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CJN, corruption and the judiciary

The vexed issue of corruption amongst judicial officers once again took the centre-stage at a thanksgiving service organised for the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, at the Methodist Church, Nigeria, Abuja Diocese. The occasion afforded the CJN an opportunity to bare his mind on this matter that is questioning the integrity of the judiciary in the country.  To check the problem, he advised Nigerians to petition the National Judicial Council (NJC) on the corruption and other unprofessional conduct of judges. He also advised the people to take advantage of relevant institutions and report all allegations of corrupt practices against judges, instead of smearing the image of the judiciary with unsubstantiated allegations in the mass media.Averring that the judiciary was under threat, Onnoghen took exception to the allegation made by Senator Uche Ekwunife that the judiciary robbed her of her mandate. In a statement signed by his Senior Assistant on Media, Awassam Bassey, he urged the senator to petition the judges she accused of corruption and unprofessional conduct with necessary documents to support her allegation, and forward them to the NJC.  He said that employing such well-established institutions and avenues to seek justice is in the best interest of the country and the government’s ongoing war against corruption.Taking the CJN’s advice will serve as a check on the judiciary, which, even though seen as the bastion of democracy and the “last hope of the common man”, has come under a blanket of suspicion bordering on corruption and other unprofessional conduct. It cannot be gainsaid that public confidence in the Nigerian judiciary is waning. There is need to clean up the rot to restore the faith of the people in the judiciary.Therefore, the advice of the CJN is in order. Nigerians should cultivate the habit of reporting the improper conduct of judges to the appropriate agencies, especially the NJC. This will help to reduce the incidence of corruption in the judiciary. But, adequate sanctioning of erring officials is very important. For emphasis, item 21 paragraph (b) of Part 1, Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution says that the NJC should “recommend to the President the removal from office of the judicial officers specified in sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph, and to exercise disciplinary control over such officers.”Sadly, notwithstanding this provision, it has been difficult to rein in corruption in the judiciary, even though some judges, including a Justice of the Supreme Court, are currently facing trial over allegations of corruption. It does appear that the inadequate application of the aforementioned item 21(b) of the first part of the Third Schedule is the reason it has been difficult to rein in corruption in the judiciary.This provision, which simply states that an erring judge should be recommended to the President for removal from office, is not far-reaching enough. Perhaps, the antidote against corruption on the Bench, apart from the removal of erring judges from office, is to charge such judges to court after their removal. They should be tried and, if found guilty, incarcerated like common felons. This, we believe, will be a greater deterrent to corruption on the bench.We call for an amendment of this provision. If our democracy is to survive, and justice dispensed without fear or favour, no judge should be corrupt, because the judiciary is so important to democracy. People should be free to approach the courts with confidence. Unfortunately, there have been reported cases of some judicial officers hobnobbing with politicians. This can only erode public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.Like Caesar’s wife, judicial officers should live above aboard. They should avoid acts that tend to drag their image and that of the judiciary in the mud. We urge the NJC to treat petitions referred to it expeditiously, and without fear or favour. The country needs a transparent judiciary and honest judicial officers who can at all times inspire the people’s confidence in all arms of the justice system.Source : Sun

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