The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad on Wednesday admitted there is rampant corruption in the nation’s judiciary.
He made the confession before the entire Senate in plenary while he was being screened for confirmation.
Justice Mohammad has been holding the exalted office in acting capacity following the removal of his immediate predecessor, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Responding to question raised by Deputy Senate President, Omo-Agege on the menace of corruption to the dispensation of justice, the CJN who painted a pitiable picture of the judiciary as one tier of government that was grossly underfunded said the justices could not be insulated from corruption since they were part and parcel of the larger Nigerian society.
He said: “Talking about corruption in the society and judiciary in particular. Now I always say that the Nigerian judiciary is part and parcel of Nigeria, therefore I am not surprised if I see some justices are corrupt but that such judges who are corrupt should be identified and prosecuted under our laws.
“Now the most worrisome of this trend is at the lower ebb of our judiciary. For those of us who know the Area Courts and in the Magistrate Court, this is where the real problem arises.”
The CJN, however, said not all Justices fall for the temptation of financial inducements.
“Let me say generally that corruption is inbuilt in the person who wants to be corrupted because if there is no corruption there shall be no person who will be corrupted.
“Left to me, they should face the same music. Therefore I am charging the legislature both in state and federal levels to take a holistic look at our criminal laws. Let us amend them, let us take care of all the lapses in our laws. Let us provide adequately so that it will serve as a guide to these anomalies. It is the duty of the legislature to sensitise society.
“Much as the judiciary would like to work but once we don’t because what is given to us is limited by law but I believe the legislature at both federal and state levels have every power to legislate or to amend the existing legislations in this country.
“What we want is to see that you sanitise society. Gone are the days when we will sleep with our eyes closed in an open air space yet nobody will disturb you.”
Justice Mohammed who demanded financial autonomy for the judiciary said judicial officers work under unsavoury conditions to carry out their duties. He appealed to the legislature to address the unfavourable working conditions that instigate corruption in the judiciary.
“What is keeping the judiciary aback is the lack of autonomy. We are not asking for anything more than what is provided in the budget. Believe me, if you go to some states you will find out that the judiciary is refused even the normal monthly grant. They have houses, offices to maintain, and where they are collecting revenue they are not supposed to dip their hands into the revenue because their revenue must go back to the state.
“The Federation will allocate something to you through the Ministry or department but things are not as they used to be. It is therefore I think, the duty, the responsibility of the legislature at the national level and at the state level to see that we touch these places so that you close all the ends where people may get corrupted. Corruption depends on the mind of the individual.
“It is my view that it is the legislature that can put things right, call a spade a spade. We don’t have any other way. What is the allowance of the Justice of the Supreme Court? His salary what does it amount to? If I tell you, you will laugh. I cannot go begging or asking for something. The legislature I am sure has every right and every power to see that things are put right.”
Responding to the concern raised by Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, on Justices of the apex court’s recent recourse to technicalities in deciding cases, rather than their merit, the Chief Justice of Nigeria justified it as he recalled that technicalities were part of our jurisprudence inherited from the British judicial system.
But he admitted that the application of technicalities allowed for multiple interpretations of statutes.
“Permit me to speak that what is a technicality, something which is technical by definition is something that is not usual, that may sometimes defy all the norms known to normal things, it may be technical. We have technicalities in our laws and this is because these laws that we have inherited, we inherited them from the British, the British had for some times ago introduced what is known as technicalities in their laws. If something is technical, it is in a way giving leeway for double interpretation. It may be interpreted one way by Mr. A or it may be interpreted the other way by Mr. B.
“If something technical comes before the court, what we normally do is that the trial court will ask people who are experts in that field to come and testify. We rely on their testimony because they are experts in that field. Ask me anything on an aeroplane I don’t know. Ask me to fly an aeroplane, I am sure if they told you that the flight is going to be piloted by Tanko I am sure you will jump out of the plane. Because it is something that is limited to a technicality, my technicality is in Law.
“Therefore, it is something that has to do with the perception of the way you think you can achieve the goals for what you want to achieve. Several of our laws are dependent on technicalities. But remember when we come, we have what is known as rules of interpretation. We resort to rules of interpretation. There are several rules of interpretation. It is through that we resolve the problem that is technically raised. That is the answer.”