Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, sharply disagreed, on the issue of corruption in the nation’s judiciary. While the Acting President insisted that corruption had permeated the fabrics of the society, including the judiciary, the CJN asked the executive arm of government to prove that corruption exists in the judiciary.
Similarly, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, Prof. Itse Sagay, fingered the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, as cesspools of corruption, even as the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said the fight against corruption should not revolve around one person.
The quartet spoke at the opening ceremony of a two-day event, entitled National Dialogue on Corruption, organized by the Office of the Vice President in collaboration with PACAC, held at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Speaking at the event, Osinbajo said corruption had become a cankerworm which had eaten deep into the fabrics of the society. According to him, all segments of the society, including the three arms of government, are victims of the malaise. He said: “Corruption as we all seem to agree, is an existential threat to Nigeria both as a nation and as a viable economic entity. Clearly, there is no doubt whatsoever whether every one arm of government can excuse itself, every part or arm of the society can excuse itself.
But the truth of the matter is that we all know that corruption in Nigeria is systemic. “It doesn’t matter whether it is the executive arm of government, the judiciary or the legislature, every arm of government is involved in this systemic and life-threatening social anomaly called corruption. “So, I think we should leave the finger pointing, because the finger pointing is unhelpful.
What is important is that we recognise that there is a major problem here. What I’d like us to do if that is possible in the course of this dialogue, is to look at models that have worked elsewhere and to see whether these models are somewhat applicable here.
To look at best practices. The Lagos experience Recalling his experience as Attorney-General of Lagos State, Osinbajo stated that there was no reason to doubt that corruption was a common phenomenon in the Judiciary. According to him, a survey conducted in Lagos at the time revealed that most judges were corrupt. He, however, identified steps taken to sanitize the judiciary.
He said: “We can really solve the problem of corruption in this country if we adopt some of those best practices: Ensure the integrity of the entire justice system; that the judges, lawyers, clerks etc are not corrupt. Everybody is involved. How judges are appointed. Not on man know man bases.
“Aside from the DSS investigation, there should be particular test and proper investigation of candidates to be appointed as judges. In some of the systems that we inherited, the UK system for instance, there is a process of almost 17 different tests before you can become a judge of the High Court.
“The second thing is to look at the general welfare of the judges (ie the general remuneration of judicial officers). Any judge accused of any infraction must be investigated and prosecuted through the NJC to avoid political influence.” Prove your case with credible evidence —CJN
Apparently responding to the Acting President’s claim, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen tasked the federal government on the rule of law and due process, stressing that the judiciary would not be cowed into giving hasty judgments which might boomerang later. He said:
“As the head of the Nigerian judiciary, the issue of corruption is a sensitive one. The judiciary finds itself being battered left, right and center. So, what should the Chief Justice of Nigeria say on occasion like this which will not appear as if it is in defence of his institution or shielding the bad eggs, a few of which I admit exist. “I stand for the committee (PACAC) and other agencies in the fight against the scourge.
I will like us to realize that corruption thrives ( or any other form of injustice) thrives in a culture of impunity. “But the judiciary holds this principles in care because that is the only way by which you can ensure an orderly society and ensure the good and maintenance of democracy and justice for us. So, if you are to fight corruption, then you fight the culture of impunity which is an attitudinal phenomenon.
“If we allow the rule of law to reign, then you will agree with me there will be a dramatic reduction in corruption and injustice. That’s speaking for myself, that’s how I see it. “In fact, it appears the paint and the brush…it seems to be an institution that epitomizes corruption. That’s not fair; that’s not correct. A Nigerian judicial officer is a gentleman. You have gentlemen on that bench. And by the nature of that institution, the judiciary, it is crafted and designed in such a way that a judicial officer can only be seen not heard. “Not that he has nothing to say even in defence of himself?
“The institution is so painted as if we are not doing enough. Yes, we can do more. But for now, you have EFCC and ICPC for instance, building all data of cases that have been successfully prosecuted in the courts of law. So, if the judiciary is not doing well, you find out the report card from them.
“So, whatever problems that exist in the course of prosecuting their cases, let them bring them up, identify them and let us see how best we can improve on the system and not make it appear as if the judiciary is not doing anything. “If lawyers, because it takes three people to prosecute a case like I said yesterday. You have the investigator who has to investigate. You have prosecutor who has to prosecute based on the result or evidence gathered from the investigation.
“Then you have the judge who has to weigh and balance the scale between the accused person and the government, the power-that-be to arrive at a decision. “When you have a shoddily investigated case, poorly executed one and you expect the judge who is under oath, judicial oath, to do justice
to all manner of persons without fear of favour or ill will, to respect you on balancing the scale, to convict willy-nilly, this can never be done.
I can assure you of that. No judicial officer will get himself involved in that. Do you know why? Because, a Judicial officer’s witness is time. Time is the only witness to a judicial officer. So, only time can tell. Tomorrow, these things will be reviewed. He could have committed suicide by the decision he arrived at.
“I have gone through, call all the Heads of court in this country, federal and states courts and they furnished me with data on EFCC, ICPC, terrorism cases and high profile commercial cases, and one thing I can remember, funny enough, most of the cases are abandoned in the court.’’
Also speaking, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who was represented by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti-corruption, Senator Chuwuka Utazi, said: “The fight against corruption must be driven by a well-articulated strategy.
These strategies must be multi-faceted, taking alongside, all facets of Nigeria’s political, economic and social system, with each arm or department of government operating within their jurisdictions and mandates to secure a collective stakeholder stage about the fight.
“Deliberately casting the fight as that of one man, a kind of knight in shining armour, who wrestles with a resisting society, in my humble view, will not secure the desired result.
“They deliberately cast institutions of state in unsalutary hue that is divorced from reality. It does not help in confidence building, within government and across the civil population, when institutions of state are deliberately demonised in order to put the shine on others.’’
NDDC, Nigeria Customs still doing business as usual. Earlier in his remarks, chairman of PACAC, Professor Itse Sagay, frowned on corrupt practices still prevalent at the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and the Nigeria Customs Service, despite the anti corruption fight.
He also pricked the National Assembly for being a spendthrift, buying expensive cars in time of recession. He said: “Humongous sums of ill-gotten wealth have found their way to safe havens and vaults located in various countries of the world such that there is a lot of merit in the view that corruption should be considered a crime against humanity, with all the consequences arising therefrom.
“My dear friends, you will not believe that with all we are going through, the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) which is the other name for uncompleted projects, has just bought over 70 cars. Of those, about eight of them are Super Lexus Jeeps costing N78 million Naira each and about 10 are Land Cruisers costing N63 million Naira each.’’
It’s not true — NDDC But reacting to the allegation, Head of Corporate Affairs of the NDDC, Mr. Chijioke Amu-Nnadi, said in a statement issued last night the Managing Director and two executive directors were still using their private vehicles, dismissing claims that the commission had spent such amounts to acquire vehicles
“The NDDC is only now in the process of acquiring work vehicles, and is adhering strictly to due process.” These include five Toyota Prado jeeps, 10 Toyota Hilux trucks, four Toyota Landcruiser jeeps, one Toyota Coaster bus and two Toyota Hiace buses.
‘’The Commission has just received the Due Process Compliance Certificate from the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, and is preparing the mandatory memo for the approval of the Federal Executive Council.”