By Charles IKE-0KOH
MON, OCTOBER 10 2016-The ‘sting’ operation by security agencies against some federal court Judges investigated and deemed corrupt is a narrative that is currently playing out in Nigeria and it teaches us much about the practical limits of how you fight corruption in a country where the definition of corruption is still in contention.
The long followed strategy of fighting corruption through what is termed ‘due process’, in other words, the administration of justice within the sanctions of the law, is something viewed very suspiciously by a great number of Nigerians and depending on which side of the fence you are sitting, it is the best form of administering justice or the most obfuscating form of law ever in the country in the pursuit of known criminals especially, political office holders or civil servants identified as thieves or corrupt.
The narrative is about the investigation of 15 senior judges in Nigeria, the subsequent arrest and detention of seven by the State Security Service, SSS, officials on the allegation of bribery and corruption. The security agency say various sums of money including N93 million, $530,000, 25,000 UK pounds and 5,000 Euros in cash were recovered from them.
Just like the past, the pursuit and arrest, by anti-corruption agency officials, of these individuals, already investigated for criminal acts and dismissed from the Bench even by their own professional body, the National Judicial Council of Nigeria, NJC, has intrepidly drawn outrage and ire of so many in the country. And there remains no end in sight for the contempt poured against the sting operation.
Yet it is considered visceral to pursue the recovery of stolen wealth, especially where it involves the famous or big, the high, the mighty, civil servants and politicians who carry the most lethal weapon of robbery-the PEN, by whatever means.
But remember, this is not about politicians being pursued and arrested. It is not about political vendetta.
This is about civil servants who have amassed questionable amount of wealth in all types of foreign and local currencies and properties-monies hidden in holes, water tanks and farms and monies stashed in banks abroad. That is why it is very perplexing and difficult to understand why many Nigerians are throwing in the tantrum of due process in an already determined case of abuse of official position.
Take the cases of three judges dismissed by the NJC recently. They were, according to the NJC, investigated and found guilty of acts described as ‘’gross misconduct’’. One of them delivered a mysterious interlocutory judgement against the anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, an agency that had an overwhelming case of fraud and public funds’ embezzlement against a former minister of aviation. Others were involved in blatant disregard of due process when they gave conflicting judgement from the same court in the same case involving election petitions. Another judge in the South West also dismissed by the NJC, wrote a bizarre petition to have a sitting governor impeached. Interestingly, lawyers across the country agree collectively that bad-eggs have taken over the bench. Some have even described corruption in the judiciary as a ‘scourge’ and seemingly endless.
The simple truth is, the outrage against the EFCC and the SSS is a symptom of corruption. But Nigeria can no longer ignore the fact that it faces a fatally divisive problem. The due process strategy of administering justice to the illegally-rich and highly placed criminals in the country will ultimately have to be superseded by the old fashioned strategy engaged against kidnappers and hardened armed robbers.
Nigerians are not just angry and fed up with the daily story of corrupt government officials or corrupt civil servants who were caught red-handed and freed after the questionable due process-they want justice served ‘now’ in whatever form and they want revenge, not the rubbish condemnation of the anti-corruption agencies when they do their job. Ironically, they get even the most bile when they follow DUE PROCESS like in the pursuit and arrest of these known rogue judges across the country last weekend.
Clearly, the arrest is a judicial triumph. It is an action of true inter-agency co-operation of historic significance. The anti-corruption agencies have done their job. The step taken to arrest the corrupt judges point to the country’s direction in its fight against corruption with clarity. It does not, however ensure conviction, which remains the domain of the courts but it does cover the common bases to move irresistibly towards our goal to get rid of a corrupt judicial system.