Judiciary Suffering from Self-inflicted Injuries — Clarke
Posted: 05/Jul/2019

Octogenarian lawyer, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN), has said the judiciary has itself to blame for the turbulent times it has witnessed in recent times.
Under President Muhammadu Buhari in the last four years, the Nigerian judiciary has been rattled beyond what has ever been seen in the nation’s history.
Before the suspension, prosecution and eventual premature retirement of the immediate-past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, for asset declaration breaches, the homes of seven judges were raided in a nocturnal sting operation by the Department of State Services in October 2016; no fewer than five judges had been arraigned for alleged corruption; many Senior Advocates of Nigeria, including the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Paul Usoro, were also charged and arraigned for alleged corruption.
The NBA, in a recent statement by Usoro, said the judges were now operating under an atmosphere of fear of attack by the Federal Government.
But in a chat earlier in the week with our correspondent, Clarke said what the judiciary had experienced in last four years were self-inflicted injuries.
According to him, the judiciary had allowed itself to be compromised by politicians since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999.
Clarke said, “Prior to the so-called democracy that we started in 1999, the judiciary was perfect, even though there might have been some few bad eggs. We, lawyers, were happy at the judgments coming from the courts. We were sure when stepping into the courtroom that we were going to get justice. But since 1999, it has changed because the politicians brought money – stolen money – to the life of every Nigerian.”
According to him, the stolen money in the hands of politicians found its way into the judiciary through the hands of lawyers who specialised in election petition cases.
“We now have a class of lawyers in Nigeria who are election lawyers and they make more money than any lawyer in Nigeria. And they are not fools; they see how governors are stealing money; so, when the governors have problems, they run to the lawyers, who bill them, and they pay.
“Now, not satisfied with giving plenty money to lawyers, they have now gone to the judges. They would tell the lawyers: leave me with the judges. And then they have bastardised the judiciary. That is the problem that the politicians have created.
“But the judges brought the problems on themselves. When the constitution was written, it said election petitions for governorship and National Assembly elections will end at the Court of Appeal while only the petitions on presidential election will get to the Supreme Court.
“When the Salami saga came, we started hearing about judges collecting N1.5bn and the judges in the apex court heard about it. Then the Supreme Court petitioned that election petitions will now be raised to the status where all cases now come to the Supreme Court. This is self-inflicted injury.”
Clarke said apart from corruption, this development also increased the workload of the Supreme Court Justices.
Reflecting on his nearly 50 years of practice legal practice, Clarke said though he had thoroughly enjoyed practice, his lowest moments were the times when the Supreme Court, for political considerations, ruled against him in matters he was certain to win.
“There are many times I have been at the Supreme Court in cases where I felt like weeping and there was nothing anybody can do; but I knew there was a political undertone. So, the sad period of my practice has been cases with a political undertone, which I know I could not change. But all along for the almost 50 years I have been in practice, I have enjoyed every aspect and I am still enjoying it,” he said.
Clarke, who clocks 81 this month, said though technology had changed the face of legal practice over the years, he had remained relevant because he was able to adapt.
He said he had earlier planned to retire from practice last year at the age of 80, but he changed his mind and now hopes to retire at the age of 85.
He reiterated his call for the restructuring of the country, stressing that with the 1999 Constitution Nigeria could not make any headway.