Nigeria’s fledgling democracy can only survive if we can expunge corruption from our judiciary. This is easier said than done, since the whole nation is submerged in corruption. Without a strong judiciary, democracy can never survive.

The rule of law stipulates that everyone in a country is equal before the law. The government and its officials and agents, as well as individuals and private entities are accountable under the law. The principle of the rule of law also says that justice is to be delivered timely by competent, ethical, independent and neutral representatives.

Crime and punishment must exist to form a society’s coherent order. In our country, the majority of those who use their office to loot national resources consider themselves higher than the law. Why not? They can always thwart the verdict of cases against them. We have seen, time and time again, how corrupt public servants buy their way to freedom and eventually form part of successive governments.

Nigeria’s constitution is a mere book of reference for only the poor in all criminal cases. Rich and influential individuals are exonerated from punishment, even when glaringly, crime against the state has been committed.

Judges are corrupt, inept and lack the willpower to uphold the law, even after swearing to an oath. The “get rich quick syndrome” that has plagued this country for over 25 years has destroyed the fabric our society and the judiciary has joined the bandwagon.

Justice is for sale in Nigeria. Ready-made judges are available for sale to the highest bidder.This is Nigeria’s reality. Unfortunately, there cannot be peace if there is no justice.

About two weeks ago, the Ghanaian government sacked 27 high court judges for corruption. This has never happened in Nigeria and may not happen any time soon.

K.K Ghai said, “The judiciary is the third organ of the government. It has the responsibility to apply the laws to specific cases and settle all disputes. The real ‘meaning of law’ is what the judges decide during the course of giving their judgements in various cases. From the citizens’ point of view, judiciary is the most important organ of the government, because it acts as their protector against the possible excesses of legislative and executive organs. Role of Judiciary as the guardian-protector of the constitution and the fundamental rights of the people makes it more respectable than the executive and the legislature.

“In the life of the citizens of a state, Judiciary is a source of confidence and fearlessness. The common man depends upon judiciary for getting justice. Without a security of rights and freedom guaranteed by the judiciary, they cannot really hope to carry out their jobs and enjoy their living. They are more dependent upon judiciary than the legislature and the executive. Without judicial protection, their lives can become miserable. From citizens’ point of view, judiciary is the most important organ of the government.

“A society without legislature is conceivable and indeed, legislative organs did not make their appearance in the state until modern times, but a civilised state without a strong judicial organ and machinery is hardly conceivable.”

The first and foremost function of the judiciary is to give justice to the people, whenever they may approach it. It awards punishment to those who, after trial, are found guilty of violating the laws of the state or the rights of the people. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case in Nigeria.

A broken, dysfunctional justice system is, naturally, a failed nation in every real sense of it.

Criminals in this country hang on to the loose, inefficient and utterly corrupt justice system to prey and thrive on illicit behaviours. What is most appalling in the history of this country is how small the number of those jailed for corruption is and the very easy process of securing legal protection for the culprits.

Former Rivers State governor, Peter Odili, has a perpetual injunction against prosecution by security agents, (EFCC, ICPC and the Police) for the crimes he committed during his tenure as governor of the state. Stella Oduah, the former aviation minister, has been shielded from further interrogation and arrest by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Ibori, former Delta State governor, was only imprisoned for a few days in Kaduna for crimes committed against his state, which included gross embezzlement and money laundering . His punishment in Nigeria was drastically reduced by a Federal High Court. He met his waterloo in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), after being extradited to the United Kingdom, where he remains a prisoner today.

The majority of those who are found guilty for various offences are high profile individuals; top political office holders with tonnes of money to bribe their way to uncensored freedom. It’s quite strange that the former minister of petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and her cohorts are, in faraway United Kingdom, being charged for bribery and money laundering, while there is no single case yet recorded against her in Nigeria.

It is annoying that throughout the six years of Jonathan’s administration, only Cecilia Ibru spent a few days in jail for looting her own bank in excess of N100billion.

Again, it is amazing that despite glaring corruption by judges of the various courts in Nigeria, none has been fired. This liberal and acceptable way of life has given impetus to judges in the judiciary to thrive on illegal protection of criminals once their cases are brought forth to the courts.

Another irresponsible style adopted by our judiciary is delayed or protracted litigation. It is no secret that a simple case brought to a court can take years to get judgement. Issues requiring immediate action can be pushed forward many times over to frustrate the plaintiff.

The majority of cases lingering in our courts today can be traced backward to five or more years, without hope of final judgement at the lower court. Ultimately, appeal to higher courts will not be feasible.

With so many corrupt public servants teasing our porous justice system and no hope of clear retribution, we are breeding more criminals who feel higher than the law of this land.

A strong, independent and incorruptible judiciary is the first step to nation building. Unfortunately, the pillar of our democracy is so loose that unless we purge the system of judges who are always quick to grant injunctions/protection to the thieves in our midst, Nigeria will remain stagnant in its quest for greatness.

Practical Considerations to Negotiate an Enforceable Joint Operating Agreement in Civil Law Jurisdictions (Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, 2020) By Professor Damilola S. Olawuyi, LL. B (1st Class), BL (1st Class), LL.M (Calgary), LL.M (Harvard), DPhil (Oxford), Professor of Law and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Nigeria, & Professor Eduardo G. Pereira, LL. B (Brazil), LL.M (Aberdeen), PhD (Aberdeen),   

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