The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammed, has warned the newly sworn-in justices of the Court of Appeal against engaging in corrupt practices. The CJN, who gave the admonition at the swearing-in of 18 new justices of the appellate court, urged them to courageously discharge their duties in line with their oath of office. According to the CJN, “you must redouble your pace to catch up with the expectations of the litigants. As judicial officers, you have a divine mandate on earth that you must discharge with unveiled honesty and sincerity.” He also urged them to justify their elevation to the Court of Appeal.
The CJN admonition, coming at a time there is reported cases of corruption in the judiciary, is quite in order. We believe that if the new justices heed the advice, it will largely curb corruption in the appellate courts. And since the judiciary is deemed to be the last hope of the common man, the judges who work in the temple of justice must not be found wanting. Like Caesar’s wife, they are expected to be above board.
For the judges to continue to dispense justice without fear or favour, the government should look at those things that easily make them succumb to corruption, such as poor remuneration, inclement working environment and official meddlesomeness. The poor wages of judges and other judicial officers may have wittingly or unwittingly encouraged corruption in the judiciary as well as the tendency of wealthy Nigerians and the government to influence the course of justice.
Political corruption and corruption of the democratic and electoral process may have also heightened corruption in the judiciary since the courts are fast assuming the role of determining who wins or loses election in the country. The general corruption in the polity may have one way or another affected the judges, considering that they too live in the Nigerian society.
At the same time, the judges are expected to be exemplary in conduct and must be willing to resist the temptation to embrace corruption, no matter how juicy. As enshrined in the principles of separation of powers, all arms of the government, including the judiciary, must be independent of each order. But in our own peculiar democracy, the judiciary is unduly controlled by the overbearing executive arm of government.
In our clime, the executive also does not pretend to even control the legislature. If the government is serious about fighting corruption, whether in the judiciary or any other arm of government, the principles of separation of powers must be respected and observed in practice. Therefore, we urge the Federal Government to quicken the process of financial autonomy for the judiciary.
We believe that financial autonomy for the judiciary will do more to lessen the corruption in the judicial system. The advice by the CJN should apply to all courts in the land, from the lowest to the highest. It must also apply to electoral courts, where massive corruption allegedly occurs.
These ills in the judiciary have impacted negatively on the society. It is deplorable that the judiciary ranks among entities that are always cited as most corrupt. For instance, in August 2017, the United Nations Office for Drug and Crimes indicted judges, police officers and prosecutors as the most corrupt public officers in Nigeria in its Corruption Report.
We recall the sting operation on some judges’ residences in 2016 by the Department of State Services (DSS) in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Gombe, Kano, Enugu, and Sokoto where cash in foreign and local currencies were recovered. Despite that operation, corruption is still rife in the judiciary.
To have a judiciary devoid of corruption and other unsavory practices require measures beyond mere admonition. The National Judicial Council (NJC) should be strengthened and given more powers in the appointment and disciplining of judicial officers. There is need to check corruption and other vices in appointments and promotion of judicial officers.