Corruption Within the Nigerian Judiciary: Causes and Solutions - Abdulrasheed Hammad
Posted: 23/Jun/2020

According to Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International (TI),  judicial corruption is when the voice of the innocent goes unheard while the guilty act with impunity. This means that the judiciary will lead to corruption in the executive legislature and in every other sector. A famous saying in Kenya quite: ‘Why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge.’ This shows how judicial corruption is not an unknown ally all over the world.

TI Global Corruption Barometer of 2006 surveyed 59.661 persons in 62 states and 8 percent of respondents who had been in contact with the judiciary affirmed that they had paid a bribe in order to get positive decisions in a judicial case. In Africa and Latin America, the percentages were as high as 21 and 18 percent respectively.

Corruption has been defined as a social ill, abuse of power for private gains which occurs both in the private and public sectors.

Having defined corruption, it is very imperative to state some factors that precipitated corruption in the Judiciary and the inimical effect of judicial corruption to the development of the country; before finalizing with solutions on how corruption can be eradicated totally in the judicial arm of government which is regarded as the last hope of the common man.

The Judiciary as an arm of government established under section 6 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The judiciary is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that the rights of the citizens are protected, interpret the law, uphold the rule of law and it is the body responsible to make sure that justice is done and the verdict is given without fear or favor. Corruption has been a great hindrance to the democratic system of government all over the world and inequality before the law and the court exposes the judiciary to corruption, greedy and powerful individuals would pervert justice to the detriment of the powerless citizens.

Judicial corruption has a lot of negative impacts on society and is one of the most severe threats to human rights implementation in the country. The effects of judicial corruption in society are numerous which includes but not limited to the following: segregating the communities, violation of human right; the fight against transnational crime would be impossible; and reduces trade, economic, human development, and most importantly, reject persons from fair dispute settlements.
These deteriorating effects are harmful to the democratic society and action needs to be taken to curb the malady of judicial corruption in Nigeria.

Judges must also be impartial, honest, and competent. It is hard to exaggerate the negative consequences of judicial corruption, both nationally and internationally. Combating transnational crime and terrorism becomes unfeasible; it diminishes economic and human development; and it denies citizens their long-recognized right to impartial dispute settlements.

One of the major factors that precipitated corruption in the judiciary is lack of independence of the judiciary; This is as a result of the appointment of the judicial officers by the executive arm of government and confirmation of the appointment by the legislative, this can be seen in sec 231, 238 250 and 256(1) of 1999 Constitution. These politicians who are in the position to appoint the judicial officers would surely appoint the people who are loyal to them and would overlook their faults whenever they commit any offense or embezzle public funds and this has increased corruption in the judicial arm of government.

Low or insufficient salaries for judicial personnel have made some of them use the office for their respective personal gains. The salary of some of these judicial officers is unheard and these court personnel could use their position to accumulate whatever they want with this office; therefore, low salaries have tempted some judicial personnel which comprised judges, law clerks, and administrative personnel to engage in this corruption practices.

Furthermore, the lack of transparency in the appointment of judicial officers has made it difficult to eradicate corruption. In Nigeria today, judges are not appointed based on merit but, the appointment is based on political affiliation and connection of the applicant for the post.

The absence of technological equipment to keep a record of judgment has made it easy for corrupt behavior to be carried out unnoticed. The insufficient computer system can make the court personnel manipulate the judgments of the court and ensure that the right person is punished and the guilty person will go unpunished through bribery.

Lack of transparency in the court administration and court procedures, complex procedural rules is also one of the ways the Judicial Personnel used to hide the Judicial decision, the courtrooms are closed for the press to avoid the spread of the news to the public and this has become the machinery for judicial officers to carry out their evil act.

Weak monitoring systems and low press freedom are some of the major factors that are causing judicial corruption in Nigeria. The press is not given enough freedom to investigate cases in the court and there is no effective body or agent responsible to monitor the activities of the Judicial Personnel. This corruption has become so rampant to the extent that the court registrars are collecting bribe to manipulate the case list in court.

In a situation when there’s a problem, there would surely be a solution to solve these problems. Corruption in Judiciary can be eradicated totally by ensuring the independence of the Judiciary which involved the issue of the selection of judges, the security of tenure, promotion, financial and administrative autonomy, and safeguards against interference through manipulation of budgets meant for organs of the Judicial Arm of government. The appointment of the Judicial Personnel by the executive and approval by the senate as enshrined in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should be amended; if the Judicial Arm of government is not independent, there’s no way we can combat judicial corruption in the country.
Investigative Journalists have a vital role to play by going undercover to expose the corrupt judicial officers in the country. If the names of these corrupt judicial personnel are published on national dailies, it would serve as a deterrent to others who have the intention to engage in such corrupt practices which include: bribery, trading in influence, gift receiving, fraud, greasing, blackmailing, preferential treatment, nepotism, embezzlement e.t.c.

Judges, court personnel, and lawyers should be subject to disciplinary action under the code of conduct which will have binding force and strict implementation and should be punished like anyone else under the same law. Even though, immunity for the official act is absolutely necessary to prevent frivolous charges and suits against judicial officers who perform their function in good faith and without any form of corrupt practices.

Judicial officers should refrain from membership of political parties to avoid being pressurized to favor politicians for private or group gains. Judges should be apolitical and there should be an effective monitoring body to ensure the effectiveness of this body. Security agencies such as the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Department of State Services (DSS), and The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). Police should be devoted to investigating and monitoring the lifestyles, finances, and excesses of judicial officers to make sure that they do not live above their source of income.

The judiciary also has its own function to play in combating corruption within themselves by finding the courage to remove itself from bad notion from the public that judicial personnel is corrupt by objectively prosecuting mischievous judicial officers who are charged or otherwise found to have engaged in one form of indiscretions or the other, particularly corrupt acts.

The National Judicial Council should be more provident by adhering to the prerequisites of in-depth scrutiny of proposed candidates for nomination and appointment, in addition, to stand firmly to investigate and discipline the corrupt judicial officers. There is a need to review time to time the tenure of the members of the National Judicial Council and should be headed by a retired judge for the purpose of guaranteeing firmness in the performance of their duties.

The Code of Conduct Bureau should ensure total compliance by judicial officers with the requirement of compulsory declaration of assets to enable security agencies to take a bearing and be properly guided if and when there is a need to investigate these judicial officers. Anti-corruption strategies should be effectively implemented and should be careful from being used as machinery to indict judicial officers in order to carry out their evil acts.

The Nigerian government should ensure that all judicial officers including their administrative staff are adequately remunerated via an enhanced pay structure to reduce the craving for money and other forms of gratification which has become the bane of the judiciary. It’s also advisable to post the Judicial officers outside the locality of their origin because families and relatives can influence cases if their son is within the territory of his/her origin. Some can induce the parents of the Judges, threaten their life and can bribe the parents to induce the judges to do partiality in the judgment.

The Executive and Legislative arms of government should comply veraciously to the requirements of checks and balances in the polity as an integral requirement of a democratic government that is practicing true federalism to reduce the prevalence of corruption within the Nigerian judicial system.

Parents and religious leaders also have a function to play by advising their children and admonishing their followers who are judicial personnel on the consequences of engaging in corrupt practices. Law lecturers in higher institutions should abstain from training law students from being corrupt and teach them the lawful way to be successful in the legal profession instead of engaging in corrupt practices.

Corruption has become a part and parcel of the Nigerian Judicial system and is common not only between the judges but also rampant among court registrars who will use the opportunity to extort money from lawyers and litigants to perform their regular functions. Corruption within the Nigerian judicial system, therefore, compromises as well as jeopardizes not just the administration of justice, but by extension of national development. The activities of corrupt judicial officers equally have not only destroyed the existing moral values of society but also have demolished the very foundation of the rule of law and justice thereby perverting the positive trend of national planning while annihilating integrity and discipline which are basic foundations of the judicial arm of government.

Abdulrasheed Hammad is a 300-Level student of Law at Usmanu Danfodiyo
University Sokoto.