Apply Kenyan example to deal with judicial corruption, says Obi-Okafor
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Arthur Obi Okafor, has called for the examination and possible adoption of the Kenyan example in the disciplining of errant judges to tackle the nagging issue of corruption in the judiciary.
Obi Okafor made the suggestion while delivering a lecture in honour of the President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Chief Austin Alegeh (SAN) during the Law Week of Eket branch of NBA, with the theme: “The NBA: The Past, The Present And The Future.”
While chronicling the many achievements of NBA and innovations of Alegeh, the legal luminary noted with dismay that “a remarkable feature of the modern era of the NBA is the malignment of senior lawyers and attack against the judiciary and the legal profession in general.”
“The most ferocious of these attacks,” Obi Okafor added, “has come from the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, who was reported in Premium Times of 16th February, 2016 to have said in a speech delivered at a rally organized by a coalition of civil society groups in Abuja as follows:
“When we have corruption cases, cases of people who have stolen food from the mouths of our children; when we have cases of people who have stolen money meant to build hospitals and buy drugs; when we have cases of people who have stolen all the money meant to buy guns for our soldiers to fight Boko Haram,
“When we have all these cases of wicked people who have stolen Nigeria’s money, they run to these same senior lawyers, give them part of the stolen money and mobilize them to fight us, to delay us in court and to deny Nigerians of justice. These are the people who do not want justice for the common man.”
He explained that “what Mr. Magu seems to suggest, from the above-quoted passage, is that once a person is charged with corruption, that person should not be defended by legal practitioners, much more senior lawyers.”
“That suggestion coming from the Chief Executive of an important agency of Government like the EFCC is, to say the least, very unfortunate. It also runs foul of Section 36 (6) (c) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which preserves the right of an accused person to be represented by a legal practitioner of his choice. It also discloses ignorance on his part as to the role of a legal practitioner in criminal justice administration,” the senior lawyer noted.
Turning to the bar, Obi Okafor noted that members of the noble profession must ask questions on why the public perception of the legal profession has become so negative in recent times.
“Situations where even members of the Bar themselves malign the legal profession should give us serious concern,” he stated, even as he condemned the blanket criticism of the NBA, noting however that “it must be accepted that all is not well in our profession and its members.
The senior advocate maintained that “NBA, being a body of lawyers, bears an enormous moral burden for the conscience of the society”, pointing out that “in moments of political and economic upheavals, it is to the lawyer and the priest that the masses most often look for solace and succour.”
Consequently he suggested that the NBA should look at the Kenyan experiences and practice in relation to the disengagement of incompetent judges from their judicial system, adding that the experience of the Kenyans is that it is difficult if not impossible to identify and discipline a corrupt judge.
“Both the giver and receiver of a bribe do so in secret and ensure that all evidences in that respect are obliterated. They therefore concentrate their attention on the content and quality of a judgment delivered by a judge vis-à-vis the appellate decision on that judgment.
“Where a judgment has been set aside by an appellate court for reason that the said judgment deviated from established principles of law and such principles were brought to the attention of the judge, incompetence or unfitness of that judicial officer to remain as a judge would have been established,” he surmised.
According to the legal luminary, “uncertainty in the law is entrenched when competence is overlooked and when all manner of lopsided pronouncements are overlooked. At that point, corruption thrives because the judicial officer goes with the understanding his pronouncement will not be called to question.”
He declared that as soon as judicial officers know that their continued stay in the Bench will be jeopardized by standing law on its head, they will have a rethink on how they go about their businesses of deciding the fate of litigants before them.