FIRST, it was the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN) who dropped the bombshell. He declared unequivocally that corrupt judges will go to jail.
He said: “I can assure you today that in line with the cardinal agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation shall ensure that every appearance of corruption in the Judiciary is dealt with among other measures through criminal prosecution and forfeiture to the State of illegally acquired assets”.
Though Malami’s views were echoed by one Abiodun Aikido, his Senior Special Assistant on White Collar Crimes, the fact that there has been no rebuttal or retraction of the position expoused above makes it consequential on the Honourable Minister.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s vituperation on the role of the judiciary since the advent of his administration on May 29, 2015 was no less derogatory on an arm of government which forms a bastion of Nigeria’s presidential system. His seeming disdain for the judiciary, perhaps out of frustration in herding targeted and so called indicted persons into jail, was unveiled only last week.
Speaking with Nigerians who trooped to welcome him at a meeting of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, President Buhari stated thus: “On the fight against corruption vis-à-vis the judiciary, Nigerians will be right to say that is my main headache for now.
”If you reflect on what I went through for 12 years when I wanted to be the President, I attempted three times and on the fourth attempt through God and the use of technology, it was possible for Nigerians to elect an APC candidate as President.
“In my first attempt in 2003, I ended up at the Supreme Court and for 13 months I was in court. The second attempt in 2007, I was in court close to 20 months and in 2011, my third attempt, I was also in court for nine months.
“All these cases went up to the Supreme Court until the fourth time in 2015, when God agreed that I will be President of Nigeria.”
Both men, one a learned senior advocate and the other, a retired military general and a so called born again democrat responded to an earlier apotheosis by Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) who literally threw up his hands on the vile and despicable attempt, obviously by the executive to jettison the constitutionally recognised and well established principle of the separation of powers among the three arms of government, notably the executive, legislature and the judiciary.
The CJN equally roped in lawyers and other judicial officers as part conspirators in a macabre dance targeted at undermining the independence of the judiciary. According to him, “some politically-exposed persons, governors and even lawyers to some litigants averred that verdicts by election tribunals were influenced by money and political pressure”.
Justice Mohammed said the judiciary remained an impartial institution, the last hope of the common man and the blind dispenser of justice without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, and advised those with proven cases of misdemeanour against any judicial officer to report same to the National Judicial Council which has powers to impose requisite sanctions.
But it would seem that neither President Buhari nor his Attorney General are prepared to follow laid down rule as well as extant laws that prescribe and help to sustain the separation of powers guaranteed in Sections 4, 5 and 6 of the 1999 constitution as amended. For it would seem, from the confession of Buhari and sustained by the AGF, that there was a delusional hope from his first shot into elective political contest and thereafter that the judiciary, not the electorate, has exclusive powers to make him President . Nothing can be further from the truth.
Such warped reasoning however sustains a fixation that the judiciary is the problem, with a resultant effect that the executive is in a perpetual tussle or contest to pull down an arm that is an immutable bulwark of the country’s democratic experiment. It also promotes undue competition and superiority contest among the arms of government.
Undoubtedly, it was the belief that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was already consumed by the masochism displayed by Mr President and his AGF that led a section of the media to conclude that indeed, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, National Chairman of the party, recently called for a probe of the Supreme Court for upholding the election of Nyesom Wike as governor of Rivers State.
The assumption was that the new sheriff in town has infected the APC with a superiority complex and that every officer was already drunk from the effervescent effect of an all-conquering general that had appropriated the organs of government and to use at his whim. The media was therefore flowing with the tide by inferring that the APC chairman did call for a probe of the apex court because the party’s candidate, Dakuku Peterside lost in his bid to become Governor of Rivers State.
And, while conceding to Oyegun that he may have been quoted out of context, the truth must be told, that his party and others at the top echelon of government had set a dangerous tone and a clear message that the judiciary ought to be heckled to submission and that all judicial officers must likewise quiver and genuflect in obeisance to the wishes of the powers that be.
This clear misconception of the distinct and separate roles of the three arms of government or outright disregard of it as enunciated thus far by the ruling party, definitely gives cause for concern, as the founding fathers had envisaged a multi party democracy as a panacea for the diversities and divergent groups that make up the Nigerian State.
Happily, the judiciary, through the current CJN and recent pronouncements of the bench has inadvertently fought back and sought to assert its independence from the executive and the legislature, a development that should gladden the hearts of genuine lovers of multi party democracy guaranteed in our extant laws.
But, we make bold to state that the efforts of the judiciary would soon become a ruse if the APC and the executive insist on taking the lead in hounding this important arm of government into a prostrate public institution.
We must all resist the temptation to take the country back to the rule of the jackboots and a so called benevolent dictatorship for which Nigerians fought and lost their lives in the recent past.
President Buhari and his minions must know for a fact that if previous administrations had ridden rough shod over the judiciary that its potency would have become prostrate and the hope of the common man completely dashed.
The President must take the lead in strengthening public institutions and not seek to appropriate any to his whim. It is the right way to go. And the right thing to do.