The Incorruptible Judge in a Corruptible World – Terinwa Adesipo



I have an affinity for Socrates’ shrewd gnome, that which enjoins a judge to be a possessor of four basic things “to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly, and to decide impartially”. In our age and time, the need for these indispensable characteristics has grown exceedingly much with countless odious realities that glares us in the face. In the course of human existence, every era has brought its own consignment of Gordian knot. Sadly, humanity has done more calamity by adding to them more synthetic mess, which thereby conjunctively produces upshots that whispers doom for a world that was once pristine, pure and peaceful, one which is now currently bedeviled by assorted terrorist and insurgency groups, mass poverty-ridden population, climate change that threatens the universal ecosystem, a disunited world ravaged by countries in a needless power tussle against one another among diverse others. In the local stage, this has become worsened by more nauseating circumstances; tales of kidnapping raid the air, diverse cases of corruption annihilates the economic life of many nations, unspeakable electoral violence consumes the lives and properties of many, poverty of jobs buoys up crippling criminality among the youthful population and all that jazz. In a world now tilted towards apocalyptic spoliation and ruination, nothing whispers hope for the human existence than a restorative dosage of law, ingrained and garnished with the essential ingredients of fairness and justice to heal this many mischief now ravaging our world.

 Since primordiality, the law has significantly and persistently ensured the observance of peace, the manifestation of progress alongside the continuing survival of order and unity in the society. On many occasions, it has championed the course that protected the society from manifold incursion that could have led to its ultimate destruction. But what happened when it became defiled and polluted with condiments of injustice and elements of unfairness; those which obviously are deleterious and damaging for the human society? It entered into the progenitive stage birthing issues such as divisive disunity, mutilating stagnation, devastating retrogression, and even obliterating depression as the new occupier of the society. Pragmatically and in all reality, nothing can ever manifests successfully in this world we live in without the law. On a just appraisal, it is the imperishable solid rock upon which every policy and plans of the society are cultivated and nurtured; even the bad ones. A deep examination of factualism will unveil the veritable truth with regards to the irreplaceable impart of the law in what has become the success or failures of every societies.

 Of course, it is practically impossible for man to exist without infracting the law or conflicting with one another, this fact of life is sadly the nature and manner of man and humanity. In such circumstances, who will decide the guilty or guiltless? This exacting task of interpreting the law and resolving dispute is statutorily the exclusive duty of the Judge, he is the one obligated and behooved to interpret the law in a way that must mandatorily ensure the manifestation of justice, peaceful living, and equality by insightfully employing the indispensable tool-kits of fair-mindedness and unemotional interpretation of the law, one which further includes standing unshaken in the face of threats and temptations by invariably upholding the hallowed and progressive tenets of the law. Whilst it is not inconceivable that anyone can adjudicate on any burning or fundamental issue, the duty of objective and unprejudiced adjudication is statutorily and mandatorily the responsibility of the judge. Uncoincidentally, we exist in a world sandwiched into disparate ills and diverse illegalities, a world where the weak are oppressed but the strong rules and inhumanely colonizes the other; a world where the rich are treated specially and highly due to their financial strength but the poor is ludicrously blamed and barbarously punished for the woes that betides the society. This is nothing but monstrous injustice. But how can this then be possibly, effectively and rightly resolved when the throne of adjudication is occupied by a non-believer in the tenets of justice, impartiality and equality?

In essence, the judge is the only character of the court, the one who decides and says much about not just the court but even the society. As for me, my conviction lays in the dictum that says “show me a judge and I will tell you what a society really is”. Evidently, a bad judge will do nothing than descend the society into the abyss of confusion and chaos while a good judge on the other hand has the power to restore societal sanity and set the community on its path of progress. From this, one can logically conclude that the judge is the ultimate decider in what becomes the fortune or doom of a society; noting fully well that they only has the power to interpret what and how the law should act, which inextricably include impartially deciding the burning and fundamental issues in  the society. In turbulent times, they are the ones empowered to determine how the law should be rightly interpreted to restore sanity in the society, hence the ultimate reason why any judge must fundamentally possess those basic characteristics as identified and recommended by Socrates. Resultantly, a judge who is not attentive in court is liable to decide wrongly, he who does not reply or answer wisely is likely to put the litigants and the society in confusion and he who refuses to decide impartially is liable to descend the society into a state of anarchy.

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In an adoring manner, there have been manifold judges of impeccable qualities who have graced the earth performing their duty with all practicable integrity and honesty. They are those who have discharged their duty with such uncommon logicality, acute intellectualism and untainted impartiality worthy of eternal commendation. From the bucolic courthouse to those located in urban centers and cities, they are men and women of honour who have championed the course for a society’s progress and boom through justice aimed adjudication. Whilst it is apt to identify and recognize this great men and women, poverty of time and space has caged the materialization of such. On an impartial appraisal, these men and women of valour are the real beauty and treasurable identity that has carved a wonderful niche for the judiciary through the exemplary manifestation of adjudication without blemish.


The Realist school of thought otherwise dubbed Legal Realism became prominent and flourished greatly in the dawn of the 20th century. This school of thought championed by Jerome Frank, Weber, Holmes and many other held strongly to the credo  that legal rules are basically premised on Judicial decisions, which are therefore given in the interest and benefit of the larger society and public policy. Although this view might not be totally encompassing of the nature of law and could have been criticized on the basis of being contradictory and fragmented in its approach to establishing the concept of law. Despite all this weakness enmeshed in their credence, it remains evidently pure and unshakenly valid that the real revelation and interpretation of what the law is can only be categorically and unambiguously revealed via judicial decision. In addendum, Holmes who was a towering figure in American Legal realism also serving as a judge in the United State Supreme court further espoused that “the prophesy of what the courts will do in fact and nothing more pretentious are what I mean by the law”. Although this dictum of Holmes is evidently entombed in fragmentedness and deficiency, if not contemptuous to the hallowed and boundless nature of law, regardless of this, the fact that the court is the law remains coherent and verifiable as it relates to the interpretation and determination of the position of law. Since incompleteness is forgiven in Legal theory because evidently no individual or school of thought can encapsulate the omnifarious nature of law, Legal Realism will also be pardoned. Unlike Holmes who believed that the law is the court, I personally concur only to the point where the role of the court in deciding what the law is cannot be displaced.

But who decides the law if not the judge, this question obliquely answered by Holmes in his “bad man theory” captures the indispensability of the judge in the affairs of the law when he stated that “if we take the view of our friend the bad man we shall find that he does not care two straws about either the morality of law or the logic of law”.  Validly, nothing can be truer and realistic than that this when it comes to adjudication. Not only does the character of the court depend on the judge, the decision of the judge is all that some (whether Badman or not) considers the law when they are faced with a legal issue.  From reasonable deductions, a pedantic, partial and unjust judge will soon be dishonoured and disgraced while a judge with an incorruptible and upright personality will soon be baptized just like Denning “the people’s judge.. To be clear, what is ever known as justice needs no binoculars or microscope to espy or behold whether it has materialized or not; in most (if not all) circumstances, it is res ipsa loquitor case meaning it loudly speaks for itself.

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Howbeit essential, i will be careful on weighing in on the legality or otherwise of the current realism pertaining specifically to such recent development in the Nigeria Judiciary scene with regards to the indictment and suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria noting fully well it has been enmeshed in assorted technicalities, thereby labeling the analysis of the issue “abominable”. Notwithstanding, it becomes necessary to unambiguously restate the sanctified counsel that judges should and must always be like Caesar’s wife; above suspicion  and necessarily live above board. They must be persons of the highest and practicable impeccable character. The incoherent justification that humans are not perfect is and can never be a sound defence or argument for practice of venality by the judges; that excuse better neglected is logically unfounded. While on one hand many are quick to heap criticism on judges who have failed the test of incorruptibility, we must also take time to appreciate the many who have in the dreadful face of temptations stood their grounds and remain undissuaded, which includes strongly upholding the sacred principles of fairness, manifesting impartial adjudication and ensuring equality; those who have exemplified, endorsed and served as a tower of strength to Justice and its cohorts in the society.

From my standpoint, with specific regards to the issue of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, I will take an almost- although not totally- different position from many others, which includes being cautious in unfoundedly nailing him to the cross for the many- although currently and still uncorroborated- acts of venality he has been labeled with. Although many have despicably expressed that the case of a defiled judge in a world of diverse corruptions is understandable and should be forgiven, i personally believe that this utterances is utterly devoid of civility and would only be acceptable in the barbaric dungeons. As far as i am concerned, this horrific justification is just another way of saying that every man who commits a crime should be pardoned for their sins and many crimes because they exist in a world of manifold ills and illegality. As a remainder, the judge must never forget that the honour gained from dishing out fairness and justice on the bench is the soul and heart of his business. When this is all gone or absent, nothing identifies or differentiates him from the many convicts he has sentenced to the jailhouse or ordered exterminated for different crimes and diverse offences.

Whilst manifold ills can manifest from the corners of the executive or the legislature without any unredeemable grave consequence (this has been done many times is Nigeria), it is not and can never be the same for the judiciary. Analytically, not only will a corrupt judge be partisan and partial, he will also be sending to the dungeons of hell many would should be in paradise and repleting paradise with undeserving criminals; one which is greatly symptomatic of a dystopian society. Although disheartening, there is no gainsaying that every form or ilk of illegality manifests itself unshackled on the Nigerian soil. Prominently are the twin cases of embezzlement of public funds and the epidemic outbreak of bribery in every nook and cranny of the society. Even in the most debased milieu, those who sit on the throne of adjudication must always radiate an undefiled integrity, one which fundamentally includes exhibiting an upright character, untainted honesty and essentially the dispensation of an impartial adjudication.

Although the issues with regards the C.J.N has not been formally and legally adjudicated upon, the many ills and illegality that taints his adjudication process is not characteristical of any forward-looking and progressive seeking nation. While the judiciary has becomes entangled in its own confusion by injudiciously serving out diverse court orders from different questionable  (un)judicial sources, it becomes worsened when such Tribunal as the C.C.T is draped in a toga of partisanship and partiality. While many have alleged that the code of conduct tribunal itself cannot pass the incorruptibility test, I personally think such allegations should be deeply and impartially investigated. Ridiculously, this allegation received a somewhat solid corroboration when the head of the Tribunal robed himself into the controversial response of “i only report to the Presidency”. This is greatly appalling of not only an intellectual but a learned mind. If being recommended by the National Judicial Council and the Federal judicial Service commission for appointment does not reflects an association to the Judiciary, what about being sworn in by same. If this position still remains unchanged despite this aide-memoire, then maybe a fundamental re-orientation is needed and exigent for the believers and followers of such statement.

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In my view, issues of the independence of the Judiciary must be realistically and fundamentally addressed in Nigeria before this tons of rot enmeshed in the Judiciary can be fixed Just as truthful as popularly expressed, decapitation is never the elixir to headache. Apparently and evidently, the mess of corruption now gradually transmogrifying into a decay in the judiciary did not just launched out abruptly, it is something that has taken many years to maturate, but despite all this, what we have done many times has a nation is to cover the wounds when it comes to this issues and expect it to heal all by itself, this is just a realistic impossibility. Although greatly demoralizing, it is an open secret that some judges in Nigeria are staunch ambassadors of venality and corruption. A friend once informed me how some of this men and women who should radiate impeccability and undefiled integrity complicit with court officials in extorting counsels and litigants by putting in place an unlawful monetary prerequisite before documents can be filed in court and that anyone who fails to tick this box of illegal dues will have himself to blame.

Let me dispel this popular misconception, although there is no gainsaying nor denial that there are many bad eggs in the Nigerian Judiciary, it would be invalid and untruthful to also deny the unignorable existence of diverse intellectual, impeccable and impartial Judges. Pardon the earlier quick aside but such approach to independence of the Judiciary in Nigeria should be pragmatically and exigently re-configured and re-constructed. While it is no news that many of the judicial officers in the country earn a paltry sum that exposes them to the infection of corruption; I think it’s the apex time where they are well and adequately remunerated. The task of adjudication is by its nature herculean; filled with many daunting requirements, i personally think the burden of inadequate remuneration should not be added to worsen it. Furthermore, it is not enough merely professing impartiality in the appointment criteria of Judicial officers, it is only enough when we insert worthy round pegs into its round holes. For the likes of me, i strongly believe the adjudication throne should not be for all comers, it should be one occupied by those who deserve to wear the crown. Furthermore, no progressive seeking nation will necessitate or even consider hierarchy or such unhelpful if not regressive criteria of the longest serving judicial officer as a basic prerequisite for determining the head of its judicial sector. In my view, Meritocracy is and must always be the prime decider. The days when this were manifested were certainly the best and sadly now the good old days of the Nigerian Judiciary.

Years have passed; a whole lot of things have changed, but the Nigeria Judicial sector keeps wallowing ridiculously in the rot of corruption and venality, all thanks to such criteria that celebrates mediocrity in lieu of meritocracy. Logically, I think it is not only essential that corrupt and defiled judges be fumigated off the judiciary they must essentially be made to face the consequence of their ill adjudication which has occasioned incalculable harm on many and even the society. If those who should beam hope for the hopeless and depressed Nigerians by putting to the dungeons fierce violators of the country’s peace, progress and unity are partaker in its decays, they must not be speared the sword of law.

 If in a world where we expect the judiciary to live up and manifest itself has the one and now remaining hope of the common man, we are met with such demoralizing and unpleasant reality of a corrupt bench that engages in all forms of annihilating atrocities, this is evidently symptomatic of great apocalypse. As for me, it is the apex time where the Nigerian Judiciary that once produced great men and women of international recognition and reverence must be exigently re-created. Not only is this the only way to attaining progress in Nigeria, it is also the only way to save the lives of many from perishing under the irredeemable misery occasioned by corrupt adjudication.

Terinwa Adesipo is the Scribe, Students Advocates Association, Lagos State University, Nigeria.


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