According to reports, the Federal Government has, again, justified clampdown on judges by the Department of State Services (DSS).
Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo said the clampdown was because of corruption allegations in the Judiciary and the need to rid the arm of government of bad eggs and restore its integrity and public confidence.
Between October 7 and 8, the DSS raided the residences of seven judges who were subsequently arrested and detained over alleged acts of corruption and falsification of assets.
Already, the Federal Government has charged Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) over bribery charges.
Speaking at the 2016 Fellows’ lecture and conferment of honorary fellowship of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS)in Abuja, yesterday, Osinbajo, who was also a recipient of the award expressed the need for the Judiciary to purge itself of corrupt officers so as to regain its integrity and public confidence..
He noted that one major challenge of the legal profession “is the shyness and reluctance to call erring members to order as nobody wants to be seeing as offending another.”
Prof. Osinbajo said members of the legal profession owe the country a duty of ensuring the success of the administration of the criminal justice system and added that, “the system has men and women of integrity but, the few bad ones end up defiling the whole system.”
A judge, he said, needs to be independent, to be fair and just in his decision and pointed out that it was with “a view of ensuring judicial independence that the federal government is prepared to fight corruption in the system” and charged the Bar and the Bench to be up and doing in ensuring the rule of law in the country.
“We owe ourselves a duty to restore the integrity of the legal profession, because once public confidence is eroded the judiciary has lost its integrity…”
The truth of the matter is that the judiciary has a majority of men of integrity, but a few end up dragging its integrity into the mud.
He explained that “the independence of the Judiciary is not a favour but a principle built on fairness and justice” and added that “once this is eroded, the entire system will be affected negatively. Also speaking at the event, a member of the Inner Bar, Chief Adegboyegha Awomolo advocated repeal of sections 231 and 271 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) which gives the executive arm of government the power to appoint the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chief Judges of states in an acting capacity, so as to give the judiciary its full autonomy.
Awomolo, who was the guest speaker at the event, said activities of the Professor Itse Sagay-led Presidential Committee against Corruption constitute an interference of the independence of the Judiciary, just as he noted that it was not right for the committee to have interfaced with judicial officers to the extent of identifying judges who have integrity to sit on criminal/corruption matters and said that function belongs to the National Judicial Council (NJC).
In his paper titled, “Imperative e of Judicial Reforms in ensuring good governance and accountability in Nigeria”, delivered at the event, the senior lawyer said it is not proper for the executive to appoint heads of court in acting capacity, adding that the executive arms of government has abused the constitutional provision that gives power to appoint heads of court in acting capacity.
According to him, since the executive do not play any role in the appointment of Speaker of States House of Assembly and the House of Representatives, it should also not be allowed to have anything to do with the appointment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chief Judge of States.
“There is no need for the committee to gather Judges of the Federal High Court together and train them on how to go about the functions of their office because the committee is an agent of the executive arm of the government”, Awomolo said.
The Nigeria judiciary, he said should not act, in the conduct of its duties to gain the favour of the executive arm of government but that of the rule of law to ensure good governance and accountability in the country.
The guest speaker said the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) requires “surgical reforms”, because the, “Bar has been commercialized”, and added that there is the need for the NBA to wake up to its responsibility in the interest of the country.
In a swift reaction to the stance of Chief Awomolo on the Presidential Committee against corruption, the secretary of the committee, Professor Bolaji Owosanye said what Awomolo said that the, “Committee gathered Judges in a room to give them instruction is not true.
“We have never suggested to the judiciary on who to appoint to handle matters, we only develop guidelines, in collaboration with the Nigerian Judicial Institute (NJI) on prosecution of corrupt cases in the country.