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Demystifying the law
It is impossible to wage any meaningful war against corruption without the existence of a judiciary that is not only independent, but one with high ethical integrity that commands respect for the law and the courts by individuals and groups in society. This is the fundamental import of a survey on obedience of court orders in Nigeria conducted by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and is part of a report on Nigeria Corruption Index (NCI) submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari. The survey revealed that private citizens, including companies, comprise 30.8 per cent of those who disobey court orders, followed by law enforcement agencies (25.94%), ministries, departments and agencies (19.20%), legal practitioners (7.73%) and members of the armed forces (1.25%).
According to the survey’s findings, corruption within the judicial system is a fundamental reason why many citizens and institutions are emboldened to treat court orders with contempt. It notes, for instance, that the penchant to corruptly purchase court judgments devalues court orders, leading to the society treating them with levity. This is tantamount to the demystification of the law and erosion of its majesty as a result of corruption, and this can only result in the continuous descent of society into anarchy.
Giving an insight into the ethical cesspit into which virtually the whole judiciary is sunk, the report shows that fraud by litigants is responsible for 7.35 per cent of corruption cases in the sector, fraud by lawyers (8.58%), fraud by court staff (8.98%) and fraud by judges (9.32%). Even more than intrusion and intimidation of the judiciary by the executive branch, the report points out that internal corruption is a key impediment to the independence of the judiciary. This is because compromised judicial officers become toothless bulldogs that are incapacitated from applying the requisite sanctions when corruptly obtained orders or judgments are breached by affected parties.
Corruption weakens the independence of the judiciary and this, in turn, enables this vice to thrive even more in society in what becomes a vicious cycle. As the report puts it, “Independence of the judiciary is directly connected to the capacity to impartially perform adjudicatory functions. Where the independence of the judiciary is eroded, corruption can thrive and the ability to adjudicate corruption cases will be diminished”. It is interesting that the report indicts even those officials and authorities that are supposed to protect and enforce respect for court orders, including law enforcement and anti-graft agencies, as being among those who disregard and disobey the law. This only illustrates how pervasive and pernicious the problem has become.
Another aspect of the report indicates that recruitment into MDAs is also now widely tainted by corruption and political considerations such that the best qualified Nigerians are no longer recruited into the public service. There is no doubt that this is obviously the case in the judiciary as the quality of personnel, especially in terms of character, is a major contributory factor to the endemic corruption in the sector.
Early in the life of this administration, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) conducted raids on residences of a number of judges in parts of the country and charged some of them to court for being in possession of humongous amounts of foreign and local currencies. In most of the cases, however, the judges got off the hook as the cases against them were not meticulously handled. The Buhari administration certainly needs to be more scientific and strategic in prosecuting its war against corruption, particularly in the judiciary.
While a number of judges have been sanctioned for corruption by the National Judicial Council (NJC), graft still thrives among litigants, lawyers, court staff and judges, poisoning the entire system. It will require the requisite will and cooperation of all stakeholders in the sector – government, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), NJC, the unions and judges to find enduring remedies.
Demystifying the law