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ICPC corruption verdict unsettles judiciary

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Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC)


The dust raised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in its damning report, which indicated that the Judiciary is on top of the Nigeria Corruption Index between 2018 and 2020 is yet to settle. ICPC report had claimed that about N9.458 billion was offered and paid as bribe by lawyers to the sector.

Although opinions among lawyers are divided about this development, it has re-ignited citizens’ perception and suspicion that monumental graft is being perpetuated within the judiciary, clogging its optimal performance and dashing expectations of the common man.
 
In the report, titled: “Nigeria Corruption Index: Report of a pilot survey” the ICPC through its chairman Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye (SAN), said six female judges reported that they were offered N3, 307,444,000 billion and five male judges reported N392, 220,000million. The anti-corruption agency explained that cases of outright demand and offer of bribes were mostly linked to election matters.

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The survey was carried out by the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, the intellectual arm of the ICPC. According to Owasanoye, the Nigeria Corruption Index (NCI) indicates that both the public and private sectors are complicit in the high corruption levels in Nigeria. He said the NCI explained in details the rot in the Judiciary.

The report reads: “Overall, the justice sector had the highest level of corruption with a score of 63. The level of corruption in the justice sector was heightened by stupendously high amounts of money offered as bribes to judges by lawyers handling high electoral and other political cases. A large percentage, 73 per cent of justice sector respondents did not experience a situation of outright demand or offer of bribe. Nevertheless, it remains alarming that 16 per cent of respondents had experienced such blatant demands or offers of bribes.

“Follow up discussions indicated that the cases of outright demand and offer of bribes are mostly linked to election matters. Money involved in high-level corruption in this sector was categorized into money demanded, offered or paid. Demands are made by court officials including judges, while bribery is offered and lawyers or litigants make payments. The total amount of money reported by the Justice sector respondents as corruptly demanded, offered and paid between 2018 and 2020 was N9, 457, 650,000.

“78 respondents constituting 8.7 per cent of all justice sector respondents reported offers or payments of bribes to influence the judicial process. Out of the 78 justice sector respondents that reported amounts of money offered or paid, 63 were lawyers. This number makes up 9.9 per cent of all lawyers surveyed in the justice sector. The 63 lawyers that reported payments were mostly male being 69.8 per cent, while their female colleagues constituted 30.2 per cent of that population. In all, the total amount of money reported by lawyers was N5, 733,986,000. The amount reported by female lawyers was N918, 045,000 while male lawyers reported N4, 815,941,000 billion.”

Those amounts, it says made up 9.71 per cent and 50.92 per cent respectively of the total amount reported by justice sector respondents. Lawyers reported 60.63 per cent of the bribes offered and paid by justice sector respondents. According to the findings, the amount of money offered to judges was next in volume to payments made by lawyers.

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“In all, N3, 699,664,000 billion was reported by 11, that is 8.9 per cent of the 123 judges surveyed. Six (54.5 per cent) out of the judges that reported the offers were female, while five (45.5 per cent) were male. Although, the females were just slightly more in number than the males, the females reported a substantially higher amount of money.

The total reported by the six female judges was N3, 307,444,000 billion, while the five male judges reported N392, 220,000 million. These amounts made up 34.97 per cent and 4.15 per cent respectively of the total amount reported by justice sector respondents. Judges reported 39.12 per cent of the bribes offered and paid by justice sector respondents. The court staff reported the lowest amount of money offered as bribe to influence the outcome of a judicial process. The total amount of money reported by court staff was N24, 000,000…”, it stated.

Details of the document also disclosed the percentage of those most responsible for bribe for judgment cases as follows: Lawyers (27.17 per cent); Litigants personally (21.96 per cent) Court Staff (Clerks, Registrars etc.)—(21.54 per cent); Judges (16.88 per cent), Government MDAs (7.37 per cent); No experience on the matter (3.06 per cent); Chose not to say (1.01 per cent) and others 1.01 per cent.

ICPC also cited alteration of court documents as part of the corruption in the Judiciary. The report gave further insights into other forms of corruption in the Executive and the Legislative sectors. The private business sector, it stated ranked next to the justice sector in corruption levels. Although this sector had a score of 33 in monetary corruption, it had score of 55 in non-monetary corruption.

“The Executive and Legislative sectors had overall corruption scores of 42 and 41 respectively. In monetary corruption, the Executive sector with a score of 33 had a higher level of corruption than the Legislative sector, which had a score of 27.

“However in non-monetary corruption the Legislative sector with a score of 55 surpassed the Executive, which had a score of 51. Some of the corrupt practices found in these two sectors involved the joint involvement of parties from both sectors. “

The report indicted MDAs of engaging in corrupt practices by footing the bills of legislators on oversight visits. It also highlighted the methods being used by MDAs to perpetrate fraud.

Reacting to the report, Lagos lawyer, Stephen Azubuike, who described the pilot survey as alarming, said it gives a clear indication of what to expect from the real survey when it is conducted. According to him, the report has further dealt a heavy blow to the integrity of some of the Judgments emanating from election petition cases.

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“Corruption in the Nigerian Judiciary is like pregnancy. It can no longer be covered with bare hands. Like smoke, it has traveled with the air, escaping from narrow openings in windows and doors. Like a wild fire, it has engulfed the roof already, and we can all see from afar,” he said. 

He recalled that in October 2016, the Federal Government went against some judges including Justices of the Supreme Court in a Gestapo-style operation based on corruption allegations. “Huge sums of money were reportedly found in cash in the homes of some of the Jurists. The natural assumption was that the cash could only be a product of bribery and corruption. The assumption is not totally misplaced because monies offered as bribes are often moved in cash to avoid easy tracing associated with bank transfers/lodgments.

“Again, the Jurists are not particularly known to be involved in any trade or business involving movement of heavy cash. However, highlighting these assumptions does not settle as support for the style of operation adopted by the Government at the time. In fact, that mode of operation remains wholly condemned. Interestingly, most of the Jurists who were victims of that raid have been set free of the corruption allegations,” he lamented. 

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Azubuike said although ICPC in its report held lawyers responsible as the top players in judicial corruption, it may not precisely be so. This, he said, is because lawyers generally do the bidding of their clients, which in this case, are politicians. “The Rules of Professional Conduct require that lawyers are to execute only legitimate and lawful instructions. Thus, they cannot be totally shielded from corrupt practices. However, we must not lose sight of the real players in the corruption game – The Politicians! 

“At the risk of passing the buck, some of our politicians are the ones polluting the system because of their desperation to hijack or retain power at all cost. Politicians control the real process of appointment of judges, notwithstanding constitutional provisions on judges’ appointment. Most times, the selection process involves high-level lobbying before the lists to be presented to the President (or Governor as the case may be) by the National Judicial Council (NJC) are drawn.

“From the ICPC’s report, it does appear like the Judiciary has officially joined the merry-go-round corruption in our political climate – a climate where vote-buying is the order. Bullion vans move freely like Santa Claus, dropping “gift items” to well-behaved “children” and to some of our Judges at their doorsteps.

“We call on our Judges to be bold and firm, upholding their judicial oath and lead the way in salvaging the nation from the claws of corruption. Our Judges should never lose sight of the primary role of the Judiciary in election cases, which is to preserve our democratic process by ensuring that the wishes of the majority are legally upheld,” Azubuike counseled.

Prof Mamman Lawan of the Bayaro University Kano believes that the ICPC deserves commendation for the report. “It is always important to report corruption with a view to tackling it. On the finding that judiciary tops the list of institutions with corruption cases, I can say that I am not surprised. It is a fact that there’s corruption everywhere in Nigeria. But the one in the judiciary and of course the police are more pronounced.

“The reason for this I guess is because of their respective roles as adjudicators and law enforcers. They are expected to respect the law more. It is not surprising also considering the period covered in the report i.e. 2018 – 2020. General elections were held within the period in 2019 and election petitions followed. Litigations on political offices cannot be insulated from politics and we know how politics in Nigeria is associated with corruption. The average politician in Nigeria can offer bribe to get to or retain power,” he noted.

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The don said bribing judges is an investment for politicians, which they intend to recoup with huge profit when public resources come at their disposal. “And the average judge or lawyer may not resist a ‘poverty-ending’ bribe to satisfy a desperate politician. Unfortunately, all these happen with impunity. The sad picture the report is revealing is that we may not see a drastic reduction, let alone elimination, of corruption in the near future in the country,” he lamented.

For Dr. Jerome Okoro, judicial corruption is a personal trait of individual judges, as obtainable in any other profession, and measures against individual corrupt judges may not reverse the corruption trend. According to him, a more effective strategy would be by deterrence of the bribe givers, more than deterrence of bribe-taking judges. Judges, he said, scarcely solicit for bribes.

“It is the litigants through their lawyers, and at times, lawyers on their own, who approach and induce the judges with bribes for undeserved victory. But the appeal structure created by law is designed to preserve justice for the deserving party up to the Supreme Court, no matter who might have bribed judges along the line of the appeals. If your case is strong in law and facts, and well-built from the outset, it may be lost to a bribe giver in a corrupt high court, but there are three wise men at the Court of Appeal to remedy that, and if they fail, there are five wise men at the Supreme Court to restore justice to you.

“The chances of someone bribing his way through the whole line of appeals are slim. Sadly, the prevailing factors of delay and rigours in the Nigerian appeal system is not encouraging people to pursue appeals? Appeal processes should be made faster and less rigorous, and the numbers of judges of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court should be increased. When bought judgments are swiftly upturned on appeal, the bribe givers would be deterred, and judicial corruption would naturally go on a downward trend,” he suggested.

However, Chief Ferdinand Orbih (SAN) disagrees with the report. According to him, the ICPC report is meant to scandalize the judiciary. He advises the anti-graft agency to shun cheap sensationalism. He asked, how many judges did ICPC petition to the NJC prelude to disciplinary action and possible prosecution? In Nigeria, he said, people bandy figures without solid empirical data and/or evidence to back them up. 

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His words: “This type of cheap sensationalism does not help the system in any way. Until ICPC that is statutorily charged with fighting corruption tells us what it has done with its findings about corruption in the Judiciary, it should simply keep quiet and let us have peace. While one accepts that there is corruption in the judiciary, that should not be the excuse to paint the entire system with corruption. Singling out the rotten eggs and removing them from the system is what we should be doing. 

“The following questions arise from the ICPC report. 1. What is the report designed to achieve? The answer is not far fetched. The report is designed to scandalize the judiciary as an institution. If it were designed to form the foundation for a thorough investigation, it would not have been released yet until such investigation would have been completed. 2. Who were the female and male lawyers that confessed to have bribed judges? Are they not judicial officers that should first be disciplined by the NJC before being prosecuted? What steps has the ICPC taken to bring them to book? 3. Who were the 11 out of the 123 judges that confessed to experiencing offers and accepting bribes of N3.307 billion and N392 million? What has ICPC done about this allegation? What has it done to the judges? If the allegation was made anonymously, why should the ICPC bring it to the public domain without first verifying it? 4. Was any attempt made to trace these monies? Are the bribe monies in accounts domiciled in Nigeria or outside the country?

“Who ever wants to believe the ICPC is free to do so. The freedom to believe anything is sacrosanct but as for me, this ICPC bogus report is not worth the paper it is written on. Scandalizing the entire system is not the way to go. The ICPC report achieved absolutely nothing. ICPC will be more effective if they can successfully investigate and prosecute some lawyers and judges instead of parading dubious figures that are not backed by any credible evidence. What about some judges who toil night and day to stay on the right path? Does the ICPC report inspire them on their chosen path? Is every judge in Nigeria corrupt? It is fashionable in some quarters to sing that song but I won’t and will never subscribe to it.”

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