• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Buhari and the judiciary!

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For the umpteenth time, President Muhammadu Buhari, on Monday, at the National Judicial Institute in Abuja blamed the judiciary – particularly lawyers and judges for the delays in the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria. Hear him: “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.”

The President seeks to blame the judiciary and the antics of lawyers for the absence of a single conviction despite the many cases of corruption being prosecuted by the various anti-corruption agencies since he came to power over a year ago.

But we view this assertion as escapist. We recall that the president, some months ago, in a town hall meeting with Nigerians in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia alluded that the judiciary remained his main headache in the fight against corruption. He was quoted as saying then: “On the fight against corruption vis-à-vis the judiciary, Nigerians will be right to say that is my main headache for now. If you reflect on what I went through for 12 years when I wanted to be the President…In my first attempt in 2003, I ended up at the Supreme Court and for 13 months I was in court. The second attempt in 2007, I was in court close to 20 months and in 2011, my third attempt, I was also in court for nine months…All these cases went up to the Supreme Court until the fourth time in 2015, when God agreed that I will be President of Nigeria.”

True, the judiciary, like all institutions in Nigeria, is not immune to corruption and the erosion of values. There are proven cases of corruption in the judiciary and in most cases, the judiciary has often allowed the rich and highly connected law-breakers to easily escape justice while coming down heavily on the petty malfeasance of the poor.

However, we condemn the self-righteous posture of the President and his attempt to shift the blame for a single lack of conviction on the judiciary. To lay all the blame for the non-conviction of corrupt officials on the judiciary is to be hypocritical at best. The inability of government to successfully see to the conviction of corrupt officials have more to do with the incompetence and lack of grit of the Nigerian state to effectively and diligently prosecute cases against erring officials than a corrupt judiciary. The judiciary is meant to be an arbiter, a referee of sort, and is not expected to take sides in disputes. The universal principle of “he who alleges must prove” applies to the government too. In most cases, shoddy, lazy and incompetent investigation and prosecution combine to scuttle the cases of the government. That cannot be blamed on the judiciary neither can the judiciary lessen the burden of proof on the government.

What the government needs to do is to comprehensively reform the judiciary and increase and strengthen its capacity for investigation and prosecution and not the condemnation and vilification that is fast becoming a past time of the President and his party.

The judiciary is the final bulwark against a tyrannical government and the last hope of the common man. Nigerians must not and cannot allow the President and his party to cow the judiciary.

Of course there are problems with the judiciary. But the president needs to be reminded that the military – of which he headed between 1984 and 1985 – started to weaken and destroy the judiciary. He can recall how they usually govern via decrees with ouster clauses to render the judiciary ineffective and incapable of challenging their powers. They also starved the judiciary of funds and made its members reliant on, and beholden to them. Thus weakened, it was easy for corruption to creep into the institution. This is only natural as corruption is known to thrive most in weak institutions.

We urge the president to concentrate on his job and not to go seeking for who to blame for his apparent failure.