Count Buhari among the judges
By unleashing the Department of State Services (DSS) on some judges, President Muhammadu Buhari has succeeded in portraying the nation’s judiciary as reeking of corruption. The clampdown which has rightly provoked so much condemnation is a manifestation of the president’s long-held notion that the corruption of the judges has been an obstacle to the successful prosecution of his anti-corruption campaign. But there is one fact that must be remembered in the raging debate about the appropriateness or otherwise of the action of the DSS since the judges do not have immunity against investigation – the president’s complicity in the alleged misdeeds of the judicial officers. For while it is true that the allegations of corruption against judges and lawyers predate the emergence of Buhari as president, the brazenness of the perversion of justice that riles him is only reflective of the current era of the collapse of the sanctity of the constitution that Buhari and his government have precipitated.
To be sure, we are all outraged at the judiciary’s loss of a moral compass that ought to guide its activities and therefore through every pronouncement reinforce the notion that it is the last bastion of justice for the common man. Rather than deterring corruption, the Bench and the Bar have become ready sources of its perpetuation in the society. Lawyers bribe judges for their clients to win cases. Justice is now for the highest bidder.
Politicians who empty the public treasury are allowed to plea-bargain and go home to enjoy their loot. Those who steal their organisations’ money to buy property all over the world are allowed to recover from phantom ailments in luxury hospitals while the shareholders suffer penury. But the poor person who steals a phone is sentenced to many years in prison without even an option of a fine.
With the return of democracy, corruption in the judiciary has become democratised. The numerous disputes over elections have become opportunities for judges to amass wealth. The late Justice Kayode Esho once alerted us to how some judges had become billionaires by giving judgements that were paid for.
The citizens are apparently left in a situation where they are helpless. The National Judicial Council (NJC) that ought to sanction errant judges appears to be doing nothing. In fact, by its inaction, the NJC seems to be encouraging corruption in the judiciary. For in a ludicrous appearance of disciplining the corrupt judges, what the NJC does is just to quietly retire them to go home and enjoy their loot. It is this impunity that has made judges to grant some people accused of corruption perpetual injunction against prosecution for their financial excesses while in public office.
But Buhari is not different from the judges. Bags full of bribes in dollars may not have been found in Buhari’s residence, but he has equally violated the constitution like the judges. For the same rule of law that bars the judges from using their offices to collect bribes and thwart the course of justice is also supposed to prevent Buhari from perpetrating impunity. Buhari has refused to release those the rule of law says should enjoy their bail. Or is Buhari saying that his incarceration of a former National Security Adviser (NSA) Sambo Dasuki and Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of pro-Biafra group Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) is not as iniquitous as the alleged corruption in the judiciary? The constitution of the land that Buhari swears to uphold requires him to protect the citizens. Yet, Buhari has always violated this. This is why the citizens are mowed down by Fulani herdsmen without Buhari punishing the culprits and guarding against the recurrence of such killings.
Instead of the Bench and the Bar kicking and pretending to be shocked at the arrest of the judges, they must realise that the development is an urgent reminder of the need for Buhari, judges, lawyers and other citizens to really check impunity in the society and allow the law to rule. The Bench and the Bar should be concerned with how to return the judiciary to its glorious days. Those were the days when Akinola Aguda was the chief judge of Botswana, Udo Udoma, chief judge of Uganda and Teslim Elias, Charles Onyeama, Bola Ajibola, among others, were all judges of the International Court of Justice and other tribunals. These global institutions did not covet their services simply because of the professional excellence of the members of the Bench and the Bar but also of their integrity. Instead of waiting for another arm of government to remind it of its corruption, the judiciary should activate its mechanism for disciplining errant members. The judiciary must not be for people who are morally deficient. The Bench and the Bar should ensure that what would make one thrive in the judiciary is a combination of competence and character. Unless they consider this imperative now, they would still make themselves available to be used by the executive to pervert justice and the executive would later turn around to accuse them of corruption. In that case, the raid by the DSS of the homes of Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court in Abuja would only be the beginning of the cruel demystification of the judiciary.
Buhari must realise that while a fight against corruption is necessary, it cannot be prosecuted in isolation of the laws of the land. In the first place, the fight against corruption is in the defence of the constitution. Therefore, if Buhari really wants to defend the constitution, he must make such a defence holistic. He must set the tone by obeying court judgements. Indeed, he can signal his sincerity in this direction by releasing Dasuki and Kanu to enjoy their bail. He must have the confidence that the laws of the land are adequate to get justice for the nation in the bid to recover stolen money and adequately punish the looters. He must not resort to self-help by treating the law with disdain and detaining those the courts have granted bail. For such impunity is not different from that of the judges who use their own offices to serve their own interests. In this regard, Buhari should allow the DSS to carry out its functions in line with the rule of law; he must not encourage the agency to be involved in acts of illegality just to satisfy his whims and caprices. After all, shortly after Buhari emerged as president, he purged the agency of some people he considered not to have operated in line with the rules of the profession and who were rather beholden to the executive. Buhari cannot tread the same path of impunity and still think he is different from the judges he is now relentlessly stalking.