ICPC on corruption in the judiciary

IN what would appear to be a validation of popular opinion on monumental corruption in the judiciary, especially in the official circles, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) says about N9.5 billion was corruptly demanded, offered and paid as bribes in Nigeria’s justice sector between 2018 and 2020. The damning revelation was contained in a report titled, ‘Nigeria Corruption Index: Report of a pilot survey’, carried out by the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, the research and training arm of the ICPC. According to the report, “bribe for favourable judgment is one of the most egregious forms of grand corruption as it operates to undermine the very essence of judicial resolution.” This pejorative verdict may not be totally strange, especially in the executive branch of government where senior operators have intermittently accused judges of delays, miscarriages and outright perversion of the course of justice for pecuniary gains. But the fact that the ICPC’s allegation is not completely alien does not make it less concerning.

It will be recalled that such accusations led to the unconstitutional invasion and assault on the privacy of some judicial officers by the officials of the State Security Services (SSS) under the cover of darkness in 2016.  However, the fact of the crucial role of the judiciary as the final arbiter in judicial resolutions, coupled with the fact that the instant conclusion of the ICPC about corruption in the judiciary emanates from the outcome of an empirical survey, make the uncomplimentary verdict really concerning. Perhaps it should be mentioned that the condemnations and criticisms that attended the invasion by the SSS of some judges’ homes in 2016 was hinged mainly on procedural error and not necessarily on the outcome which revealed huge and suspicious cash holdings in local and foreign currencies by some of the affected judges. In a sense, therefore, the ICPC verdict affirms in an empirical manner, what has been suspected through perfunctory observations. This is a grave allegation and it is hoped that the ICPC has its facts and pieces of evidence cast in iron to facilitate further probable official actions to correct the reported anomaly.

Sadly, the architects and contributors to improprieties and sleaze in the judiciary in order of significance based on the ICPC report include lawyers, court staff, clerks, registrars, etc, judicial officers and government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).  And the bulk of the slush funds flowing into the judiciary unofficially reportedly came from election matters before the courts for which huge sums were demanded, offered and paid to purchase ‘justice’ as it were. Yes, this merely lends further credence to the known proclivity for desperation among politicians to win at all costs in the ordinary course of contesting for political power, but it is unsettling that the judiciary has been clandestinely encouraging the vaulting ambitions of some unscrupulous political actors.

The caption, ‘Judiciary tops ICPC corruption index with N9.4 billion bribes in two years’ as some media outlets reported the official  outcome of the ICPC  study on Nigeria’s corruption index has even more concerning implications. What that means is that such notoriously corrupt institutions like the Nigeria Police, Nigeria Customs Service, power distribution companies and so on may have yielded the frontline position to the judiciary as a cesspit of sleaze not necessarily because these organisations that are well-known to engage in malfeasance have reined in corrupt practices in their systems but more likely because corruption has worsened in the judiciary. What would appear to be the reality is that an institution that is supposed to be the bastion of hope of the common person and the final bus stop on dispute resolutions is now reputed to be the most compromised and corrupt institution within the system.  It is indeed a sad commentary and a grimly distressing development that the one who sits in judgment of felons is being accused of criminal acts, grave enough to disrobe him of the garment of a trust-worthy arbiter.  This is dangerous for the society and is most unacceptable.

It is axiomatic that if the ICPC’s findings from its pilot survey prove to be veracious and the judiciary is found guilty of all the allegations, there is little or no hope for the country. Nonetheless, the Bar and the Bench whose members have been identified as foremost culprits in the alleged sordid state of affairs in the judiciary are thought to have arguably the most robust self-governing mechanisms in the country.  Perhaps it is time these self-regulating instruments were retooled, especially in the province of enforcement, to ensure that members of the Bar and the Bench adhere strictly to utmost fidelity in their actions and deeds in the course of procurement and dispensation of justice respectively.

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