Incorruptible Judiciary As A Catalyst For An Equitable And Progressive Society -By Gado Ageh Gado Esq

Filed under: Democracy & Governance |

The hope of that common man, the future of the societal values and norms, the peace and stability of the Country, the conscience of the interpreters of the law and the watch of the watchers is being threatened by a dangerous and incurable (but controllable) infection in the guise of corruption with its widespread tentacles ready and willing to kill justice and to hinder the just progressiveness of the society by making justice a purchasable virtue. There is no denying the fact that no society is devoid of corruption but its surveillance is what matters in any given society of ours. For corruption is as old as creation itself. Therefore, corruption cannot be completely wipe out in any given society, sector and judiciary is not an exception. Corruption has been an issue which has equally become an obstacle to the achievement of a better, efficient and effective economic development and virile democracy globally. Corruption is not exclusively economic phenomenon but manifests in every facet of our life, in political, and other sectors like industries, banks, government establishments/institutions, law enforcement and judicial system, legislative assemblies, that is to say in both private and public sectors. Nigeria as a country is progressively being destroyed by a weapon of mass destruction in the guise of “corruption”. Not surprising, Nigeria is commonly referred to as the headquarters of the Advanced Fee Fraud otherwise known as 419. This suggests that for all rhetorical emphasis successive governments since 1999 have not placed emphasis on combating corruption. Nigeria Judiciary is a reflection of the problems in Nigeria. It is trite that justice sold is justice killed. And in the words of Seneca, “fidelity purchased with money, money can destroy.” At this juncture, it is of pertinent to define the term corruption- Corruption is the abuse of power by a public official for private gain or any organized, interdependent system in which part of the system is either not performing duties it was originally intended to, or performing them in an improper way, to the detriment of the system’s original purpose. The abuse of public offices for private gain is paradigmatic of corruption.

The role of Judiciary in nation building and in combating corruption globally cannot be over-emphasized, especially in Nigeria with its experience of long period of Military Rule and historical evidence of corruption in government. The Judiciary has a vital role to play in stabilizing and catalyzing the other two arms of government on its toes and by extension, itself. This is because the fate of the masses lies in the Court. As a mother, her arms are always open to the cries of the oppressed especially when the weather of the Executive and the Legislature seems unbearable. It is not a gain-saying that the citizens enjoyed little or no dividence of democracy in a Country like Nigeria in spite of the abundant resources at her disposal. This is due to the fact that there are no viable laws or judicial pronouncements to address their yearning plight. Yet, the political class and those that are on the corridor of power enjoyed some kind of privileges and still swooped upon even the crumbs left for the masses or the electorates to their detriment. Painfully to say that our Judiciary find itself in a state where the rich-class get away free even after diverting billions of naira whereas the poor masses rot in jail for misdemeanor offences. As if to say that there is a conspiracy among the three arms of government. The question is, is this Court still the hope of the common man? For corruption adore is destiny abort. To a large extent, all Organs of a State submit to the Judiciary. To this end it is being regarded as the last hope of the common man and by extension the society at large.

To understand the law is to understand the interpretation therein. Law is not law until being tested by the furnace of justice. And the judiciary is vested with this sacred duty of interpreting the laws enacted by the legislatures. Therefore, acts or omissions committed by the legislatures, executive and the citizens of the society must conform to a given existing law in order not to invoke the wrath of the law through the pronouncement of the judiciary. Hence, the need for such an Organ of government, that is, the judiciary, to set itself apart as a vessel unto honour ready and willing for the implementation of the cause of justice to its end. That is why there is no civilized society even in the ages past that existed without this Organ in whatsoever names it had been or is being called. Be it the council, council of elders, council of chiefs, king(s), arbitrators or judges. Where this organ of government is paralyzed, the whole society, paralyzed. Its corruption corrupts the society. It (judiciary) is the light or doom of a given society depending on the state it is in a given time. It is trite a saying that the Executive Arm are the Watchers of the Law. As it ensures the implementation or execution of an existing law in its proper order. It dictates and apprehends offenders. However, with all these vested duties of the executive arm of government, to me, I will say, the judiciary is the “watch of the watchers” as she is constitutionally bound to see that all acts and omissions conform to the law without which the person in breach will be made to face the wrath or music of the law. That is why in any given circumstance the legislatures enact laws that are not practicable by the members of a given State, the judiciary usually declare such a law enacted null and void to the extent of it inconsistency with an existing law or way of life of the people. As law does not compel the doing of the impossible. Indeed, law is the collective conscience of the society.

The need for the judiciary to remain incorruptible cannot be over emphasized. As justice and corruption are offspring of different mothers and each having it unique bearing fruits thereof. Corruption and justice cannot walk together or even come into an agreement. And if they do, justice suffers. Therefore, a judge cannot serve the cause of justice and corruption at the same time. As seen in the Jesus’ saying in the Holy Book of Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (KJV). To this end, judiciary must be seen to be administrators of justice as they are trained and sworn to be-reading and willing to say no to corruption and all it proceeds. Judges are debtors to the societal conscience. Discharging the debts is by discharging justice. And that such justice must conform to equity and law. Judges are knowledgeable men and law presumed them to know the laws to a substantial amount for the sake of justice and the society. This is because their very acts and/or omissions influence the society negatively or positively. Jesus Christ of Nazareth acknowledged this aura of theirs when he said in the Holy book of Luke 11:52 “Woe unto you, lawyers! For ye have taken the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves and them that were entering in ye hindered.” (KJV). Therefore, the right or wrong interpretation of the provisions of the law bound the society (and when a wrong interpretation is given, it will be bad for both-as it paralyzed justice and the progressiveness of the society) and such “key” of unlocking (interpreting) the intents of the legislatures is being vested in the judiciary. Moses recognized this vital role played by the judiciary and began by calling for incorruptible judges who would be impartial in their rulings. These judges must be committed enough to law and equity. And an alleged offender can only be convicted upon sufficient evidence of the existing crime. And this he said in Deuteronomy 16:18-20 “Appoint judges and officers for your tribes in every city that the Lord your God is giving you. They are to judge the people fairly. Never pervert justice. Instead, be impartial. Never take a bribe, because bribes bind wise people and deny justice to those who are in the right. Strive for nothing but justice so that you will live and take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (God’s Word). Looking at the foregoing, the progressiveness and stability of the society depends upon the administration of justice free from any external interference.

It is of paramount importance to state the hierarchy of Courts in its pursuit of justice. If justice cannot be attained at the lower cadre or court (for example, in the case of Nigeria, Area Court is the lowest court when it comes to hierarchy of courts and manned by lay men), it is believed that, it can be attained at the apex court, in this case, the Supreme Court of Nigeria (where at least five justices adjudicate proceedings). In Adegoke Motors vs. Adesanya (1983) 3 NWLR (pt.109) 250 at 274-275 where the revered jurist (Justice Chukwudifu Oputa) alluded to the finality of the Supreme Court when he said that: “We are final not because we are infallible, rather we are infallible because we are final. Justices of this court are human beings capable of erring. It will be short sighted arrogance not to accept this obvious truth.” Great to say that Moses knew of this principle of pursuit of justice until being found in wherever it is hiding. Where justice cannot be achieved by simple minds (in other words, at the lower cadre or court), it is achievable by sophisticated minds (that is, at the apex cadre or court). In Deuteronomy 17: 8-11 “There may be a case that is too hard for you to decide. It may involve murder, assault, or a dispute-any case which may be brought to court in your cities. Take this case to the place that the Lord your God will choose. Go to the Levitical priests and the judge who is serving at that time. Ask for their opinion and they will give you their verdict at the place that the Lord will choose. Do what they will tell you. Follow all their instructions carefully, and do what they will tell you in their verdict. Do exactly what they tell you to do in their decision.” It is pertinent to state that there are factors behind every fact as said by Prof. Dakass C.J. Dakass (A prof. of Law at the federal university, Plateau State of Nigeria). In agreeing with the above statement, one will dare say that the philosophy behind the facts of appeals or hierarchy of courts in its pursuit of justice is to see that justice is found wherever it is hiding and to administer it without fear or favour and to both commons and lords alike. The Bible says in Colossians 3:25 “But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.” (KJV). For that is the whole duty of the judiciary. Furthermore, to put the lower courts justices or judges under checks and to ensure their update of the knowledge of the law and decisions of superior courts of record. It is of great importance to say that in line with the above dictum of Justice Oputa in the above case of Adegoke Motors, justice can be wrongly administered innocuously especially where a judge gives his judgment per incuriam (not being fully aware of the position of the law as at the time of the judgment) since judges are humans capable of erring. Therefore, one will not be out of place to say that where the judiciary enveloped itself with the ills and proceeds of corruption, it has totally taken itself from the just cause and path of justice. Hence, it has become legally blind and corrupt and a lost vision

The judiciary has a critical role to play in the area of curbing corruption in Nigeria. This is important in that cases of corruption are heard by the Court upon initiation of action against corrupt officials. Thus, the judiciary are duty bound not only to see that justice is done but that is manifestly seen to be done. It is significant to note that in the case of Re:Olafisoye (2004) 1 SC (pt I) 27 at 54, (per Niki Tobi JSC), the Supreme Court demonstrated its commitment at standing against corrupt practice within the confine of the law and its jurisdiction when it observed thus:

A corrupt society definitely will trouble the peace, stability, order and good government of the country. In a country where public officers in government freely dip their hands in the treasury and steal government money at will, the masses will complain and such complaints could threaten the stability and social equilibrium of the nation. In most nations in the world, including Nigeria, the masses abhor corruption and that is one reason, though not most important reason, why EFCC and ICPC Act were enacted.”

Thus, the crusade against corruption does not stop at the table of the legislature by merely passing the laws to curb corruption but extend to the judiciary in its inherent power to adjudicate and interpret the Constitution and other enacted laws. Corruption in the judiciary poses a grave danger not only to itself but to the foundational stone of that society. As noted in the words of the former CJN, Justice Muhammed Uwais; “A corrupt Judge is more harmful to the society than a man who runs amok with a dagger in a crowded street. The latter can be restrained physically. But a corrupt judge deliberately destroys the moral foundation of the society and causes incalculable distress to individuals through abusing his office while still being referred to as honourable.” Therefore, in order to attain an equitable and progressive society, the judiciary must rise up to its constitutional responsibility as enshrined in section 6 (6) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (As Amended) by administering justice without fear, sympathy, sentiment or favour but justice in accordance with law, fact and reality and not justice in accordance with conscience- since conscience is built upon one’s moral, educational, experience and/or ethnic background or upbringing which may be dangerous to the administration of justice as what is good to one’s conscience might not be good to the other. Hence the need for Courts of Law to divorce itself from any political or religious affiliation so that no one should be regarded as a sacred cow since we are equal before the law. Failure of which, there shall be up-rise of civil disobedience by the masses since justice being administered in the temple of justice is tantamount to a kangaroo justice where the “Rich” go scot-free and the “Poor” to the dark walls of cells. And this, will be disastrous to economic growth, harmonious existence and by extension hinders a progressive society. Hence, the secret of the growth, peace and sustainable development of any Country lies in her justice system, that is, the judiciary arm. Where faith is lost in the judiciary, anarchy, under-development and civil disobedience shall be the order of the day. As noted by—David Luban, “Equality before the law, like universal suffrage, holds a privileged place in our political system, and to deny equality before the law delegitimizes that system. . . . when these rights are denied, the expectation that the affronted parties should continue to respect the political system . . . that they should continue to treat it as a legitimate political system–has no basis.” Corrupt judicial systems not only violate the basic right to equality before the law but deny procedural rights guaranteed by the Nigeria Constitution.

Furthermore, Onnoghen JSC in the case of Abubakar v. Yar’adua (2008) 19 NWLR Pg.25 r.4 have this to say: “………… it is however clear that whatever is wrong with the system had nothing to do with the law or legal provisions but the human beings operating the system. I need not to say more….” The Holy Bible in Isaiah 59:4 in support of the foregoing philosophy says “No one calls for justice, and no one pleads his case truthfully. People trust pointless arguments and speak lies. They conceived trouble and give birth to evil.” (God’s Word). Hence there is need for judicial reforms and checks and balances among the three ties of government. In doing this, President Muhammadu Buhari led government through the Department of State Services (DSS) last year on a night-raid-crusade arrested Justice Adeniyi Francis Adetokunbo Ademola, Justice John Inyang Okoro and some other justices of the Federal High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court where huge sums of moneys in local and foreign currency were recovered. The National Judicial Council are trying their best to ensure that there is a free corrupt judiciary by engaging in the discipline of erring and corruptible judges. It is our humble opinion that, where an erring judge failed to proof his innocence of delivering a wrong judgment Therefore, it has become a clarion call on the judiciary to remain in the state of incorruptibility and to see that as a duty entrusted upon her, thereby, creating an atmosphere where citizens of different faiths, caste and creeds live together in harmony and their liberty, life, dignity and worth are protected and are not endangered. An effective judiciary guarantees fairness in legal processes. It’s a powerful weapon against corruption. But people’s experiences in court are often far from fair. In some countries, most people in contact with the courts face demands for bribes. Their payments total staggering amounts. Court efficiency is crucial. A backlog of cases creates opportunities for demanding bribes to fast-track a case. Court personnel can be paid to slow down or speed up a trial, or dismiss a complaint. Judges can also bribe or be bribed, or they can suffer pressure from above. If politicians abuse their power, they can influence decisions and distort appointment processes. Against this backdrop, people are often unaware of their rights. Or worse still, countless negative experiences can simply resign them to their fate before a corrupt court.

A range of simple reforms can prevent judicial corruption. An independent body should oversee appointments. This helps ensure they’re based on merit rather than favouritism. If the public is given proper information, we can also monitor the process. Fair judicial salaries and pensions make court personnel less vulnerable to bribery. These should reflect experience, performance and an honest track record. In the face of powerful interests, several measures can also protect judges from pressure. These include investigations of credible allegations against them, and limited liability for decisions. Court officials must be aware that if corruption is proved, they will be removed in a fair, open way. Civil society, the private sector, the media – we all have a vital role to play. We must expose judicial bias and drive reforms to increase courtroom honesty.An effective judiciary guarantees fairness in legal processes. It’s a powerful weapon against corruption. But people’s experiences in court are often far from fair. In some countries, most people in contact with the courts face demands for bribes. Their payments total staggering amounts. Court efficiency is crucial. A backlog of cases creates opportunities for demanding bribes to fast-track a case. Court personnel can be paid to slow down or speed up a trial, or dismiss a complaint. Judges can also bribe or be bribed, or they can suffer pressure from above. If politicians abuse their power, they can influence decisions and distort appointment processes.

Against this backdrop, people are often unaware of their rights. Or worse still, countless negative experiences can simply resign them to their fate before a corrupt court

An effective judiciary guarantees fairness in legal processes. It’s a powerful weapon against corruption. But people’s experiences in court are often far from fair. In some countries, most people in contact with the courts face demands for bribes. Their payments total staggering amounts. Court efficiency is crucial. A backlog of cases creates opportunities for demanding bribes to fast-track a case. Court personnel can be paid to slow down or speed up a trial, or dismiss a complaint. 

Judges can also bribe or be bribed, or they can suffer pressure from above. If politicians abuse their power, they can influence decisions and distort appointment processes.

Against this backdrop, people are often unaware of their rights. Or worse still, countless negative experiences can simply resign them to their fate before a corrupt court

Conclusively, the meaningful progressiveness of any State depends on the incorruptibility of her judiciary in the judicious and judicially administration of justice to the Commons and Lords in the Society equitably and impartially. Hence, the need for an undiluted justice in its substantial absolutism by the Judiciary becomes a necessity for an equitable and progressive society where citizens believe in its Court to administer justice free from any external or internal interference. God bless our judiciary, Amen.

Gado, Ageh Gado Esq

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