The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, yesterday, called for a review of the criteria for judicial appointments and promotion.
According to the NBA, intellectual acumen and professional integrity must be the major criteria for bench candidacy.
The legal body, which flagged-off a two-day seminar organised by its own anti-corruption commission, in Abuja, decried the mounting cases of corruption within the judiciary.
It also noted that some judges, by their decisions, tell the people and youths that it was bigger crime to steal a goat than billions of naira.
National President of the NBA, Chief Okey Wali, SAN, lamented that judges allowed litigation to continue indefinitely, while criminals walk freely.
He said: “They insensitively invoke their ‘neutral’, ‘referee’, and ‘umpire’ mantras to derail, frustrate and inhibit agile prosecution. They descend into an orgy of ‘plea bargaining’-an anomalous, amorphous, and amoebic piece of witchcraft aped from the United States.
“If you steal a goat or a thousand naira, you go to jail. But if you steal oil or a billion naira, you plea bargain and walk- a sublime piece of mysticism and nonsense!
“What is the judiciary doing in the fight against corruption? Some of them take bribes. From the worship of their worships at the magistrates’ courts, to the overlordship of their lordships at the high courts, we have elevated our judges to demi-gods. And some have arrogantly welcomed their deification.
“Such judges run their courts with despotism, even impunity. They come to court late, leave early, are absent for days. Corruption thrives in an environment of indiscipline and lack of accountability.
“Judicial appointments and promotion should attract talent from outside the formal Bar and Bench. If our civil-procedure and criminal-procedure regimes are weak, those vested in them may not always be the best people to lead or support reform.
“If our judicial arm is tainted with corruption, those steeped in its workings may not always be the best people to fight or resist corruption.
“The worst kind of corruption is judicial corruption. It is the specie that signals final decay. It is the genus that suggests societal suicide. A corrupt judiciary may continue to exist in name, but unchecked corruption denudes the judicial robe of its wearer.
“Nigeria has many lawyers of high personal integrity. Some of us know some of them. Few of them ever get a chance on the bench. This must change.
“Let me state without fear of contradiction that the most important practical way to combat corruption in the justice sector is the development of a strong political will and commitment. Without this at the national level, little can be achieved.
“Corruption is the number one problem of this country. Whether by embezzlement of public funds, appointments in public and private sector or by selective justice. What is most threatening is the impunity with which corruption is practiced in our country.
“It is attaining the status of our way of life in the country. If this country must survive, there must be concerted efforts to fight corruption both in public and private life.
“The NBA calls on the Federal Government to provide sufficient funds with a view to strengthening justice sector institutions, especially in the areas of skills and capacity.
“Amending our obsolete criminal laws, re-activation of Administration of Justice Commission, and passage into law of the Administration of Criminal Justice Bill and other justice sector related Bills pending at the National Assembly like the Police and Prison Bills is another practical way of combating corruption in the justice sector in Nigeria.”
The NBA also said it had concluded plans to open a phone-in service to encourage litigants to report corrupt judges and lawyers.
In her remarks, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, described the theme of the seminar, “Practical ways to combat corruption in the justice sector in Nigeria,” as very apt, noting that “economic mismanagement, corruption and lack of accountability and transparency have been the main reason for poor economic performance and rising poverty.”
However, the CJN, while avowing her commitment towards showing the way out to corrupt judicial officers in the country, said there was need for the improvement of the funding of the judiciary.
She said: “The recent depreciation in budgetary allocation for the judiciary portends great danger in the fight against corruption in the judiciary. Judicial officers must be comfortable to enable them discharge their duty wholly without anticipation for graft.
“Agreed, the problem of corruption is not with the bench alone but the whole Nigerian society. The painful thing however is when the judiciary which is held in the highest esteem is also allegedly infiltrated with the virus.
“Let me use this opportunity to urge all of us present here and beyond to imbibe in us the spirit of transparency, integrity and accountability in our private and public transaction in a bid to stemming corruption in Nigeria.
“Schools should return to teaching moral education to empower children with the spirit of stewardship, while adults live exemplary lives, reflecting truth, kindness, dignity of labour and integrity.” [Vanguard]