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Thursday, 18 July 2019

CJN: Corrupt Judges Must Be Dealt With Like Others

CJN: Corrupt Judges Must Be Dealt With Like Others

Should corrupt judges be given preferential treatment? No, says Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN)-designate Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, who was confirmed yesterday by the Senate.

According to him, a corrupt judge should be treated like any other corrupt person.

He told the senators that he was not surprised by the “pervasive corruption” in the judiciary because the institution is part of the country.

Asked how to curb corruption, Justice Muhammad said: “I always say that the judiciary is part and parcel of Nigeria and I am not surprised seeing some judges being corrupt but they must be treated the same way other corrupt elements are treated.

“We had a white man who was a Chief Judge in Bauchi State; we inherited him from Maiduguri; there is no way you will see anything like corruption then. Unfortunately, when it came down to us, this happens virtually in all the states now, we started facing problems here and there.

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Let me say generally that corruption is inbuilt in the person who wants to be corrupted or the person who corrupts because if there is no corruption, then there is no person who will be corrupted. Left to me, they should face the same music.

“Therefore, I am urging members of the parliament, both here and at the state level; if need be, we should take a holistic look at our criminal laws; let us amend them. Let us take care of all these. Let us provide adequately so that they will serve as an interpretation of the practices of this kind of things.”

The Justice went on: “We know there are laws alright but those who are all out; what is there? The law is not adequate for them. They will go and spend two years after all and they will come out and go and enjoy their millions. I

t is the responsibility of the legislature to see that it sanitises the society. Much as the judiciary will want to do their job, once we don’t have anywhere to rely on, or where what is given to us is limited by law, certainly, that is the end of it.

There is nothing we can do but I believe the legislature, either at the national or state level has every power to legislate or to amend the legal system through legislation to overcome this. So, what we want is to see how we can sanitise the society. Gone are the days when we used to sleep with our eyes closed in an open air space, with your room opened. Nobody will enter your room to come and do anything.

“I am talking of early 60s and I believe up to 1975 it was something like that. It can never happen again. It may be difficult for it to happen. We have to check ourselves because the problem is with us. So, we have to check ourselves. That is one of the ways we can sanitise the society.”

On the application of technicalities to decide cases, the CJN-designate said technicalities paved the way for double interpretation in law.

The criminal laws, Justice Muhammad suggested, should be amended to suit the prevailing circumstances.

Before he was invited into the chamber, the Senate went into a closed session, probably to decide the screening mode.

Before the exercise, it was clear that he would be confirmed.

Welcoming Justice Muhammad into the chamber, Senate President Ahmad Lawan urged him to brief the senators on issues not contained in his Curriculum Vitae (CV).

He spoke about his birth place in Bauchi State, the schools he attended and work places.

On awaiting trial, Justice Muhammad said judges were to apply the law, explaining that there were cases where offences committed were not bailable.

The Justice said there was no way a judge would grant bail to an accused whose offence is unbailable.

According to him, in some instances, some people granted bail will run away and put their surety in trouble.

Judges, he said, would never harbour the intention to jail a surety because an accused jumped bail.

Senate Minority Leader Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South) asked about the Supreme Court’s philosophy.

He said: “In 2018, Akeredolu V Abraham I can quote the Supreme Court, if you permit me. The Supreme Court said, technicality in the administration of justice shuts out justice and went further to say that it is, therefore, better to have a clean head and determine on its merit than to leave the court with the shield of victory obtained on mere technicality. This is the Supreme Court. So, we are very happy with that.

“But my Lord, just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court also said: ‘The correct order to make is to declare the judgement of the trial tribunal a nullity as a result of one of the panellists not sitting on a day proceedings were held and so, Nigerians are really worried; where would the Supreme Court be situated’.

“We would like to know what we can expect from the Supreme Court under you; where justice would be. What we can expect. The second part is an advice.

“The country is in a very serious trouble and we all know and we see the courts as institutions that will help us to navigate out of the difficulties we are in today.

“My advice is that the Supreme Court under you must continue to put Nigeria first so that we can have a country because if we don’t have a country, there would be no Senate, there would be no Supreme Court, except a Somalia and we don’t want that”.

Justice Muhammad replied: “The question from Senator Abaribe centres on technicalities. Permit me to ask; what is technicality? Something which is technical by definition.

“It is something that is not usual, that may sometimes defile all the norms known to normal things. It may be technical.

“We have technicalities in our laws and this is because these laws that we have inherited, we inherited them from the British.

“The British had some time ago introduced what is known as technicalities in their laws. If something is technical, it is in a way giving a leeway for double interpretation.

“It may be interpreted one way by Mr. A or it may be interpreted the other way by Mr. B.

“If something technical comes before the court, what we normally do is the trial court will ask people who are experts in that field to come and testify.

“We rely on their testimony because they are experts in that field. Ask me anything on aeroplane, I don’t know; ask me to fly an aeroplane, I am sure if they told you that, that flight is going to be piloted by Tanko, I am sure you will jump out of the plane. Because it is something that is limited to technicality, my technicality is in Law.

“It is something that has to do with the perception of the way you think you can achieve the goals for what you want to achieve.

“Several of our laws are dependent on technicalities. But remember, when we come, we have what is known as rules of interpretation.

“We resort to rules of interpretation. There are several rules of interpretation. It is through that we resolve the problem that is technically raised. That is the answer.”

The CJN-designate said the judiciary was constrained by lack of financial autonomy.

He said: “We are not asking for anything more than what is provided in the budget. Believe me, if you go to some states, you will find out that the judiciary is refused even the normal monthly grant. They have houses, offices to maintain and where they are collecting revenue they are not supposed to dip their hands into the revenue because their revenue must go back to the state.

“The federation will allocate something to you through the ministry or department but things are not as they used to be.

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“It is, therefore, I think, the duty, the responsibility of the legislature at the national and state levels to see that we touch these places so that you close all the ends where people may get corrupted.

“Corruption depends on the mind of the individual. I have been on a salary of N123, 000. In 1984 and I was on Level 10 it was a lot of money.

“It is my view that the legislature can put things right, correct things, call a spade a spade. Go by prioritisation of things.

“We don’t have any other way. What is the allowance of the Justice of the Supreme Court? His salary? What does it amount to? If I tell you, you will laugh. I cannot go begging or asking for something. The legislature I am sure has every right and every power to see that things are put right.”

Justice Muhammad insisted that the welfare of the judiciary was in the hands of the executive and the legislature, adding that they would continue to rely on the provision made for them especially since he was not prepared to beg anybody.


He said: “We leave everything to the executive and the legislature. With due respect, we rely on what is made as provision for us. We don’t go cap in hand begging. We never go begging because I don’t want anybody coming to me begging.

If I don’t reciprocate, I will be asked. I don’t even want to start it. We will not go begging but if what is provided is given us, things will be better.”

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