The nationwide raid on homes of allegedly corrupt judges has sparked enormous debate across the country
“I don’t think this administration is fighting corruption”, the co-guest hollered from across the table, as he made to knock off my assertion to the contrary.
He had premised his argument on the fact that not one conviction has been secured by the Buhari administration since its much vaunted anti-graft war kicked off last year.
“Well, it’s not the President’s job to convict allegedly corrupt persons”, I tendered respectfully. “We are running a democracy and it’s the job of the judiciary to convict. Which is why the President has been going on about reforming the judiciary”, I posited, hinging my argument on the principle of separation of powers in a democracy.
If I thought I had my partner exactly where I wanted him and the argument had been laid to rest, I had another thing coming.
“The President of Nigeria is powerful enough to ask law enforcement agencies to prosecute and convict anyone he wants,” my co-guest shot back.
He was indirectly asking for by-passing the laws and institutions of the land in order to secure convictions, I thought, as the show host helped me out of my misery by introducing a new subject.
Some of the quotes above have been paraphrased for clarity, but I’m sure you catch my drift.
My co-guest isn’t exactly alone in this school of thought. In various chatrooms in which I subscribe and in various social media forums, folks have called President Buhari’s war a failure because “he hasn’t secured a single conviction”.
As the Department of State Security (DSS) raided the homes of Judges last weekend in a nationwide crackdown on corruption and bribery as it pertains to the bench, I read some of these same folks call the President a dictator and the manner of the raids ‘gestapo’. We call Buhari’s anti-corruption war a failure in one breath and call him a dictator when it appears he’s making some gains, in another.
We have to really decide what we want as a people and this is instructive.
While I’d be the last to support arbitrary techniques in reining in allegedly corrupt persons, to fight corruption as this administration has said it will do, reforming the judiciary and ridding that so called ‘last hope of the common man’ of sharp practices, pay-for-rulings and all, will be a necessary first step.
Thankfully, the President subscribes to this viewpoint. On numerous occasions, he’s lamented that he’s been hamstrung by the corruption in the judiciary in waging his war against graft. He’s called for judicial reforms as a sine-qua-non for cutting down on corruption in the larger Nigerian society, everywhere he shows up.
Buhari gets it. The nation’s judiciary is mired in a cesspool of unbelievable corruption. To deny this will be playing the ostrich.
All through last weekend, as the crackdown intensified, senior lawyers told this writer that the judiciary as an institution has long lost its soul. They wouldn’t go on the record for fear of losing their jobs, but they relayed in graphic details, how Judges receive money to the tune of millions of Naira in exchange for favourable rulings.
Judgements are sold to the highest bidder in Nigeria.
It is little wonder that since Nigeria’s latest foray into democracy commenced in 1999, only few election thefts have been overturned by the bench. It is little wonder that the Nigerian judiciary couldn’t convict James Ibori, a former Governor of Delta State, but the same man has been serving jail time for corruption in UK courts for exactly the same offences that got him off the hook back home.
It is little wonder that Peter Odili, a former Governor of Rivers State, was granted a perpetual injunction request by a Judge back in 2007. That means he’ll never be prosecuted by law enforcement even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
I could go on and on.
The judiciary brought this opprobrium upon itself and shouldn’t be pitied. The National Judicial Council (NJC) which should act as the disciplinary body for Lawyers and Judges alike, has looked the other way as Judges get away with selling rulings and bail applications. In extreme cases, the NJC has shielded Judges caught in the act of corruption. Sometimes, the NJC retires these Judges, complete with full benefits.
We are never going to rid Nigeria of corruption this way. Not in a million years.
Judges and Lawyers have to realise that they aren’t above the law and that erring Judges will be sent to jail and the money and property acquired through corrupt means, stripped off them.
It may have been traumatic for the affected Judges to have their nice apartments raided by gun-toting DSS operatives at midnight, but we can’t help it no more. If fighting corruption means midnight raids before charging affected persons to court, then let’s do this.
But in fighting corruption, let the rule of law prevail at all times. I’m sure the law enforcement agencies understand this part of the deal.
To whip an omelette, cracking open a few eggs will be absolutely necessary. Go harder, Buhari.