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‘NJC should promote judicial ethics’


Babashola Opeoluwa Ogunade

Babashola Opeoluwa Ogunade

A retired Ogun State High Court judge, Justice Babashola Opeoluwa Ogunade, expressed his views on the anti-corruption fight by the President Muhammadu Buhari led-administration in this interview with YETUNDE AYOBAMI OJO. He also spoke on the judgment targets imposed on judges and advised the National Judicial Council (NJC) to promote judicial ethics in all its considerations.

The sing-song in Nigeria’s political environment is currently about the war against corruption. Sharing his views on the issue, especially as it affects the judiciary, the retired jurist said judicial corruption amounts to insecurity.

He said: “I was reading in the newspapers about the people condemning General Olusegun Obasanjo on what he said about the National Assembly. Amazingly enough, quite a number of the commentators were now saying why single out the National Assembly for corruption, that the National Assembly is not the only corrupt institution. But before this happened, it is like everybody in the country believes that it is a cesspool of corruption. Everybody was commenting on it. Corruption in the judiciary is even such that it amounts to insecurity in the country. How many people do we have in the National Assembly? A little over 300.

Are they all corrupt? Are you talking of the institution being a corrupt institution? Or are you talking of the judiciary being a corrupt institution? Are you talking of the personnel in it? This is the reason I believe that in this country, we are just taking advantage of the platform that we exercise our freedom. We are destroying ourselves. The judiciary is made up of human beings and it is not angels who are there. As human beings, we are not all the same. We don’t have the same makeup. We don’t have the same satisfaction in life. We don’t all come from the same background. That is why in an institution, you will see all manners of people. But I humbly suggest you don’t because of that condemn the entire institution. Take away the judiciary in this country, what else do we have? We all have to resort to self help because I believe that is the only alternative. As it is now, people generally condemn the judiciary.

“It is wrong to condemn the wholesale judiciary. Yes, there may be individuals who corrupt the institution, but how many judges do we have in the country? The DSS arrested about two in the Supreme Court, the same number or a little higher in the federal high court. How many judges do we have in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and the federal high courts, not to talk about state high courts? I know it is not these alone that constitute the judiciary, because we still have the Industrial Courts and the Customary Courts. There might be individuals who did wrong, but I think we should be careful about how we condemned the entire judiciary.”

As a retired judge, he is endowed with a great deal of experience in the judiciary. Asked to say what he thinks would make a judge to want to accept bribe, he simply said greed.

“As simple as that. When I went to the bench, I didn’t know what I was earning until about six months because nobody gave me pay slip. The bench is supposed to be for judges who have had reputable practice. All that is there is prestige and name. But after you have done what you could do at the bar, you have gathered experience, you are now able to transfer it back to the bar for the improvement of the bar and for the good of the society. I am quite satisfied the way I am and I am sure that whatever I was earning, I have to cut my clothes according to my cloth. What I am unable to do, I am unable to do it. I don’t take bribe and I don’t know what makes them to take it. But these days, no judge has any business taking bribe.”

On what punishment is appropriate for offenders, he said such judges who take bribe should be sent to jail. “I say that any judge who is adjudged to have taken bribe should be sent to jail like any other person and dealt with as criminals. The service condition has improved and some states really went out of their way to make them really comfortable. So why should any judge start taking bribe, except you are a greedy man or you have no fear of God? Remember you will appear before a judge where you don’t need any advocate at the end of your days on earth. I believe that hereafter, there is still judgment.”

Asked the kind of reforms he would you want to see in the review of the code of conduct for judges and other judicial officer, he suggested that the NJC should put judicial ethics in the fore front of their considerations. “Look at the way recruitment is made into the bench. In my view, that is fundamental. Don’t let it be ethnic or state balancing, rather appointment to the bench should be purely on merit. Some states even now go to the extent of asking people to apply. To me, it’s so ridiculous. Is not done.”

On the issue of anti-corruption campaign of the current federal government, Justice Ogunade said the president might still have some vistages of military man in him.

His words: “Lets look at the short time that he was Head of state. Between 1984 and 1985, what was his mantra then? What exactly did he do? He clamped people into jail for 84 years, 60 years and that kind of things. On what grounds? On grounds of corruption. He was able to do that as a military man. It may well be that he still has the vestiges of the military in him. Those who know him will be able to tell. I don’t know him. But from what they put in the papers, he was not a wealthy man. He has been head of state, albeit for 18 months. Within that period, he has the opportunity of amassing wealth. At the beginning, he did say he is going to fight corruption head long. Isn’t corruption really killing us in this country? If a man comes and say this is what I am going to do and he works on available facts to him, why do you now say he is just an unforgiving man? Now there is this big one they are talking about, the matter is in court and we should be careful not to comment on them. But allegations are being made. Money that should have been used in buying weapons were distributed all over the place. Is it a fact that the money was distributed? If that is the truth, should he now fold his hands and do nothing about it?

“They did say he was doing it only at the federal level, he has not done it on state level. I believe that the EFCC works on information. If the states have not approached the EFCC, if a new governor has not approach the EFCC, to say that my predecessor has stolen all the money in this place, how does it become the duty of Buhari to start probing into the states? For me as a person, I will support anything he does within the law to stem corruption in this country. You are appointed into office and you are now alleged to be having mansions all the place, having industries here and there. Have you been living within your legitimate earnings? You are a company secretary, you are reputed to be having a house in Abuja. When they accuse you, you have not come with a mortgage paper to say that I build those houses with a loan. I believe that we should comment on facts that are available. Some of our comments are really so political and anti-nationalistic. We find a disease that is destroying us, somebody is doing something about it and we are all condemning him.”

Responding to the delay in criminal adjudications despite enactment of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), the jurist blamed lawyers for their unending interlocutory appeals.

“I had been a judge. People bring their cases to me in court. I work by the rules, I work by the law. The moment a lawyer raises the issue of jurisdiction, the judge forgets the facts of the case and deal with the issue. At the end of it, if the judge assumes jurisdiction, he goes on appeal. I was speaking with a retired justice of the Supreme Court not too long ago, and I asked, why are we having so much congestion in the Supreme Court? That Supreme Court is now like the high courts having so many cases. He said what they are facing there are all these interlocutory appeals. The ACJL Act is supposed to take care of that but lawyers will go from the high court to the Appeal Court and to the Supreme Court.”

On the targets given to judges as regards cases being handled in courts, he said: “Where a judge is lazy, you will know. If for instance, a judge says he is only able to deliver two judgments, he has a query. If he is only able to deliver two judgments, he should explain why this is so. But because they now give targets, judges say they must deliver, I must deliver at all cost . People comes before them, he says no, no. I can’t wait, I can’t adjourn. He goes on to do shoddy work they now shift the congestion from the high court to the Appeal Court.

The NJC itself sends queries to them in the high court, lets know the number of cases you have done irrespective of whether the cases you have done are thoroughly done or not. I think the NJC should re-examine itself. They should not make the judiciary and the high courts look like a factory where they do mass production. In my view, that’s what it is because when you say tell me the number of cases you’ve had, how long does it take to take a trial in the high court? No matter how much it is, no matter how little it is, it would take the best of three to four months. Even if it is a summary trial in a civil case, it takes up to four months to deal with it. And you are now asking me to produce mass production! That is not how a court should be. It should be concerned with quality and justice in what you are doing.”

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