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NBA And Corruption In The Judiciary

Published by Guardian on Sun, 04 Mar 2012

WITHOUT mincing words, the allegation by the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), that some senior lawyers as well as retired judicial officers had become conduits for compromising the justice process is weighty and very grave. It ought not to suffer the so common fate of being swept under the carpet. The NBA chief made the allegation especially in relation to the election tribunals where, according to him, judges were being offered juicy consultancy by litigants, acting through the senior lawyers and retired judges, in return for 'ready-made justice' The NBA boss also frowned on frivolous cases and applications by lawyers and said lawyers involved in such practices should be prosecuted.His swipe at the Bar and the Bench emerged recently at the Supreme Court in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, during the valedictory session for the late Justice Anthony Aniagolu. Beyond tributes to an eminent jurist, the event turned out to be one of self-examination and scrutiny by members of the learned profession.The Judiciary is often described as the temple of justice and constitutes a vital component of the state, fully protected by the principle of separation of power. Its independence is deemed important to the rule of law and the liberty of the citizens. Therefore the judiciary is a venerated republican institution of the modern state. While it is to be noted that the Nigeria society as a whole reeks of corrupt practices, it is worrisome when some key institutions of the state such as the judiciary, the legendary last hope of the common man, is accused also of descending into the cesspool of corruption. It is noteworthy though that an arm of that institution, the Bar, is reflexingly beaming the searchlight on its conduct. For sure, the NBA is in a vantage position to spotlight the internal constraints and contradictions of the judiciary and its ancillaries; and to therefore act as a whistle blower in this respect. Such a role is important in the prevailing war against corruption. The act itself is worthy of emulation by other segments of our society in order to win the grueling war against corruption in the polity.It is no longer a mute affair that corruption is deep-seated in the judiciary. A few years ago, Justice Kayode Eso echoed this development when he alleged that there were judges who had itching palm and often smiled to the banks. This matter, as it were, should not be swept under the carpet by the NBA in the guise of institutional protectionism justified by the need to avoid washing its dirty lining in the full glare of the public. The allegation provides a window of opportunity to beam the searchlight on the Bar and the Bench in ways that are enduring and meaningful. Indeed, both the kettle and the pot are black and it should not be the case of mutual name-calling but one of penitence. The NBA should therefore live up to its promise to reveal the identity of the culprits.Revamping and strengthening the institutions of the judiciary is imperative for a burgeoning democracy such as ours. It is tempting to call on the National Judicial Commission (NJC) to live up to its responsibility by stepping in to sanitise the judiciary. Sadly, that agency has of late come short on credibility and has been accused of impertinence and corruption, on account of verbal altercations between its immediate past two foremost officers. Therefore, there should be some other credible ways to go about the task of restoring integrity and credibility to the judiciary. One, a constitutional amendment is required for the re-composition of the NJC for it to be alive to its responsibility once again. And two, an ombudspanel of credible personalities is desirable, to dig into the rot in the judiciary.It is important to note that the NBA has given itself a difficult task to perform. Nevertheless, we urge it to see through the proposal of an anti-corruption commission made by its president whose mandate is to among others identify corrupt people in the legal profession and the justice system. With appropriate dossier of corrupt practices, such people should be handed over to relevant agencies of the state for prosecution. While this process is on-going, it is important that they should follow up on the current allegation, and present the facts to the relevant anti-corruption agencies for prosecution. Convening the General Council of the Bar to review professional ethics will also boost its current integrity battle and should be pursued. Equally, the Chief Justice of Nigeria should set up a committee to inquire into corrupt practices among lawyers and court judges as a path to restoring the dignity of the temple of justice.
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