It is increasingly difficult to believe that the Executive arm of the Federal Government fully understands or appreciates the magnitude of the problems facing the nation. As bad as our economic woes are they represent the least of our problems. They are temporary. Of a more permanent nature is loss of faith in government and its institutions. This is hardly surprising. In addition to not impacting positively on the lives of the majority of citizens and lifting them out of poverty, sordid details of organized examination malpractice; human rights abuses; corruption; conditions of prisoners awaiting trial; and collusion of customs officers in smuggling, caused a lack of confidence in educational, policing, public services, correctional facilities, and border security institutions.
The war to make Nigerians patriotic once again and believe in government institutions is a greater task than the war against corruption. It’s quite baffling that the Department of State Security (DSS) who appears to be answerable to no one, acted in the manner in which they did to obtain evidence against Judges suspected of engagement in corrupt practices. The last thing the nation needs right now is to lose faith in the judiciary. The Executive arm of government in whom very few people have any confidence continuously acts as if they are superior to the other two arms. In spite of failing in their primary duty of providing security and economic progress to the populace, they act as overlords. The judiciary is a self-administering independent arm of government not subservient to them and the third schedule of our Constitution places regulation of their activities on the National Judicial Council (NJC), not the DSS.
The NJC was established by the constitution and despite President Buhari denying complicity in their actions, the DSS is controlled by the presidency. As much as the Executive may be upset at reports of judicial corruption, they must accept that the rot is in the main due to poor funding and understaffing for which they are responsible. Unlike the Executive and Legislative arms of government who feed fat off the national wealth, honest Judges cannot afford a decent living while working let alone in retirement. It is not the job of anti-graft agencies let alone the DSS to even think of sanctioning them. The NJC appears as if it no longer appreciates the reason for its purpose. Even though they increasingly investigate, dismiss, retire and recommend judges for prosecution, they are also supposed to protect and insulate Judges from the Executive. Undoubtedly there are problems within the Judiciary.
Even though the Chief Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CJN) has severally expressed dissatisfaction over the embarrassment of conflicting judgements emanating from the Court of Appeal, he believes that Nigerians should continue to have faith in the judicial system. According to a former President of the Court of Appeal Justice Isa Ayo Salami, the problem with our judiciary is that … “some dishonourable people not cut out to be judges got into the system and made it to the highest levels.”. It is these bad eggs that need to be flushed out to enable sanity return to the system. Most judges in Nigeria are hardworking, patriotic and honest but they are less well known than the lazy, ignorant and dishonest ones. Although the CJN has said the DSS operations were an unwarranted assault on the independence of the judiciary, it’s the accused judges that are on trial not the judiciary. There are of course many honourable gentlemen in the judiciary who can stand dup to any scrutiny because they accept that by their free choice of career they must subscribe to the highest unimpeachable moral standards.
The two major religions of the world demand that judicial officers refrain from perverting the cause of justice, showing partiality, accepting bribe and subverting the course of righteousness. Some commentators feel that rather than continuing to dissipate energy on whether it was right to have raided the homes of judges suspected of involvement in corruption, we should merely insist that they be given a fair trial. This is a myopic outlook. The greater issue is saying no to civilian dictatorship. In far too many cases the DSS is acting out childish scenarios and abusing human rights in the process. Indisputably the procedure under which the Judges were arrested is abhorrent. The DSS who appear totally incapable of providing security of life in a nation full of armed robbers, political assassins, kidnappers, marauding herdsmen and militant ethnic organizations, are always emboldened when facing unarmed civilians.
The idea of hooded men storming anyone’s house, breaking down doors and windows, and forcing them to sign documents is alien to democracy. These were not anti-terrorist operations. Some Nigerians have already concluded that the judges are guilty and their treatment by the DSS is justifiable. This is not so because Nigeria is not a dictatorship. Despite the juvenile playacting and destruction of private property by the DSS the judges remain suspects until proven guilty by a court of law.