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NJC probing 21 judges for corruption – CJN

Says no effort will be spared to clean judiciary
By Sam Popoola
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The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, yesterday said 21 judges are being investigated for alleged breaches of principles of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers, in the on-going efforts of the National Judicial Council (NJC) at overhauling and reforming the judiciary. Justice Mukhtar, who is also the Chairman of the NJC which recently axed three judges, was speaking in Lagos during the 2-day workshop on “Rule of Law, the Bedrock for Sustainable Democracy and Development”, organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). The CJN said nobody was out to witch-hunt any person or disparage any person's office. “The singular message remains that everything has to be done to ensure a credible judiciary in Nigeria and so, sacrifice is out of place,” she said, adding that as the image of the judiciary in the country, NJC cannot afford to slack in its efforts in ridding corrupt judges of the bench.

“Every Judicial Officer must, therefore, be interested in actively participating in the establishment, maintenance, enforcement and observance of a high standard of conduct, so that the integrity and respect for a credible judiciary can be preserved. “There is, indeed, no reason why a judicial officer who sits over trials should not be made to come under trial in deserving cases, as a person who cannot follow must not lead and a person who cannot practice incorruptibility must not sit at judgement over others and find it humiliating to stand trial,” the CJN said. The Chief Justice charged members of the bar as officers of the court to assist in the struggle of cleansing the judiciary. “As the link between the judges and litigants, legal practitioners must be vigilant and ensure that any judicial officer who breaches the principles of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers is reported and accordingly brought to book,” she stated.

She also called on the NBA, as well as the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee to be “on high alert to sanction disgruntled members of the bar who use themselves as conduits to transmit different forms of inducements or themselves induce judicial officers.” The CJN, however, cautioned on negative habit of litigants and lawyers who use petition as an alternative to appeal. “What is more worrisome is that members of the bar who are learned in the country's legal system have indulged themselves in this negative practice. This has led to an influx of frivolous petitions before the National Judicial Council. “On my assumption of office as Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council, I inherited 139 petitions, 106 of which were vexatious or baseless, only 33 of the petitions were considered worthy of attention. After my assumption of office as Chief Justice, 198 fresh petitions were filed; of this number, 150 were found to be frivolous, 15 are awaiting responses from judges and only 21 were slated for consideration,” she explained.

Speaking also during the occasion, Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), urged lawyers to say no to the culture of impunity, stressing that they would be doing disservice to the society if they are found misleading and causing troubles in the community they are supposed to guard. “We will have the biggest blames if we do not fix the country's problems and be letting not only ourselves down, but also the profession we love and cherish so much,” Fashola enjoined. In his contribution, NBA President, Chief Okey Wali (SAN), said his association was determined to deal with corruption and indiscipline at the bar. He said five lawyers have been disbarred and two suspended for five years and “I am not sorry to say that more are on the way.” According to the NBA president, the bar was aware that there are some lawyers who have turned “themselves to conduits of all sorts, hobnobbing with clients and with respect, some judicial officers to subvert the rule of law. Seeking this office, I had promised my colleagues to deal frontally with this cancer and so we promptly reinvigorated the NBA disciplinary machinery.”

He said the NBA had set up a full-fledged disciplinary department at the National Secretariat which promptly processes all petitions received at the National Secretariat, then we proceeded to set up nine disciplinary panels, one in each geo-political zone, one in Abuja and two in Lagos,” he said.