It is no longer news that Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2010/ 2011, ranked the Nigerian judiciary among the most corrupt institutions in the country. The news however is that in its determination to ferret and weed out corrupt elements within the justice sector, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has set up its own anti-corruption commission. Perturbed by the level of professional decadence and judicial impunity that has characterized both the Bar and the Bench in recent times, the NBA under the current leadership of Chief Okey Wali, SAN, at the end of its National Executive Council meeting held in Asaba, Delta State, inaugurated its in-house anti-graft body. The principal mandate of the new body is to identify practitioners who carry out corrupt activities in the justice system and forward their names and evidence of corruption practices to the relevant agencies for prompt action and prosecution. Nevertheless, how far this commission, which is headed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Yusuf Ali, can go towards actualizing this apparent daunting task remains to be seen. How far can a commission comprising of about fifteen members go towards sanitizing an organization with about 100 branches across the federation? In her succinct assessment of the herculean task the NBA has saddled itself with, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloma Mariam Muhktar, at an epochal two-day seminar the newly constituted judicial anti-corruption commission organized in Abuja on July 1stand 2nd, stressed that “anti-corruption war in Nigeria is like a gun-war being fought with bows and arrows, it is a war that can turn its fighters into victims and those being fought into heroes.” According to the CJN, “It is a war that both sides manipulate to gain personal and political points; it is a ‘world’ of controversies, politics, extensive debates and high public expectations. It follows that it is a war that all hands must be on deck,” she added. While acknowledging that corruption has amassed enormous ground within the judicial landscape, Wali, SAN, maintained that the NBA, “through its anti-corruption commission and other organs and programs, is determined to intervene decisively in the fight against corruption.” He said the association has concluded plans to set up a ‘Name’, ‘Shame’, and ‘Tame’ program. Explaining the program, Wali, argued that “By a whistleblower mechanism, NBA will encourage lawyers and litigants to report corrupt judges and lawyers through an anonymous phone-in service. “Under ‘Shame’, NBA will investigate the reports, not for accuracy but for reasonable viability, and submit its findings to law-enforcement agencies for follow-up action, which it will encourage and monitor.
“The naming and shaming stages will lead to a gradual sanitisation of the Bench and the Bar.” Highlighting need for the judiciary to regain its integrity, Wali, said: “The worst kind of corruption is judicial corruption. It is the specie that signals final decay. It is the genus that suggests societal suicide. Of the three estates of the realm, only the judiciary occupies a priestly office. “The judiciary is entrusted with the near-divine office of deciding life and death, of adjudicating-finally-controversies and disputes among constituents of society, including the other estates of the realm. For those other estates, corruption is a crime, for the judiciary, corruption is a sin; corruption is abomination-it is class suicide. “Who will judge the judges? Judicial corruption empties the judicial office of its essence. Corruption is the antithesis of the judicial office. Corruption is a crime which the judiciary ought to punish, not partake in.” Besides, Wali queried the realism of past efforts to cleanse the judiciary, saying, “What is the judicial branch of the Nigerian government doing to fight corruption? How is it contributing to this national struggle? “The Legislature has done their bit- passed anti-corruption law; and the Executive has EFCC and ICPC. What is the Judiciary doing? Your obvious answer- that they adjudicate anti-corruption criminal litigation- sounds hollow. They do so, yes, but they allow litigation to continue indefinitely while criminals walk and the people forget. “They insensitively invoke their ‘neutral’, ‘referee’, and ‘umpire’ mantras to derail, frustrate and inhibit agile prosecution. They descend into an orgy of ‘plea bargaining’-an anomalous, amorphous, and amoebic piece of witchcraft aped from the United States. “If you steal a goat or a thousand naira, you go to jail. But if you steal oil or a billion naira, you plea bargain and walk- a sublime piece of mysticism and nonsense! “What is the judiciary doing in the fight against corruption? Some of them take bribes. From the worship of their worships at the magistrates’ courts, to the overlordship of their lordships at the high courts, we have elevated our judges to demi-gods. And some have arrogantly welcomed their deification. “Such judges run their courts with despotism, even impunity. They come to court late, leave early, are absent for days on end. Corruption thrives in an environment of indiscipline and lack of accountability.” On his part, chairman of the NBA anti-corruption commission, Ali, SAN, said the rationale behind the seminar which has the theme “Practical ways to combat corruption in the justice sector in Nigeria,” was to harp on the urgency for a proper self-introspection within the profession, “From my privileged and vantage position as a member of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, I have come to see the urgency of a thorough and comprehensive sanitization of our profession. It is now public knowledge that within a few months of the reconstitution of the LLPC, five of our esteemed colleagues, whose cases were concluded, have been debarred, while two others were suspended for five years each. “This clearly shows that the rot within our profession is very deep indeed,” he added.