The judiciary in the Next Level

Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state raised a salient but striking point when he blamed the corruption in the judiciary in recent times on the challenges arising from the incursion of strange elements into the nation’s legal system. Coming from a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Akeredolu’s expert opinion should serve as a wake-up call on the nation’s policy makers to do the needful.

Swearing-in four judges, namely, Bamidele Olupitan, Olajide Abe, Ademola Enikuomehin and Tope Adedipe, of the state High Court in Akure, the Ondo state capital, recently, the governor said it was sad to note that even judicial officers at the appellate courts were not immune from the malady of corruption.

“The average citizen must be able to perceive the intervention of the Bench as credible regardless of the outcome. Litigants must leave, believing that justice has been done. A judge must be a shining light to the society since his conduct and behaviour reflect the public image of the judiciary. The future of the judiciary and, indeed, the nation depends, to a large extent, on how our judges perform their duties, effectively,” he said.

It is also remarkable that Akeredolu’s observation corroborates President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration that the judiciary arm of government was yet to perform its functions to the satisfaction of Nigerians, given the reforms brought about by the Administration of Justice Act.

President Buhari stated this at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja, while declaring open a workshop for Nigerian judges organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), in conjunction with the NJI. The president also said the judiciary must take steps to ensure that it was not perceived as being partisan.

He said judges must be aware of the sensitivities of the public and take steps towards avoiding even a shred of a doubt regarding their independence. “In justice, integrity is a necessity. Hence, judicial officers and all other members of this sector must always demonstrate manifest integrity.”

Buhari advised the judiciary to be in the forefront of efforts to develop rights-based jurisprudence as an element in the multi-disciplinary approach advocated in the fight against corruption. He said as an arm of government, the judiciary had a role to play in the fight against corruption by enforcing the applicable laws.

“Critically important also is the sacred duty of the judiciary to ensure that criminal justice administration is not delayed. I am worried that the expectation of the public is yet to be met by the judiciary with regard to the removal of delay and the toleration of delay tactics by lawyers.

“When cases are not concluded the negative impression is given that crime pays. So far, the corruption cases filed by government are not progressing as speedily as they should in spite of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015 essentially because the courts allow some lawyers to frustrate the reforms introduced by law,” he said.

Buhari said the scenario such as the one he painted must change for his administration to succeed in its fight against corruption. The president said he has made the fight against corruption one of the top priorities of his administration in the hope of restoring the economy and build a new Nigeria.

He said in the face of dwindling revenues and in a bid to reposition ‎Nigeria’s economy, ‘it became obligatory to swiftly tackle two ills; waste and corruption’. He said the eradication of corruption is a joint task involving not only judges and members of the legal profession, but all Nigerians.

“The challenge is to come up with an integrated approach that balances process and substance, promote clarity to ensure a coherent and realistic formulation of objectives. To this end, the judiciary is under a duty to keep its house in order and to ensure that the public, which it serves, sees this.

“Thus, we cannot expect to make any gains in the war against corruption in our society when the judiciary is seen as being distant from the crusade. This will not augur well and its negative effect will impact all sectors of society,” he said.

He advised the judiciary to always fight delay of cases in court and to also fight corruption ‘in its own ranks, perceived or otherwise.’ “We expect to see less tolerance to delay tactics used by defence lawyers or even the prosecution in taking cases to conclusion.”

PACAC Chairman Professor Itse Sagay also lamented the incessant delays in the prosecution of corruption cases. He said the delays allow people with corruption allegations to seek new offices such as the senate or even governorship which then allowed them immunity from prosecution.

On the backdrop of the foregoing adverse contextualisation of the judiciary, we advise that President Buhari should go beyond lamentation by undertaking a holistic overhaul of the nation’s judiciary, which should encompass Akeredolu’s postulations as they appear to be quite germane. It is trite to state that the judiciary, being the most critical arm of government, must not be allowed to degenerate any further, especially as the nation enters into the next level of the war against corruption.

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