Sunday, 24th September 2023

The judiciary, DSS and image laundering

By Matthew Ozah
02 November 2016   |   2:50 am
The 2015 presidential election campaign has come and gone with all its dirty politics and wild deceptive promises by the two leading political parties in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party ...


The 2015 presidential election campaign has come and gone with all its dirty politics and wild deceptive promises by the two leading political parties in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC). However, it is highly commendable to see the Buhari administration keeping faith with one of his campaign promises, which is zero tolerance on corruption. This led to a recent midnight swoop on the premises of seven judges across the country by the Department of States Service (DSS) on allegation of corruption.

However, some Nigerians especially in the human rights community believe that the anti-graft war is selective as the DSS arrests seemed to target judges that gave contrary judgments to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). No doubt, this poses a grave danger to our democracy and the judicial system in particular. Among the few cases of corrupt practices being probed by the Buhari administration, the recent raid by the DSS on the homes of some judges has raised a lot of concern among Nigerians. Indeed, the arrest of the judges coupled with the allegation surrounding it has cast a dark shadow on the legal profession as a whole. To put it mildly, it has deepened the long-held public suspicion about the character of the legal profession and the manner some judges handle high profile cases in the country.

Understandably, the role of the judiciary is to interpret and uphold the law. It is, therefore, regrettable to say that the above function of the judiciary has greatly waned in the eyes of the people. This is because, the judiciary hands are seemed tied due to its inability to uphold the rule of law. Even in most cases a lay man can predict the way a case will follow. This is not good enough.

As the myriad of reactions continue to trail the DSS’s action, a window of self re-examination reveals that, it is hard not to be moved by the way the judges were treated. However, the Nigeria Judicial Council (NJC) having woken up from the initial horror and shock that greeted the DSS unholy action, informed the nation that it felt insulted by the action of the DSS as it negates rule of law and the principles of separation of powers.

The NJC on whose shoulders rests the power to exercise disciplinary control over judges, perhaps dragged its feet for too long as it failed to recommend erring judges for prosecution. Therefore, what seems like lessons from the DSS assault and the need to curb corruption and other unethical conduct among judicial officers in the future, saw the NJC recently reel out conditions that bar judges and judicial workers from accepting gifts from other arms of government. This, they believe, will enhance the independence of the judiciary.

Also, the NJC is proposing a huge wall to be built around the judiciary in its bid to bar media from reporting petitions against judges. The policy partly reads: “It shall be the policy of the judiciary on complaints that allegations of misconduct against judicial officers or employees of the judiciary shall not be leaked or published in the media ….” Of course, many see it as an avenue that will widen the dark veil that shields disciplinary proceedings against judges. The question is: why gag the media from playing its watchdog role under a democratic dispensation? This is the same media that played an even more critical role in the advent of democracy in the country.

The NJC should understand that the media plays an important role in building an informed society. More so, the people need credible information from the media at all time. To bar the media will encourage ‘junk’ journalism which is not good for our nation at this point in time. Also, the people desire to see a media that is vibrant and can skillfully moderate debate as well as provoke genuine investigative journalism that can lead to exposing corrupt people in the society.

In playing what seems like “Abiku” mother’s role in J P Clarks’ classical poem ‘Abiku’ where the mother pleads to the spirit child to stay alive on this birth, having come and gone several times, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed recently implored judges by saying: “We must strive to be apolitical, neutral and more importantly independent in matters that pertain to the business of the court. We must shun the lure of corruption and the temptation to adjudicate on narrow perceived grounds, which may offend even our rules of courts.”

No doubt, the judiciary is a very sensitive arm of government and it should not be used to create instability in the land which will further create doubt in the minds of the public about the judicial competence and capacity to meet the ends of justice. Without mincing words, the ridicule such as the DSS’s arrests of some judges caused, has eroded the public confidence in the judiciary.

Even though the judges have not been declared guilty by any court of law, they have been tainted in the court of public opinion and their positions are no longer tenable until proven otherwise. But the NJC has stood against such an action, insisting that the affected judges could not be suspended without adequate information and evidence to support the allegation of corruption. It also believes that suspending the judges would amount to cowing to the executive arm of government. What could the NJC hold as the fuel to such belief? Especially as this sort of thinking cracks within the polity and may rock the administration’s boat. In the meantime, Buhari’s administration has consistently maintained that it has no hand in the arrest of the judges neither does it dictate the way investigation should go.

The time has come for all arms of government to come together and work towards achieving a common goal to build a stronger nation economically, politically, militarily and above all peacefully. It is important to note that we cannot achieve all these without the media because a free and independent media is crucial to development. More so, investigative reports about corruption do not only inform the public about the venality in the public sector but can also force the government to take actions to improve efficiency in all sectors and enhance public confidence in the system.
• Ozah is on the staff of The Guardian

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