The decision of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to purge itself of the bad eggs in its fold whose conducts have not only ridiculed the oath of office they swore but have also dented the reputation of the entire judicial system in the country is a commendable one.
The rising level of judicial corruption in Nigeria has become a source of worry to right-thinking citizens. And confidence in the nation’s judicial system has hit the all time low in recent times.
Recently, two judges were given the boot by Aloma Mariam Mukthar, chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), on the recommendation of the NJC. Charles Efanga Archibong of the Federal High Court, Lagos, and T. D. Naron of High Court of Justice, Plateau State, were fired having been found guilty by separate panels that were set up by the judicial body to probe allegations of judicial misconducts levelled against them by different petitioners.
The sacked judges and other colleagues of theirs under investigation were said to have been compromised in several cases decided by them in various parts of the country. Among other crimes, they were said to be fond of issuing contradictory injunctions in money laundering and other financially-related cases involving high profile politicians. They were also said to have formed the habit of issuing restraining order despite the fact that the cases had been heard by other judges with corresponding jurisdiction.
The recent mockery of the judiciary by Justice Abubakar Thalba of Abuja High Court in his judgment in the N23 billion fraud involving John Yakubu Yusuf, a director in the Police Pension Office, showed the country has sunk deep in the mire of hopelessness.
Yusuf entered a guilty plea and the judge ordered the forfeiture of 32 choice assets acquired by the convict and sentenced him to six years imprisonment, two years for each of the three counts Yusuf faced, or an option of N250,000 fine for each count. The convict paid the fine and walked away as if nothing happened. It is, therefore, heartening to learn that the NJC is about to bring to book Justice Abubakar Thalba for the controversial ruling.
A judge had also ridiculed the judiciary in 2009 in the case involving James Ibori, a former governor of Delta State. A Federal High Court judge in Asaba, Marcel Awokulehin, Thursday, December 17, 2009, discharged and acquitted Ibori of all the 170-count charge of corruption preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Awokulehin, it was alleged, was personally approved for appointment to lead the then newly created Federal High Court in Asaba to strike a deal with the former governor to quash the charges for a sum of $5 million. Ibori was eventually convicted of same charges in faraway London.
On several occasions, the leadership of the EFCC had raised the alarm that the judiciary was an impediment to the fight against corruption. Moreover, the plea bargain arrangement which has been introduced into the judicial system has further eroded the system. The arrangement is said to be giving criminals the impetus to up their illicit activities. A situation where big thieves are given a slap on the wrist compared to stiff penalties imposed on small thieves gives the impression that there are two justice systems. And we condemn this development in strong terms; after all, no single individual is more powerful than the entire country.