EDITOR’S SUITE :: JUDGES ADJUDGED?
“A nation can thrive under disbelief but not on injustice” – Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio
The above quotation from the nineteenth century great Islamic scholar, Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, summarizes the prerequisite of justice for any society to progress. Law is a noble profession reserved for the learned and a judge is a qualified lawyer who has professional experience with impeccable conduct and high moral standards. The judiciary evolved in Nigeria drawing from the wealth of colonial jurisprudence and the exemplary decent lifestyle of their colonial forebears. The inherited values of the judiciary earned independence and integrity for fairness and justice.
The democratic polity Nigeria recognizes the judiciary as an equal arm of government so it is agreed that any form of interference is unethical. The status quo remained the same for 56 years of our national history but recent happenings have gradually eroded the latitude of confidence and trust. The judgment of perpetual injunction against prosecution granted ex-governor Odili is an eye opener. This judicial pronouncement is a clear aberration of the principles of law and unsubstantiated by the tenets of public service but all stakeholders were quiet till the window of appeal closed on expiration.
Celilia Ibru who used public deposits in her bank to acquire properties worth over 190 billion naira all over the world only spent four months in the hospital as her prison sentence.
Precisely on January 28, 2013, news emerged that one John Yesufu Yakubu, one of those criminals who stole the police pension funds that ran to the tune of 32.8 billion naira was handed a paltry jail term of two years. But he would as well go home and enjoy his loot if he paid a paltrier sum of 250,000 naira as fine. Other says 750,000 naira. This is immaterial. The news also that he forfeited 325 million naira in properties to Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) is irrelevant. Haba! 325 million is just a 0.0099 fraction of the looted 32.8 billion. Those who deal in numbers know that this is insignificant.
A 49-year-old Mustafa Adesina was sentenced to two years in jail in Abeokuta for stealing vegetables worth 5,000 naira. He would only evade prison if he paid the sum of 10,000 naira as alternative to the jail term. Yes, 10,000 naira fine for 5,000 naira crime, but 250,000 fine for 32.8 billion naira theft.
Comparing what Yesufu and the big criminals before him got as convictions to the punishment handed down to petty thieves across Nigerian courtrooms, it became clear that punitive judgments in Nigeria is not for the rich and the mighty.
There are many controversial electoral judgments that raised eyebrows and the spectacular political judgments that were rotating the chairmanship of PDP between contending parties. The opposing judgments were coming from coordinate courts and was almost embarrassing the judiciary to point of disrepute, according to the CJN during the last NBA congress.
The penultimate weekend was eventful for the DSS operatives who invaded and searched the abodes of some judges on account of perceived foot-dragging by the NJC. As it emerged, the regulating judicial body had received many petitions from the DSS without taking any action.
The check on judges by the DSS is granted by the presidential proclamation of 1999 which vested the powers of a senior police officer on the DSS operatives in circumstances of searches and allied investigation procedures but such functional discharge is unprecedented and stunning revelations were unearthed. Tons of money in local and foreign currencies was found in their houses.
The pouncing upon judges by the DSS was greeted by diverse opinions by Nigerians. Some Nigerians believe the sanctity of judges deserves preservation and should not be discounted by the insult of DSS search. Some others believe the judges deserve no special consideration when criminality is smelt in any situation.
Irrespective of the onus of honor placed on the judges, the quantum of money found in the house of the judicial officers calls for explanations because it is out of place for judges who should know the law to run foul it. Certainly they have breached the nation’s anti-money laundering and other laws unjustifiably. He who goes to equity must go with clean hands so the judges’ conduct should truly be above board in all ramifications. However the judges have collectively attributed the DSS action to witch-hunting, an attempt by the executive arm of government for unsubstantiated bribe refusal from Rotimi Amaechi for judgment trading.