The cow is sacred no more
In my ombudsman column for the Trust titles last month, I wrote at length on what should be the role of the media in the anti-graft war at this point in time. I thought it was no longer sufficient for the media to simply feed at the trough and give back to the public the findings of the anti-graft agencies. It was time for the media to go rogue and become effective partners in digging for the truth. Indeed, my column was titled Dig for the Truth.
I wrote: “The press should take up the challenge of looking into institutions that have been repeatedly accused of corruption. The judiciary readily comes to mind here. It should be possible for the press to interrogate this second leg in our three-legged system of government. Today many Nigerians believe the temple of justice reeks of dog poop. Perhaps, the truth is exaggerated; perhaps the truth is even worse than what we know so far.”
I am sure the editors of the Trust titles were giving my suggestions some serious thought when, quite suddenly, the wind blew and exposed the rear end of the chicken. Even in a nation inured to shock, this was too much for much it. Yet, I am sure we have no seen the worse cases unearthed by the EFCC in the judiciary yet. We now know that not one institution in our country is clean; no, not one. The love of money and graft rule.
We are all still trying to come to terms with what confronts us here. It is no small problem. We have nowhere to turn to now. We cannot turn to our politicians because they steal and steal with pride. The anti-graft war is essentially a determined attempt to either recover what they have stolen or to prevent them from stealing more and more and bankrupting the nation. We cannot turn to our self-anointed men of God because their cassocks are soiled with graft and perfidy. Now, we cannot turn to the temple of justice because we now know our judges do not dispense justice but don the wig and the gown to fleece those who go before them in search of justice.
The professional conspiracy theorists have been consulting their worry beads, wondering if this is about ethnic cleansing but their usual spin has since gut stuck. It is not difficult to see why this level of corruption has crept up on the judiciary and managed, quite remarkably to shock the nation. With inexplicable naivety, we have treated the judiciary like the most sacred cow in the land. We did not seem to believe that there were greedy men and women in the institution whose personal as opposed to their professional brief is to go in there poorer and come out stupendously wealthy. We forgot that the men women on the sacred bench are fellow Nigerians and that they are neither deaf nor blind to the rule of money in the land. They too want to live well; not many people want to get to heaven before enjoying what life this side as to offer, you see?
I have been a consistent advocate of cleansing the judiciary to rid it of the very vermin. Times without number I had argued that the anti-graft was bound to fall on its face – unless the judiciary was given a shake up. In one of the columns I urged President Buhari to Bell the Cat. The president had admitted at a town hall meeting with Nigerians in Addis Ababa last year that the judiciary had become his headache in the anti-graft war.
Buhari was shocked that the Nigerian judiciary, in this national climate of change, has not quite woken up to its own vital role in the president’s determination to sanitize and clean up the society. The simple explanation is that the hands of justice are soiled in the temple of justice. It is weighed down by corruption.
In a column I wrote for Blueprint newspaper last year, titled Buhari and the Augean Stable, I made the following points: “The judiciary should be Buhari’s most trusted partner in the anti-corruption war. Sadly, this institution has a scrappy record in rising up to the challenges of serving God, not Mammon. Our peculiar attitude to the dispensation of justice has saddled us with a peculiar judiciary in which cases go on for ever. The crooks and their crooked lawyers and equally crooked judges tie them down.
“No one can pretend to be unaware of the corruption in the temple of justice. In all generalisations, the good and the ugly are lumped together. There are decent judges and decent lawyers who are truly committed to their sacred duty of making the temple of justice the true temple of justice. They resist the temptation to soil their hands. But by and large, the bulwark against tyranny and the refuge of the common man has become a hollow institution suffocating the common man and protecting the smart crooks and criminals.”
Buhari cannot afford to treat the judiciary like a sacred cow. I think the president now appreciates Its capacity to sabotage his anti-graft war. Buhari recognised the problem in the judiciary before he took office in May last year. In his inaugural speech, Buhari said: “The judicial system needs reform to cleanse itself from its immediate past. The country now expects the judiciary to act with dispatch on all cases, especially corruption, serious financial crimes or abuse of office.”
I believe we are in some luck. The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mr Justice Mahmud Mohammed, is, if you would pardon a hackneyed phrase, on the same page with the president here. He is not happy with what is happening in the judiciary or the laws that the judges are called upon to interpret. The country’s most outspoken chief justice so far has been speaking about corruption in the system and the inept prosecution of cases by the anti-graft bodies. I have not heard anyone challenge his view that the anti-graft bodies are uniformly inept in their prosecution of cases because they choose, against all legal wisdom, to make their prosecution of cases investigation-based, not evidence-based. In desperation, they go on a fishing expedition by criminalising, in the case of former government, whatever contracts they awarded while in office. If you throw in crooked lawyers, some of whom carry Ghana-must-go bags full of cash to the crooked judges, into the mix, you have a judiciary whose hands are tied by its own perfidy. Such a judiciary cannot serve the ends of justice because it too has become a complicated problem in the dispensation of justice. Its urgent reform cries to the heavens.
Mr. Justice Mohammed has minced no words about the fact that the judiciary is not living up to its billing as the temple of justice. He said recently: “There is need for an overhaul of the Nigerian judicial system in order to render it fit for the 21st century circumstances; there is need to ensure that justice is quick and inexpensive. Litigation has become slow, costly and highly inflating, especially given their complexity, endless interlocutory applications and potential for acrimony.”
No one could put it more strongly or more aptly than that. Both the president and the chief justice have agreed on the need to clean up the judiciary. So, what is stopping them?
In my Blueprint column I quoted at length earlier, I noted there was need “to shake up the judiciary to bring it up to speed with contemporary societal demands for justice. The vice-president, Professor Osinbajo, a great law scholar and law administrator, should be given this important task. The bench is full of men who have no business being there, pretending to be dispensing justice according to the laws of the land. They are only selling justice to the highest bidder because their primary objective on the bench is to make money through means crooked and corrupt. As I pointed out in this column not long ago, if we lose the anti-graft war this time, corruption would be fully entitled to a red carpet welcome.