NJC’s punching power
The decision by the National Judicial Council (NJC) that Justice Michael Goji of the High Court of Adamawa State be placed on compulsory retirement, as well as its investigation of 25 judges incriminated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), have once again drawn the attention of the public to the critical role the judiciary plays in forming the individual’s conduct and building a safe and stable society.
The decision serves, as disciplinary action against Justice Goji for professional misconduct and insubordination, should be commended. By this action, the NJC has demonstrated its commitment to sanitise the judiciary and building the confidence of individuals and public entities who have been dismayed by negative reports about the judiciary.
The decision placing Justice Goji on compulsory retirement came on the advice of the Adamawa State Judicial Service Commission after its findings on the allegations of misconduct levelled against him. It was learnt that Goji had refused to proceed on transfer to the Mubi Judicial Division of the state high court since July 2017. In the same vein, the NJC, in response to the petitions written against 25 judges by the EFCC decided to set up seven committees to investigate the petitions.
In the last few years, events in Nigeria have come to present judges as mere hustlers in a land of lawlessness. As this newspaper recalled, the sagely candour and controlled socialisation that venerated judges’ appearances decades ago were qualities that spelt probity, impartiality and honour. To paraphrase the immortal words of Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, with courts as the temple of justice, judges seat on the high pedestal, acting in loco dei (in place of God) as they dispense justice. Perhaps, influenced by odious economic and political practices, judges are becoming vulnerable to the promptings of men and women in power. Today, the mystique of power, character and influence, as well as the judge’s sagacious comfiture, have been shattered by obscene familiarity with the casual political and social class. With incidents of leakage of judgments before delivery and ostentatious lifestyles beyond legitimate earning, judges seem as assiduous as local hustlers in joining the rat-race over mundane cravings; all to the desecration of the temple of justice.
Yet, this has not always been the case. With painful reminiscence, this same Nigeria was a country whose sagacious judges were sought after by many Commonwealth countries to take up positions as the number one judges of those countries. It was in this same Nigeria that judges forbade themselves the luxury of public social gatherings and shied away from the pestilence of sullied lucre, all because of their corrupting influence and propensity to impair moral and intellectual virtues. It was this same country that produced the erudite Teslim Elias, the incorruptible Kayode Eso, the deep and immensely knowledgeable Chukwudifu Socratism Oputa, the courageous JIC Taylor and the revolutionary Aloma Mukhtar.
Since the tenure of former Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, who first made a public show of dealing with massive corruption on the bench, there has been a steady movement of reforms in that arm of government. Her immediate successor continued from where she (Mukhtar) stopped. Justice Walter Onnoghen has taken the baton with the same vigour. Thus, the strides taken by the judiciary as strategies to curb corruption in public office and thereby redeem its image have been consistent and are commendable.
It is gratifying to know that the admonition of many informed comments, including this newspaper’s is being heeded. While we salute the courage and prompt response in disciplining erring judges, the NJC should ensure that it does not create the impression that certain judges are used as guinea pigs and scape-goats to shield the atrocities of some ‘sacred cows’ in the judiciary. In this regard, continuous ethical checks must go on as a matter of routine to evaluate the conduct of judges and judicial officers. Such ethical checks should dismantle illegal associations and cultic affinities that put the judiciary in disrepute.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the integrity of the judiciary is indispensable to the appreciation and survival of democratic culture in the country, as it is for other nations practising democracy in whichever form. However, its indispensability for Nigeria is one of utmost necessity because, of all the three arms of government, the judiciary seems to be the only bastion of hope for Nigerian. While the executive arm, especially at the state level, is driven by a culture of impunity that gives vent to incessant high-level official rascality and gross ineptitude, the absence of statesmanship, the incurable selfishness, peculiar deviousness and uncanny brinkmanship perpetrated by law makers in the National Assembly and state houses of assembly, have turned the management of the country into a circus. And like too many cooks that spoil the broth, all manner of strange bedfellows contrive dubious unconstitutional devices in the derailed steering of the state. Amidst this derailment, it is the judiciary that calls the state to order. Thus, if Nigeria loses its bearing at the judicature, it is likely that it would be thrown into complete anarchy.
Though the action of the NJC seems like a drop of water in a pond given the massive corruption in the system, it is a gallant step in the direction of morality, law and good conscience.
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