‘DSS has painted Nigerian judiciary with a brush of corruption’
An Abuja-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Akinlolu Kehinde, speaks on the recent arrest of some judges on the allegation of corruption
What circumstances could influence a Judge to compromise judgment?
When you talk about compromising judgment, I always tell people that there is no court, except the Supreme Court. That is a final court. If a judgment is given against you and you are not satisfied, even in election matters, there is always an appeal.
I think it is the desperation of our politicians that have brought us to our knees as a nation. Our politicians are too desperate. They believe that it is a do-or-die affair. So, we should make our political offices unattractive, from the presidency down to the councillorship so that people, who genuinely have something to offer will be voted into power and not jobless people driven by ego and those who see themselves as a zonal warlords or kingmakers.
Don’t you think that the flambouyant lifestyle of Judges as some of the reasons for the arrests?
I am personally depressed and distressed at some of the reasons given by the DSS for clamping down on Judges. The question of lifestyle of Judges as some of the reasons they were being arrested, as far as I am concerned is pedestrian.
What was the yardstick used to determined the lifestyle of a Judge? Does it mean that immediately you become a Judge, you are sentenced and committed to a life of penury? Wear only one shirt and a pair of shoes as if you are an internally displaced person? That position is very insulting. We should not forget that these are men who are members of the noble profession, who have put in a minimum of 10 years post call.
What I expected security agents to do if they have any information or petitions against anybody, not necessarily Judicial officers, but also ministers, legislators or anybody in government office, is to do a very thorough and detailed investigation, invite the person and confront him with the evidence. If the person cannot sufficiently clear himself, that is when the person should be arrested. The idea of going to somebody’s house at 1:ooam is very embarrassing. Even though the person is an armed robber, you will not go to arrest him by that time when every sane person was supposed to be sleeping.
But you barged into the house of a Judge by 1:ooam when you did not receive any information that he was about to flee the country. You made a public show and rubbed every judicial officer of this country with a brush of corruption. I am not happy. I am very sad as a stakeholder in this nation and as a stakeholder in the legal profession.
I am not advocating that anyone that is wrong should be shielded, but we must get to a point where we do things in a civilised manner. We are running a democracy and the danger of what is happening now is that a message has been sent to the whole world, to all the criminals, that if they want to get millions of Naira, they should not go into kidnapping again, but they should go after Nigerian Judges, because they would find billions in their homes.
That is very dangerous. And what is the essence of trial by media? We have not had the opportunity of hearing the other side of the story. It is only the security agencies that have been reeling out figures. What is the guarantee that they were not the same people that planted the money in their houses with the intention of calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it?
What is the salary of an average Judge?
I have always advocated that poverty or low pay is not an excuse for one to be corrupt. Anybody that is corrupt is as a result of that person’s low esteem. But we must also not forget that we all go to the same market. We all send our children to the same school. And I keep saying that a society receives what it gives. I do not know their pay, but if they are not well paid and you expect them to sit over cases involving billions of naira, when their minds are not strong enough, when they look left, right and there is no way of meeting their needs, and somebody offers them something, it will take extra strength and grace for them to refuse it.
Although, I am not making excuses for them but we must do a holistic appraisal of the system. These are people we expect to work until their dying days. The High Court Judges retire at the age of 65, while the Supreme Court gives up to 70 years, yet, there is no adequate provision for them even while they are still serving.
We know cases of Supreme Court Justices who retired at the mandatory age of 70 years and they had no house they can call their own. What sort of system is this? I will also expect the security agencies, since they are looking at serving Judges, to look at serving ministers and members of the executive, because we know too well that if there was no giver, there could be no taker of bribes.
The searchlight should be beamed on the executive and all the politicians and find out those who have the propensity to influence the Judges. If we have to cleanse the house, we must do so completely and thoroughly so that we don’t come to a point where some people are sacred cows that cannot be touched while some could be rubbished because they have no voice.
We are the voice of the judiciary and we are saying that nobody has ever treated our Judiciary the way they were treated by the DSS since our independence.
Is it true that lawyers bribe Judges on behalf of their clients?
That is also part of our problems as a nation. We make sweeping statements in order to justify our positions. I have been in service for 31 years and God is my witness, I have never asked any Judge to compromise any matter in my favour.
I stand to be challenged. It is not because I don’t know them. I have some who are my classmates, some who are my uncles, some who are my friends and contemporaries. So, this idea of making sweeping statement must be discouraged and if there is any lawyer that is found to be in any professional misconduct, we have our rules. But don’t forget that he who alleges have a burden of prove.
Let us wait and see how many of these cases they will be able to prove at the end of the day, because as far as I am concerned, what has happened was like showmanship.
How can the ugly development be managed now?
DSS must apologise to Nigerians for traumatising them unnecessarily, because there are better ways they would have handled the situation. Don’t forget that these judges are presumed innocent, until they are found guilty unless the DSS have its own court.I understand the sentiment of Nigerians, but we must not throw away the baby with the bath water. That is what is happening now.