Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project(SERAP) has sent an open letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed requesting him to use his good offices and leadership of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to immediately take over from the Department of State Service (DSS) the cases of all the seven judges released by the DSS and refer them to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for conclusion of investigation and prompt prosecution.
The organisation asked the NJC to refer the cases of the seven released judges to the EFCC and ICPC within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, adding that SERAP will take appropriate legal action to compel the NJC to take action on the cases if it fails and/or refuses to act as requested.
In the letter dated October 11, 2016 and signed by SERAP Executive Director Adetokunbo Mumuni the organisation expressed serious concern that the NJC has for many years failed to appropriately deal with several cases of corrupt judges by failing to refer those cases to the EFCC and ICPC for prosecution.
The letter added that many of these suspected corrupt judges are still alive and their cases should be promptly referred to the anticorruption agencies and that the NJC under the leadership of the CJN should seize the opportunity of the just released seven judges to comprehensively address corruption in the judiciary.
The letter reads in part, “SERAP is seriously concerned that over the years the NJC has felt satisfied with applying only civil sanctions and have not deemed it fit to hand over corrupt judges to law enforcement agencies for prosecution nor recover the proceeds of corruption. This omission has left a destructive gap in judicial accountability in Nigeria, and resulted in other agencies of government with no mandate, expertise and experience in the field getting involved in the efforts to combat judicial corruption. In its recent report titled Go home and sin no more: Corrupt judges escaping from justice in Nigeria, and a copy of which was sent to your Lordship, SERAP disclosed that no fewer than 64 judges (out of the 1020 judges currently serving in the superior courts) were disciplined between 2009 and 2014. During this period, the National Judicial Council concluded at least 105 cases of alleged corruption allegations/misconduct against judges. SERAP’s report also contains several recommendations to the NJC and other agencies.”
It continued, “SERAP believes that the NJC is in the best position to tackle corruption within the judiciary, and to ensure the application of appropriate disciplinary and legal measures in the cases of the released 7 judges and other judges suspected of engaging in corruption. SERAP believes that corrupt judges should not merely be retired where there are clear allegations of corruption against them. Corrupt judges must not also be allowed to keep their ill-gotten wealth, or receive their pension and retirement benefits, as if they have done no wrong while the victims of their corrupt acts are left without an effective remedy.”
SERAP, he said believes that corrupt judges are more dangerous to the society than corrupt politicians because a corrupt judiciary denies both victims of corruption and those accused of corruption access to an independent, impartial and fair adjudication process, adding that no country can succeed with corrupt judges as there can’t be no rule of law, development, justice and enjoyment of human rights when judges are corrupt.
According to SERAP, “Judicial corruption is antithetical not only to human rights and good governance but it also directly undermines the ability of government to satisfactorily combat corruption. Judges should not be allowed to avoid accountability for corruption if judicial impartiality and independence is to be held sacrosanct and access to justice is to be effectively achieved. Nigeria has an obligation under international law as well as under its own Constitution to ensure that its judiciary is empowered and able to function optimally to do justice to all manner of persons, regardless of their political, social, or economic status. Judges themselves upon appointment swear to an oath to do justice without fear or favour, ill-will or affection. The right to effective remedies encompasses the effective recourse to a competent court or tribunal, the right to judicial protection, access to corruption-free judiciary, adequate compensation, satisfaction and the guarantee of non-repetition.”
SERAP noted that Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognises the principle of equality of all persons before courts and tribunals and the guarantee of a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law but that the enjoyment of the right to a fair, effective and efficient administration of justice is impossible if the judiciary cannot act with integrity.
SERAP recalled that reports had it that the DSS recently conducted searches at the homes of judges across the country and found prima facie evidence of corruption against the seven judges released and other judges.
The judges include: two Justices of the Supreme Court– Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro; Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court in Abuja; and other judges in Gombe and Rivers states suspected of corruption. The summary of cash recovered from some of the judges, revealed the DSS, included N93.6million, $530,087, £25,970 and €5,680.