The Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) has come out strongly in defence of President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent expression of frustration with the activities and performance of the judiciary on the prosecution of his government’s anti-corruption campaigns.
The President’s comment was roundly criticized by not a few selfish lawyers, blank social commentators as well as incurably biased politicians.
In a statement by CSNAC, signed by its Chairman, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, the coalition asserted that “some of the critics can be excused for their ignorance and naivety but majority are hypocrites and opportunists who would seize every chance to undermine the anti-corruption fight.”
For CSNAC, “in this majority are those lawyers equally culpable in the alleged corruption in the judiciary. It is a known maxim that ‘it takes two to tango’. The corruption of the bench is true and with the active collaboration of lawyers.”
CSNAC notes that the Nigeria Bar Association President, Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN), was recently reported to have joined in criticism of Mr. President. “The NBA condemns in its entirety the generalization and or categorization of the judiciary as being corrupt and impediment to the zero corruption policy of the present administration”. He also “pledged the support of the bar to resist any attempt to intimidate or harass the judicial officers”.
CSNAC in response to Mr. Alegeh said it “wishes to avert the mind of the NBA president to stronger statements made by lawyers and justices alike on same allegation of corruption of Judicial officers in the recent past”.
The group reminded the bar president of his personal statement at the special session of the Supreme Court, marking the commencement of the 2015-2016 legal year and the swearing-in of the latest Senior Advocates of Nigeria. Mr. Alegeh had said: “It is indeed very worrisome that certain judicial officers still engage in rendering judgments for a fee”. Going further, the president of the lawyers’ association said “Instances abound where judicial officers have resorted to turning the law on its head and making pronouncements which are at variance with the provisions of the law.”
Not stopping at that, Mr. Alegeh also reaffirmed his allegations with a more damning conclusion: “A few others have formed the bad habit of ignoring judicial precedents even when such authorities are brought to their attention by counsel. This trend is quite injurious and erodes the confidence reposed in the judiciary by society. The association would take the matters as prima facie evidence of corruption”.
CSNAC therefore wonders: “who and what can best describe the rot in the judicial system than Mr. Alegeh as reported? There is an obvious missing link between the latest criticism of President Buhari’s comment and the previous assertions by Mr. Alegeh.
CSNAC “demands consistency, sincerity and patriotism from stakeholders for the current government to successfully free the country from the strangle hold of corruption.
In a similar vein, a former president of the bar, Mr. J.B. Daudu SAN, in the past was reported to have “described some judges as courier, accusing some eminent retired justices of being the midwife between serving justices and litigants to sell judgements”.
CSNAC reminded the public of a previous warning by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, that judicial officers should abide by the code of conduct for judicial officers or be removed from the judiciary. This was at the induction of appointed high court judges and khadis at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) in Abuja. He said “the judiciary is now more prepared to rid itself of corrupt officers inflicted on her by unscrupulous, fraudulent and corrupt persons occupying judicial offices in Nigeria.” CSNAC opines that “President Buhari’s expression was a sheer echo of all these severally stated facts already known to the public and leadership of the bar and the bench.”
Honourable CJN had challenged the Bar President on his allegation of corruption in judiciary and further accused lawyers of conspiracy. In the words of the CJN: “I regard as unfortunate unguarded comments of some prominent members of the Bar that the judiciary is corrupt. Such comments coming from the members of the Bar means that they know the identity of the corrupt judges and as such, they should fish them out to be dealt with by the National Judicial Council (NJC).”
CSNAC joins the CJN in challenging leaders and members of the bar to rise up to their calling as ‘ministers in the temple of justice’ and expose those known corrupt judges.
Finally, CSNAC “reminded the bar association of the lifetime national and professional burden on its shoulders, in the ongoing fight against corruption which can only succeed with the collective partnership of all stakeholders. Not only has the president stated the obvious on the impediment constituted by judicial officers in the fight against corruption, he has further reminded the leadership of the bar, and the bench alike of the pervasive corruption pervading the judiciary.”