Opinion: Judiciary Has Locked Us In A National Prison of Injustice

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Judiciary has been described as the last hope of common man which was to provide a basic modicum of justice through a mix of professional norms, transparency, and fairness but justice delivery in my country; Nigeria today has become cash-nexus where justices are up for sale and the judges exchange them with cash from the highest bidders.

Justice is the vertebral column of any democratic society. The rule of law and the acceptance of its values and principles entail the confidence in justice. For citizens’ confidence in the system to exist, justice system professionals must be able to offer credibility. They must have irreproachable behaviour and exemplary professional conduct.

Legitimacy is crucial to the functioning of justice. This particular characteristic comes from the public’s understanding of the way in which the justice system is organised, from the trust people have in the competence of magistrates and other system workers, as well as from the knowledge of the rules upon which the system works and from the acceptance of the authority of court judgements. Apart from the legal safeguards of professionalism, workers in the justice system are also required to have a specific moral aptitude and a certain conduct. Starting from these particular requirements and by the outcome of the various corruption trials and election petitions in the country since the return of democracy, 90% of Nigerians think judicial integrity has been impaired by corruption. 

Corruption has been an extensively used concept for many years in Nigeria and elsewhere, with an effective fight against the phenomenon considered a prerequisite for the very existence of the rule of law, as well as an indicator of good governance. Integrity in the public system, corruption and the fight against corruption are all phrases that now stand for a whole range of behaviours that have made room for themselves in the common vocabulary of politicians, NGOs, mass-media or the general public, whose sensitivity towards the phenomenon has grown considerably.

Every court in the country has justice as its putative goal; every judge in the land should see these people as aligned with their job. Many judges do see their job as one of protecting and preserving justice in Nigeria but increasingly, the incentives in the system cut against such a noble attitude. Electoral system has been under serious attack by corrupt judiciary which has given rise in most cases; bad leaders as elected officers. Corrupt judicial system has been foot-dragging the country in its democratic journey as various election victories are upturned not on merit but by the pocket size of the petitioners or respondents as the case may be. Justice corruption has harmed the most important social values, considering the fact that the legal system is designed exactly to ensure the supremacy of the law which entails, among other things, the prosecution and bringing to justice of corruption offences. 

After each election in Nigeria, the judicial businesses open in court where a governor or elected officer who won his election by the popular votes of the people had to spend millions and in some cases, billions of Naira belonging to the public in defending such victory or a candidate rejected by the people at the poll turned out to be the governor or elected officer on the backing of cash through corrupt judicial system. 

There were high profile cases of fuel subsidy scam where some selected politicians, their sons and cronies collected billions of naira from the government for petroleum products they never imported. Two former PDP chairmen’s sons were involved, there was a case of a House of Representative member then, heading a committee to probe persons involved in oil fraud but the honourable member was caught collecting bride and shamelessly deposited the dollars bride in his cap as captured by CCTv and the latest on that case was that the petitioner did not turn up in court.

There was a case of embezzlement of two hundred billion naira Agricultural grant by public officials and politicians in this country who used their share of the fund in building hotels and estates but investigation brought out nothing even while alleged culprits were charged to court. The recent judgement by the code of conduct tribunal which acquitted Saraki, the recall of judges who were suspended because of their allege involvement in corruption by the NJC, the non conviction of persons allegedly involved in arm scandal and so many other high profile criminal activities involving top government officials and politicians were the reasons while young Nigerians took to the social media calling for the release of the notorious kidnap kingpin’ Evans of recent. Some say by hiring good judge, Evans can be set free irrespective of his confession to the crime.  In this country, a 31-year-old man by name Kelvin Ighodalo was sentenced to 45-year imprisonment by an Osogbo High Court for stealing N50,000 Sony Ericsson phone belonging to Governor Rauf Aregbesola. Last week, a 23-year-old boy identified as Tope Abiodun, was sentenced to death by hanging by a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for stealing an android LG phone valued at N87, 000. In Sokoto and other part of the Northern Nigeria, many poor thieves have had their arms cut off for stealing goats or ram on the court pronouncement. Courts have been very quick in convicting thieves who stole wrist watches, Jewries, food items belonging to their bosses but never able to convict those who are looting the country dry for flimsy excuse of lack of water-tight evidence. Thieves steal to survive while looters loot to kill the poor. The Judiciary has become notorious for corruption to a level that Court prosecutors routinely demand bribes in return for not opposing bail. It has lost integrity and has nosedived into a marketplace where a hundred thousand naira can quash a murder conviction. In our Court today, seventy thousand naira can secure acquittal on a rape charge. 35% of the Nigerian Prison Inmates were wrongfully imprisoned because they could not afford to pay a bribe.

Due to lack of political will, our courts in the past have been exempted from the same level of scrutiny as parliament and our politicians, even though there have been pervasive, corporate attack on judicial integrity, and what has come to fore today is that a lack of aligned interests, secrecy, and corruption are eroding our judicial system. Today, the scales of justice; whether criminal or civil matters weigh nothing but gold and cash. Judicial junkets” are now all too common; during these junkets, judges are now given lavish corporate vacations under the guise of education and training, and even have investments in land and industries by clients who broke the banks to get justice with significant decisions pending before their courts. Talk about misaligned incentives. One of the judges of the Nigerian Supreme Court was accused of corruption; even travelled to far away United Arab Emirates to collect bribe and in foreign currency. 

The resilience of any political system are tested by the four key elements of visibility, integrity, choice and aligned interest but the judiciary is locking us in a national prison of injustice as these elements are all increasingly missing from our corporate funded courts today as a result of pervasive corruption. 

The prevention and combating of corruption in the justice system is a priority objective in system reform by any serious government, in the broader context of the national level fight against the phenomenon. 

In Ghana, In August 2015, a journalist; Anas Aremeyaw Anas revealed that he had evidence showing judges demanding bribes and sex to influence judgements in court cases and without wasting much time, the regulatory body for judges in that country took “prompt and resolute” action to “redeem” the image of the judiciary. 34 judges and magistrates were thoroughly investigate and in December 2015, the Chief justice of the country announced the sack of 20 judges and magistrates for collecting bribes which he said has brought the judiciary into disrepute. That cannot happen in Nigeria; accused persons would be set free for ‘no case’. 

From the standpoint of the vulnerability to corruption and of its social impact, the justice system remains one of the most sensitive and visible areas in this respect. The need to develop and implement a set of adequate corruption-combating policies in the justice system has become increasingly imperative and starts from justice-seekers, to whom a fair judicial system is a fundamental right, and to magistrates and other categories in the system that are more and more exposed to public criticism. While commending the present administration of Muhammadu Buhari for his political will in fighting corruption, it will be a gross exaggeration to say this government is winning the war against corruption because there is lack of support from other arms of the government. The battle cannot be won if the judiciary is not cleansed of corruption.

– Onogwu Isah Muhammed

Lokoja, Kogi State


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