Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, and Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, sharply disagreed, yesterday, on the issue of corruption in the nation’s judiciary. While the Acting President insisted that corruption had permeated the fabrics of the society, including the judiciary, the CJN asked the executive arm of government to prove that corruption exists in the judiciary.
Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, Itse Sagay also accused the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, of corruption, even as the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said the fight against corruption should not revolve around one person.
They all spoke at the opening ceremony of a two-day event, entitled National Dialogue on Corruption, organised by the Office of the Vice President in collaboration with PACAC, held at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Speaking at the event, Osinbajo said corruption had become a cankerworm which had eaten deep into the fabrics of the society. According to him, all segments of the society, including the three arms of government, are victims of the malaise.
“Corruption as we all seem to agree, is an existential threat to Nigeria both as a nation and as a viable economic entity. Clearly, there is no doubt whatsoever whether every one arm of government can excuse itself, every part or arm of the society can excuse itself. But the truth of the matter is that we all know that corruption in Nigeria is systemic.
“It doesn’t matter whether it is the executive arm of government, the judiciary or the legislature, every arm of government is involved in this systemic and life-threatening social anomaly called corruption.
“So, I think we should leave the finger pointing, because the finger pointing is unhelpful. What is important is that we recognise that there is a major problem here. What I’d like us to do if that is possible in the course of this dialogue, is to look at models that have worked elsewhere and to see whether these models are somewhat applicable here. To look at best practices.
Recalling his experience as Attorney-General of Lagos State, Osinbajo stated that there was no reason to doubt that corruption was a common phenomenon in the Judiciary. According to him, a survey conducted in Lagos at the time revealed that most judges were corrupt. He, however, identified steps taken to sanitise the judiciary.
“We can really solve the problem of corruption in this country if we adopt some of those best practices. Ensure the integrity of the entire justice system, that the judges, lawyers, clerks etc are not corrupt. Everybody is involved. How judges are appointed. Not on man know man bases.
“Aside from the DSS investigation, there should be particular test and proper investigation of candidates to be appointed as judges. In some of the systems that we inherited, the UK system for instance, there is a process of almost 17 different tests before you can become a judge of the High Court.
“The second thing is to look at the general welfare of the judges (ie the general remuneration of judicial officers). Any judge accused of any infraction must be investigated and prosecuted through the NJC to avoid political influence.”
Apparently responding to the Acting President’s claim, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen tasked the federal government on the rule of law and due process, stressing that the judiciary would not be cowed into giving hasty judgments which might boomerang later.
“As the head of the Nigerian judiciary, the issue of corruption is a sensitive one. The judiciary finds itself being battered left, right and center. So, what should the Chief Justice of Nigeria say on occasion like this which will not appear as if it is in defence of his institution or shielding the bad eggs, a few of which I admit exist.
“I stand for the committee (PACAC) and other agencies in the fight against the scourge. I will like us to realise that corruption thrives ( or any other form of injustice) thrives in a culture of impunity.
“But the judiciary holds this principles in care because that is the only way by which you can ensure an orderly society and ensure the good and maintenance of democracy and justice for us. So, if you are to fight corruption, then you fight the culture of impunity which is an attitudinal phenomenon.
“If we allow the rule of law to reign, then you will agree with me there will be a dramatic reduction in corruption and injustice. That’s speaking for myself, that’s how I see it.”