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Time to hunt unholy cows out of temple of justice

By Ray Okafor
28 September 2018   |   3:55 am
It is an incontrovertible universal truth that public corruption breeds in malignant proportions in Nigeria. The decadence has festered for years and grafted itself into every sphere of our society and polity.

Scale of Justice

It is an incontrovertible universal truth that public corruption breeds in malignant proportions in Nigeria. The decadence has festered for years and grafted itself into every sphere of our society and polity. It is a potent, ruinous danger to our democracy and development as a nation. The more we try to fight the menace, the tougher it gets. No doubt, it is a big, endless war being fought on diverse battlefronts, covering all arms of government – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. But to win the anti-corruption war with holistic ferocity, the battle at the judicial front especially must be intensified and executed without fear or favour of any sacred cow.

Of course, there are still sacred cows in the Nigerian temple of justice! They are sacred but unholy cows brazenly desecrating the hallowed space. If it were not so, some nauseating aberrations and judicial malfeasance being committed and condoned in our judiciary should not be allowed. When a judiciary that should be above board, and seen to be helping fight the war on public corruption, is itself steeped in the mud of corruption, then the system is endangered. Such is the scary scenario in our temple of justice today, that some judicial officers have turned themselves into cantankerous cows, sitting stubbornly on thrones of sleaze as if the current anti-corruption war of the Buhari government dare not touch them. It is a painful reminder of the recurrent narrative that some people in our polity are above the law.

Let us cut straight to the meat. There may be many unholy cows violating the sanctity of the temple of justice in Nigeria, but that of the chief registrar poses an insufferably stinking challenge that necessitates the urgent decisive intervention of the National Judicial Council.  The Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court wants to remain in office perpetually as a permanent Chief Registrar in a manner that smacks of an inordinate and insatiable greed for the extra perks of office, especially the pecuniary type. It is as if he has turned his Chief Registrar position into a personal goldmine from which he gains unholy benefits! This is a man who was, alongside four others, nominated for elevation to the office of a Judge of the Federal High Court but was indicted by a Presidential report as unfit and not credible to be so elevated. Strangely enough, the Chief Registrar even prefers not to be promoted from a Chief Registrar to a High Court Judge aside being indicted and found unfit. Thus he has influenced his not being made a judge of the Federal High Court on three consecutive occasions. He just wants to remain a Chief Registrar in the Federal High Court for life. It is a typical case of an anachronistic sit-tight syndrome against all official rules. How could a human being, against the natural order of things, even reject promotion and elevation to a higher office?

Only recently a prominent pro-transparency and non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) in a widely covered press conference accused the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen of lack of willpower in the fight against pervasive corruption within the judiciary. HURIWA recalled that it sent an FOI request demanding a certified true copy of the latest communication from the presidency in which Mr. President rejected five of the nominees by NJC for judicial appointments and even for elevation to appellate courts on the ground of serious indictment bordering on professional and official misconduct. The Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court was among the five nominees rejected due to security indictments bordering on misconduct by the Presidency. Regrettably, the CJN quickly responded to the 48 hours ultimatum by rejecting the report from the presidency on the grounds that the investigation that reached the conclusion of indicting those five persons was ultra vires.

But the matter remains that, since the chief registrar has been indicted by the Presidency as legally and morally unfit for appointment as a judge of the Federal High Court, what is the compromised Chief Registrar still doing in the system? Is he an untouchable cow? Is he above the law? If a person is not fit for elevation from his present office to a higher one, there is no longer any legal or moral basis to retain such a person in his present position, unless he is an untouchable cow! Certainly, the national war on corruption cannot be won if some public officers found guilty of one impropriety or another are left untouched. The trend will be sending wrong signals to citizens and observers that ours is a judiciary that is too handicapped to dispense justice and fight corruption. For so long, Nigerians have respected the Nigerian judiciary and treated judicial officers like the most sacred cows in society. But we know these days that there are some tainted men and women in the temple of justice whose deeds and lifestyles reek of rampant corruption such as obtained in other sections of government and society.

It is just a ubiquitous symptom of the disease afflicting the general society. Yes, it is not all officers in the judiciary that are corrupt. There are decent judicial officers who are truly committed to their sacred duty of making the temple of justice a true temple of justice. Those decent ones resist the temptation to soil their hands. But, by and large, the last hope of the common man has increasingly become a desecrated temple harbouring smelly unholy cows.

In the face of all, the evidence of indictment against the Chief Registrar of Federal High Court and four others, it is hoped that the CJN and the National Judicial Council will not waste time in showing them the exit out of the temple of justice.  It is a call to duty! The role of the Judicial Council is very critical in sanitising the judiciary and helping the overall anti-corruption war being prosecuted by the government. According to the provision of Paragraph 21 of Part One of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, among the duties and powers of the National Judicial Council are to: “recommend to the President the removal from office of the Judicial Officers specified in sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph, and to exercise disciplinary control over such officers.” Also, the Honourable Court in Nwaogwugwu v. President F.R.N. (2007) ALL FWLR (Pt. 358) 1327 at 1356, paras D – F (CA), held that the National Judicial Council is a creation of the Constitution and its traditional role as defined by the Constitution includes inter alia to make appointments and to exercise disciplinary control over judicial officers.

In the light of the foregoing constitutional provisions, the case of Chief Registrar warrants the urgent attention of the Judicial Council to exercise its constitutional powers. By exercising its powers to remove him from office on constitutional and moral grounds, the Council would be helping the general anti-corruption war in the country, redeeming the integrity of the judiciary and proving wrong the long-held notion that some people are above the law in this country. After all, the judiciary should be President Buhari’s most trusted partner in the anti-graft campaign.
Okafor, a legal practitioner, wrote from Lagos.