criminal involvement of any judicial officer. It can only put the judge on trial if there is a petition filed against him or her, again, the trials are based mostly on documentary evidence which is hard to get. This is what put Justice Mahmud Mohammed’s 64 over 1020 percentage of corrupt judges in the judiciary to disrepute. Though this is not the focus of this discourse, but the fact remains that the CJN’s hypothesis on numerical strength of corrupt judges is not proportional to casualty figure of those that had suffered from rampart bad judgements, judiciary rot or indignity in Nigeria within the same period of time. This is not to disparage this revered jurist, but to deal with the obvious. Back to the thrust of this discussion, it is the duties of the state to detect, investigate, prosecute and apply appropriate punishment to serve as deterrent for criminal acts in any clime. None of those 64 judges sacked by the NJC was ever prosecuted; yet, the pronouncement of some of them led to blood shed or mini civil war in the country, especially those who were sacked for their pronouncements which led to the ignominious June 12, 1993 Presidential Election annulment by the then Military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. None of those that conspired with any of the 64 judges sacked by the commission for compromising the standard of justice was prosecuted and punished by the state in the country. Let us take a look at what obtains elsewhere. In 2008, two American judges, President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan, were accused of taking more than $2 million cash bribes from Robert Mericle, a private prison owner to hand young offenders’ maximum sentences in return for kickbacks amounting to millions of dollars. The scandal which was later dubbed as ‘’kids for cash’’ was revealed during disciplinary hearings over the conduct of another former Luzerne County judge, Anne H. Lokuta. Lokuta was brought before the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania (similar to NJC) in November 2006 to answer charges of using court workers to do her personal bidding, openly displaying bias against some attorneys arguing before her, and publicly berating staff to cause mental distress. The board ruled against Lokuta in November 2008 and she was removed from the bench. During the course of the disciplinary hearings, Lokuta accused then Judge Michael Conahan of bullying behavior and charged that he was behind a conspiracy to have her removed. Lokuta aided the federal investigation into the “kids for cash” scheme prior to the determination of the disciplinary board, and a stay order was issued in March 2009 by the state Supreme Court in light of the ongoing corruption investigations, halting Lokuta’s removal and the election that was to be held in May to replace her. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service also investigated the two judges while probing practices in Luzerne County. The two judges were subsequently charged before the court. A federal grand jury in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania returned a 48-count indictment against Ciavarella and Conahan including racketeering, fraud, money laundering, extortion, bribery, and federal tax violations on September 9, 2009. By August 11, 2011, Mark Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years of imprisonment and ordered to pay $1.2 million in restitution after he was found to be a ‘’figure head’’ in the conspiracy that saw thousands of children unjustly punished in the name of profit in the case that became known as ‘’kids for cash’’. He is currently being held at the Federal Correctional Institution, Pekin, a federal prison in Illinois which holds minimum and medium security inmates. He is scheduled for release in 2035, when he will be 85 years old. On September 23, 2011, Senior Judge Michael Conahan was sentenced to 17 and one-half years in federal prison after pleading guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy. He is currently being held at a minimum security facility at the Federal Correctional Complex, Coleman in Florida. He is scheduled for release in 2026, when he will be 74 years old. Robert Mericle, the prominent real estate developer who built the two juvenile facilities, pleaded guilty on September 3, 2009, to failing to disclose a felony, for not revealing to a grand jury that he had paid $2.1 million to Ciavarella and Conahan as a finder’s fee. As part of his plea, Mericle agreed to pay $2.15 million to fund local children’s health and welfare programs. Mericle faced up to three years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine. On April 25, 2014, Robert Mericle was sentenced to serve one year in Federal Prison. On November 4, 2011, Powell was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to failing to report a felony and being an accessory to tax conspiracy. He was incarcerated at the Federal Prison Camp, Pensacola, a minimum security facility in Florida, and was released from a halfway house on April 16, 2013. Just as it is the fate of the judiciary in Nigeria presently, the systemic corruption led to the formation of the Operation Greylord, an investigation conducted jointly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Chicago Police Internal Affairs Division and the Illinois State Police into corruption in the judiciary of Cook County, Illinois (the Chicago jurisdiction). The FBI named the investigation “Operation Greylord” after the grey curly wigs of British judges. The three-and-half-year undercover operation took place in the 1980s. The first listening device ever placed in a judge’s chambers occurred in the undercover phase, when the narcotics court chambers of Judge Wayne Olson were bugged. To acquire evidence of corruption, agents obtained U.S. Department of Justice authorisation to present false court cases for the undercover agents/lawyers to fix in front of the corrupt judges A total of 92 people were indicted, including 17 judges, 48 lawyers, 10 deputy sheriffs, eight policemen, eight court officials, and state legislator James DeLeo. Of the 17 judges indicted in the trials, 15 were convicted. In 1994, a panel of enquiry, headed by respected late jurist, Justice Kayode Eso, found startling evidence of corruption among judicial officers. It recommended that 47 errant judges be sacked, among other far-reaching reforms. A review panel in 2002 under Justice Bolarinwa Babalakin was confronted with the mysterious disappearance of vital documents attached to the Eso panel report. Only six of the 47 indicted judges were eventually sacked. Irked by persistent reports of corruption, the NJC has tried in the past to act. It sacked a former chief judge of Plateau State and suspended a former CJ of Anambra State. Two other judges, Okechukwu Opene and D.A. Adeniji, were sacked for taking bribe on the matter of the senatorial election in Anambra State. Stanley Nnaji, an Enugu High Court judge, was penalised for assuming jurisdiction in a matter outside his state, as was Wilson Egbo-Egbo, who had allegedly been compromised during the Chris Ngige and Chris Uba imbroglio in Anambra State. A total of nine judges were retired in 2004 for granting suspicious ex parte motions. Five others were implicated in the 2003 Election Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom State. They adjudicated on the petition against the re-election of ex-Governor Victor Attah by Ime Umanah, former candidate of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, at the election. By the time the NJC concluded its job, Justices Matilda Adamu, Christopher P. N. Senlong and Chief Magistrate James Isede had earned themselves dismissal from the judiciary; while two others, Justice D. T. Ahura and A. M. Elelegwu of the Customary Court of Appeal were recommended for suspension. The Federal Government, after approving the verdict of the council on the higher officers in February 2004, sent their case files to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for trial. Nothing has been heard about them at the ICPC end since then. Neither the judicial officers sanctioned by the NJC nor the beneficiaries of their felony have ever been convicted. Only the judges involved even get partially punished.]]>

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