by Farouk Martins Aresa
Barring justice in heaven, judiciary use to be one place in Nigeria where people get relative reprieve. Our lawyers and judges were so well trained locally, most African countries gained from their expertise and training. They were the bastion of integrity and profession of choice for many freedom fighters that brought colonialism to a standstill. A noble profession that has fallen to the same self-destructive infection many in the country now find themselves.
Judges must be held in high esteem and adequately provided for, so that they are not tempted to fall into many social frailties. More is even expected from those that have taken the wow of poverty like our Imams and Revered Fathers. As much as we respect those that have taken on these responsibilities, they should be accorded the benefit of doubt only for so long. As soon as they abuse their oath and the secrecy accorded to them, they should be treated as criminals.
Corruption at an endemic point, is prevailing in most African countries and worse in Nigeria. It can no longer be tolerated just as abuse of children by Revered Fathers has broken solemnity in most religious societies. We do not give more respect to judges than we give men of God. Once our trust in them is shattered, they must bear the consequences.
The notion that due process, rule of law and democracy must shield unbecoming behavior at any level is nothing but sheer hypocrisy. It has never stopped the practice of democracy in their countries of origin from going after terrorism. Indeed, it has overthrown soft governments on terrorism and created xenophobic fears worldwide. Africans that have betrayed our trust and prosper in corruption, when caught in the act, become staunch guidance of the rule of law.
It is only in Nigeria that politicians and judges would be caught with millions in foreign cash and billions in local currency, that they would shout bloody murder hiding behind the rule of law. If Italian Mafias were Nigerians when caught red-handed with cash, they will be in court shouting and calling on United Nation for their rescue from a government that infringe on the rule of law subverting democratic principles.
However, we cannot paint all lawyers and judges with the same brush. Senior or retired judges and lawyers have come out in defense of their noble profession wondering what a seating judge would be doing with such amount of money in their houses. Some of them have never seen so much money in their life. They knew there was corruption but could not believe the crooks would use due process, rule of law and democracy to thwart scrutiny.
Lawyers do not have to be activists to condemn the evil doers among them. Actually they know them and have been complaining for year about it until Buhari had the guts to confront them head-on. It became so difficult to get conviction against politicians that stole enough to get connected lawyers that know the right amount a judge would take from the highest bidder. It has invaded the highest level of the court.
We still remember the saga between the Chief Judge of the Appeals Court Ayo Salami that rejected promotion to the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Nigeria Aloysius Katsina-Alu. It all started from the election tribunals some considered bought and paid for, to favor certain party and instruction from above to favor another. Of course, it became so messy because parties and their supporters were divided between fake men of “integrity” and “caliber”.
Election tribunals or designated courts are established after contentious elections. If the judges appointed for them do not celebrate, their families were not so restrained. They kill cows and goats in anticipation of expected windfall in bribes and kickback from the highest bidders. Here is where election of the duly elected but uncompromising winners are overturned in favor of the highest bidders. Technicalities and fraudulent tactics are rational used for favored rulings.
Those willing to sacrifice the country at the altar of their selfish ends cannot wait to cry bloody murder even as the people burn in corruption. The comfort and the selfish interest of the few privileged vagabonds matter more to them regardless of the sorry state of the nation. For all they care the country can go to blazes as long as they can rescue their loot.
While it is expected that, the Nigerian National Judicial Council would elucidate due process, by which it should discipline an erring judge, once that body has been compromised by its very process; extra-ordinary measures must be taken to rectify the situation before the country that has gone to the dogs catches fire. Separation of power is to prevent interference from one part of government, enforcement of the rule of law can still be implemented by the other arm.
Judiciary has never had the power to enforce and implement its ruling. Here, we have had a glaring abuse of trust and deterioration of integrity for a long time. Indeed, people have become disenchanted with the role of National Judicial Council in cleaning up its own just by retirement. It has been well- known as an uphill battle. Like a doctor that cannot heal himself.
It got to a point when local prosecutors have to go to foreign courts to present the evidence that is ignore locally, to convict Nigerian looters outside. Other governors learned from Ibori and Alamieyeseigha that the worst mistake they made was running outside the country when they could have easily bought justice inside Nigeria! It does not mean that other countries are better than ours, it just means that even in Chicago U.S.A, the law can catch up with corruption.
If Buhari can clean up corruption in the Judiciary and the Police as he had embarked on in the Army as soon as he was elected, we will see more changes (except for Burutai property in Dubai). We do not expect a perfect system but enough to make most promises stick. He was elected knowing his fault and weaknesses, especially regarding some of his appointments. But Nigerians are so sick and tired of corruption, they are willing to ignore some of his blind spots.
If United States was waiting for the Judiciary to clean up corruption of judges in Illinois, Florida, Alabama and other places, they would have to wait until Nigeria became clean.