Nigerian Judiciary

…in line with the cardinal agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation shall ensure that every appearance of corruption in the judiciary is dealt with, among other measures, through criminal prosecution and forfeiture to the State of illegally acquired assets. Acts of judicial impunity will also not be condoned, so that our judges can be accountable at all times in a corruption-free judiciary, which is both independent and impartial.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has brought us together to launch its report, Go and Sin No More: Corrupt Judges Escaping From Justice in Nigeria which highlights judicial corruption and the impunity of corrupt judges, whilst condemning the lack of judicial accountability in Nigeria.

Notably, the title of the report was partly taken from the words of Jesus Christ when he delivered an allegedly adulterous woman from her accusers, as recorded in the Gospel according to Saint John, Chapter 8 verses 10 and 11, which reads: “… when Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” (Italics supplied for emphasis). Many questions have been asked among theologians on the interpretation of the foregoing words, which has equally been interpreted by different biblical scholars over the years. Whilst I am not pretending to be one, nevertheless I can simply deduce that Jesus neither accepted sin nor condemned sinners. A corollary to this in our criminal justice system is the fact that every citizen is constitutionally guaranteed a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. More so, our criminal justice jurisprudence is not only about punishment.

In reality, it cannot be over-emphasised that systemic corruption and impunity is prevalent in Nigeria; and that it cuts across all sectors of the society, unfortunately including the judiciary! This is an institution that is universally believed to be the hope of the common man. Ideally, the judiciary in a democratic state ought to be accountable less to the public’s opinions and more to the public interest. It should discharge its constitutional roles by being principled, independent and impartial. The judiciary’s one and only mandate should be to deliver justice without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. The world over, the rule of law, and separation of powers which are inseparable components of a democratic government, presupposes the existence of an independent and impartial judiciary.

Unfortunately the trust reposed in the Nigerian judiciary is often betrayed on the altar of corruption or other conducts incompatible with the exalted office of a judge. Although, there have been cases of the removal of some judges for acts unbecoming of judicial officers, often times upon the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) in line with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which empowers the president to remove a judicial officer from office on the recommendation of the NJC. Nevertheless, in reality, on a comparison between the widely reported cases of corruption in the judiciary vis-à-vis the records of judicial officers who have actually been punished, it would appear as if Nigerian judges enjoy total immunity from prosecution for corruption (and allied offences), whereas judges are not immune from discipline for any misdeed, let alone for corruption.

…considering the pivotal role that they play in the administration of justice, it is important to ensure that Nigerian judges, like the proverbial Ceazer’s wife, are beyond reproach or even suspicion. Gone are the days when corrupt judges escaped from justice in Nigeria!

As we may be aware, this administration promised Nigerians that it will promptly address the challenges facing our nation in the three areas of: (a) Corruption, (b) the Economy and (c) Security. Let no one be in doubt, the legitimate expectation of Nigerians in this regard shall be met. Therefore, I am reiterating that the fight against corruption shall be total and will not exclude judicial officers who are found wanting. After all, it is beyond doubt that a corrupt judge cannot meaningfully contribute to the fight against corruption.

Furthermore, considering the pivotal role that they play in the administration of justice, it is important to ensure that Nigerian judges, like the proverbial Ceazer’s wife, are beyond reproach or even suspicion. Gone are the days when corrupt judges escaped from justice in Nigeria! We shall continuously remind our judges about the Judicial Oath to which they subscribed upon their appointment which reads as follows, “…I will discharge my duties, and perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability and faithfully in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Law; … that I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions; that I will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So help me God.”

Therefore, in line with the cardinal agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation shall ensure that every appearance of corruption in the judiciary is dealt with, among other measures, through criminal prosecution and forfeiture to the State of illegally acquired assets. Acts of judicial impunity will also not be condoned, so that our judges can be accountable at all times in a corruption-free judiciary, which is both independent and impartial. All these shall be achieved (together with partners like SERAP), without violating the fundamental human rights of the persons involved, and in line with Rule of Law and international best practices. That would be this administration’s own way of saying: Go and sin no more…!

Abubakar Malami is the Nigerian Attorney General and Minister of Justice.

This remarks were delivered during the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) Media Launch in Lagos on Tuesday, January 19, 2016.