By Usama Dandare
The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke
In a country where judges are widely accused of selling judgements and issuing blanket injunctions to the highest bidders, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that a cash sum of N360 million was found stashed in the private residence of three senior judges, following raids by men of the Department of State Service, DSS on the residences of seven judges of the Supreme, Federal and High Courts across the country. The three judges whose houses the said cash were found are Justices Adeniyi F.A. Ademola, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta and John Inyang Okoro.
This unfortunate development came in the wake of another similar scenario which as a result, The National Judicial Council, NJC (the body responsible for exacting discipline among members of the bench in Nigeria) ordered an immediate dismissal of three fraudulent judges over cases of bribery and corruption – Justice A.I.U Mezuruike, the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya, a presiding justice at the Court of Appeal in Kwara State and Justice Kabiru Auta, a judge at the Kano State High Court respectively.
In this happiest moment in our nation history where the once mighty and untouchable lords are being fired and arrested over corrupt practices, some ignoramus and and enemies of national development are out wailing and crying wolf when there’s non in support of these fraudulent judges, including the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to say the worse. However, from whichever angle one may like to look at it, the simply truth is that our judicial system has been thrown to the dogs with judges becoming foot soldiers of corrupt government officials and any criminal with loaded cash. Therefore, getting the system back to sanity should be the topmost priority of any well meaning government, as such the latest arrest and dismissal of these judges came even too late especially under the stewardship of the incorruptible President Muhammadu Buhari.
Justice is supposed to be blind in treating all citizen equally irrespective of colour, kinship, status or religion but today in Nigeria, our justice system didn’t only got eyes but eagle-eyes equipped with an infrared retina, not for detecting offenders but for detecting counterfeit US dollar bills. When one thinks of court, he think of justice but here in Nigeria, a court of law takes two different meaning: for the rich, it is a place where one can bribe his way out of any case being it criminal or civil, while to the poor, it is ‘money for hand justice for ground’ where the poor may never get justice no matter his innocence as long as he cannot afford to hire a lawyer who will mediate between him and the judge’s chamber. This is the reason why you may never get your day in court once you belong to the over 120 million Nigerians living under the poverty line of $190 per day. And to the lucky ones who do actually get their day in court, their rights are being stepped on by judges willfully violating their oath of office. Justice is not being served in an astonishing number of cases, with contradicting verdicts leaving the public scratching their heads – and not because of dandruff.
Accused of stealing bathroom slippers, you may be giving a three year jail term apart from another three years spent awaiting trial. But accused of squandering trillions of naira from public coffers, just apply for a million naira blanket injunction banning all security and anti-graft agencies from arresting or inviting you for life, be rest assured our judges would bow to your request since they will smile to the banks. Hence offenders in both the civil and criminal circuits repeatedly continue to be bold and arrogant in breaking the law, quite knowing they can buy off cases in court. This also explains why there are over 5000 thousand pending cases before the Nigerian supreme court only and thousands being held in various prison awaiting trial.
Sadly, the only people who really can expect justice in Nigerian courts are multi-millionaires and big corporations, else, nobody really matters to Nigerian judges and lawyers. There are monumental cases of bribery in our courts, perhaps even more than in the courts of any other country in the world, and nearly all bribes given to our judges came through lawyers, the rich and mighty pay huge amounts of money to lawyers, who then walk around with huge amount of cash in their jacket and quietly pass it to the judges in their chambers. To a point the plethora of bribery that lawyers and judges commit in broad daylight became blatantly glaring even to the blind, seeing judges living flamboyantly and being extremely friendly to their rich lawyer friends who pay big bribes. Little wonder why the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) became too furious with the federal government for taken it anti-corruption war to the judiciary. Indeed, birds of the same feather flock together.
It’s really disappointing so to say disgusting to see senior lawyers and the worse NBA officials becoming tools of corruption and impunity by defending their corrupt colleagues on the bench, to a stage that the whole NBA President who is a Senior Advocate of Nigerian coming out public to condemn the arrest of gorilla judges and going further to refer to the arrest process as unlawful, despite the fact that the DSS were armed with tangible and adequate prosecutable informations with equally reliable, adequate and sufficient reasons to act. It is astonishing that the NBA President wanted men of the DSS to first of all approached the judges and obtain their arrest and search warrants from them, and later placed a telephone call informing them they were coming for their arrest.
I am of the opinion that the DSS have all the reasons to conduct the raids as they did believing that the targeted judges would flee or destroy the evidences of their alleged crimes if having prior informations before the raid, which was preceded by petitions of allegations of these judges accepting bribes and perverting justice. As such, the DSS acted within the scope of their statutory assignment, in line with modus operandi to conduct operations at particular hours to prevent the possibilities of flight, or escape by the suspect, and has to ensure that proceeds of crimes are not destroyed or taken out of the jurisdiction, including other reasons in line with their code of conduct which may have perhaps prompted them to act in the way and manner in which they acted.
What followed after the arrests and the plethora of evidences emanating from the raids has vindicated and exonerated the DSS from any act of witch-hunt or false accusations against the suspected judges, it is now glaring that these judges have benefited immensely from the scale of a monumental corruption that has threatened our collective existence as a nation. The shocking findings also gave credence to earlier suspicions that our corrupt judges have joined the ranks of their counterparts in public offices who are scared to deposit their ill-gotten money in commercial banks, as the Bank Verification Number regime has made it almost impossible to save certain amount of money undetected or bank by proxies which is habitual of almost all corrupt officials, hence they resorted to agglomerating stolen public funds in stores and under their beds or buried in soakaways at their homes or farms.
It is fascinating and at same disgraceful how our perceived learned lawyers have turned into wailers overnight, buying shame upon themselves and throwing the legal system in which they operate to the dogs, and at same failing to live beyond vested interest orchestrated by a sheer greed and love for quick riches. The NBA which ought to be the biggest umbrella of upholding justice and the rule of law have now metamorphosized into a tool of shielding criminals from the paws of the law. These lawyers and their colleagues on the bench were a couple of days back hailing and applauding the federal government for it ongoing crusade against corruption, they were all smiling to the banks in what looks like the season of their bumper harvest as corrupt government officials under trial were queuing in numbers at their chambers with cash and exotic cars. But now that the anti-corruption crusade has turned it radar against the judiciary, they are all wailing unnecessarily and threatening our justice system as a whole, hence putting the Nigerian project at risk.
In a nutshell, the NBA and every other person in their support should embrace the simple reality that it is no more business as usual, they should pass it on to each and every corrupt Nigerian they knew that there is a new sheriff in town and stealing is now corruption. They should desist from shielding criminals and perverting justice, they should instead encourage whoever feel to have been treated unfairly to seek justice in the court of law if truly they are the symbol of what they claimed to be, but their recent exhibition of irresponsibility and unprofessionalism have just portrayed the Nigerian Bar Association as the most dishonest, dangerous and crookest legal body in the history of man. They should all be ashame of themselves if they knew anything called shame, else, we (Nigerians) are collectively shame on their behalf.
Usama A. Dandare, a social commentator write from Sokoto. Reach him via [email protected], www.facebook.com/usama.dandareor twitter @osadaby