The judiciary has always, historically and otherwise, been subjected to critical scrutiny because of its sensitive stock in trade. The determination of right and wrong and the dispensation of equity and justice is no small task. As the famous legal maxim goes, he who comes into equity must come with clean hands. This, of course, is with the assumption that justice and equity will be offered with clean hands.
However, a leaked audio laden with damning accusations and indictments coming out of Zamfara suggests that there are determined efforts to taint the hands of equity and subvert the will of the people. The inherent danger in such accusations is grave as judicial corruption is not just one of the indices of a failed nation, but as retired Justice Samson Uwaifo said, “A corrupt judge is more harmful to society than a man who runs amok with a dagger in a crowded street.”
These developments are worrying, especially considering that Zamfara is not the first. From time immemorial, allegations of corruption in the justice system have been documented and established. In recent years, and particularly with regards to our democratic experiment, such allegations have been dropping with astonishing regularity, especially in the wake of those sham elections in 2007 and the dog meal the judiciary made of the subsequent petitions.
Only in June this year, this column was dedicated to the slip-up or attempted self-sabotage by Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa, who, during a valedictory session of the Senate, admitted to influencing his wife, a president of the Court of Appeal, to grant favourable rulings to his colleagues. His attempted self-sabotage was, however, sabotaged by the then Senate president, who denied Nigerians the pleasure of a full confession. Of course, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa has since denied being coerced by her husband to tamper with election tribunal outcomes. Yet, calls for this slip to be investigated, including from the Nigerian Bar Association, have continued to resonate. And rightfully so.
Unlike Justice Bulkachuwa, however, Justice Flora Azinge, the head of the Kano State National and State Houses of Assembly Tribunal, publicly declared that there are attempts, intrigues and subterfuge intended to coerce her into ruling in favour of certain parties in the cases before her. Her allegations that a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, not even a politician, has been leading this attempt to collect money on her behalf and induce her to judicial corruption should keep Nigerians awake. The allegations from Zamfara should give Nigerians nightmares even in our waking hours.
This is because the Zamfara audio does not suggest attempts at compromising the judiciary but rather boasts that this compromise has already been achieved. To this end, the audio suggests that at least one of the tribunal’s rulings was induced or at the very least, the judge involved received some payment for the outcome.
While every allegation of inducement against the judiciary must be taken seriously, and should be investigated with effervescent diligence, the case in Zamfara has every ingredient of being a pivotal one. While Justice Azinge in Kano declined to name the lawyer trying to bribe her, the audio in Zamfara named names, including a former state governor and serving senator, Abdulaziz Yari, on whose behalf the inducement was allegedly procured. It follows, since the voice on the recording, or one of them at least, has been identified, allegedly, to belong to Anas Anka, a known associate of the former governor.
The allegations include claims that a double-edged attack on the mandate of the state governor, Dauda Lawal, is being designed. The first would be to induce lawmakers in the state to impeach the governor. With politicians, I suppose one could say, well, every act of impeachment in this country had been sponsored by a disgruntled politician, or politicians, and that is the nature of the political economy we operate. But the more worrying aspect, one that should not be condoned, justified, or excused in any way, is the compromise of the judiciary.
The integrity of the justice system rests in the fundamental assumption that it cannot, and should not, be bought or measured with money. The failure of the justice system is the foundation for chaos, anarchy and lawlessness and therefore legitimately, one of the indices of a failed state. The early manifestation of these can be seen in the existence of entities like Boko Haram, IPOB and numerous self-help vigilantes who all claim, in flawed arguments of varying degrees, that they exist because the country has lacked a reasonably functional and incorruptible system of justice and equity.
The words of Nobel Prize-winning activist, Rigoberta Menchú, come to mind: “Without strong watchdog institutions, impunity becomes the very foundation upon which systems of corruption are built. And if impunity is not demolished, all efforts to bring an end to corruption are in vain.”
For the relevant authorities not to probe, investigate the living daylight out of the allegations in Zamfara, and by extension Kano and the Bulkachuwa case, would be a declaration of open season on one of the most sacred institutions in the land and the entrenchment of impunity.
Again, the Zamfara case is a litmus test because the party that has been indicted, at least in the leaked audio, is the ruling party at the centre. The APC has fashioned itself as a progressive party and in its campaigns has advertised itself as the last hope of the common man. For it, or its members, to be accused of staging this subterfuge to take power from the PDP in Zamfara is a massive indictment. What would be an even graver indictment would be for the party at the centre, and by this, I mean the federal government, to fail to investigate, openly and transparently, these claims in a way that exonerates itself and guarantees the freedom of the judiciary to act as it sees fit.
Mr Anka, whose voice is allegedly in the audio making these claims, needs to be interrogated by the relevant authorities and if, as the voice claimed, Senator Yari is found to have questions to answer, he must be called in to account to either clear his name or face the consequence. Because the doctrine of clean hands implies that those who try to taint the clean hands of the justice system must suffer consequences.
If the APC lost Zamfara State in the elections, it is simply due to the party’s self-sabotage. Reclaiming the state for the party must not come at the expense of compromising a system so fundamental to the existence of the country.
In light of these allegations, is the PDP within its right to cry wolf? Absolutely. Are Nigerians within their rights to demand that all eyes should be on the judiciary? Absolutely. So, was the government right to take down billboards calling and demanding for closer scrutiny of the judiciary during the presidential tribunal hearings as happened in Abuja?
Public indifference is the breeding ground for corruption and Nigerians’ attentiveness to tribunal proceedings is a vital ingredient in the growth of our democracy, one that would be impossible without a fair and transparent judiciary. When this fairness and transparency are threatened and impugned upon by allegations such as the ones coming from Kano and Zamfara, it is only logical that closer scrutiny should be paid not only on the system but also on the people accused of attempting to subvert it.
The NJC and relevant investigating agencies should, without delay, do due diligence and conduct the necessary investigations that will assure Nigerians that the judiciary is not compromised and that whatever ruling is arrived at during the tribunal is obtained from evidence, and the fundamentals of law and equity, served with untainted hands, not obtained from inducement. The stability of Nigeria as a democratic state rests on it.