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'Corrupt Judge Harmful To Nigeria' - Dahiru Musdapher

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The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Dahiru Musdapher, has called for a new judicial code of ethics that would reflect current realities and challenges to tackle judicial corruption in the country, in order to ensure that 'judges and the judicial system

 remain politically neutral and rise up to safeguard our fledgling democracy,' and to 'immunise the entire judicial system against all identified iniquities.'

According to him, 'Metaphorically a corrupt judge has been described as more harmful to the society than a man who runs amok with a dagger in a crowded street. The latter as you know can be restrained physically. But the former deliberately destroys the moral foundation of society and causes incalculable distress to individuals while still answering 'honourable."

Justice Musdapher said this, Thursday in Lagos, at the media roundtable on promoting ethics and integrity at the magistrate courts, organised by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in collaboration with the Royal Netherlands Embassy.

Justice Musdapher, represented by the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Mr Sunday Olorundahunsi while presenting a keynote address titled: Promoting Magistrate Court Ethics, Integrity and Improving Citizens' Access to Justice, said 'Reducing corruption in the justice sector would make it more likely that corrupt individuals in other sectors would be prosecuted and punished. This would raise the cost of corruption and discount the rewards derivable there from. Thus, taking steps against corruption in the justice system should be a first step in dealing with corruption in society as a whole.'

'As it stands today, it appears that the society we serve is not entirely satisfied with our performance. Hard as it may be to accept, we feel it is less important to focus on whether this assessment is fair or not. The important thing is for us to transparently come to terms with the prevailing realities, accept the gap in expectations and do our utmost to bridge it.'

'Therefore, restoring public confidence in the judicial system is our number one priority. We have therefore taken a number of initiatives to make this a reality. We established a Judicial Reform Committee, headed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais to explore how best to fortify the independence of the judiciary, curb judicial corruption and especially insulate judges from political manipulations and control.

"The committee has since submitted its report and has made very useful recommendations. The aim is to set out the Judiciary on a path of renewal so as to restore the integrity and dignity of the Judiciary.

'Corruption in the Justice sector is a keystone to corruption throughout society. Without an honest criminal justice system, the wealthy, especially the corrupt, can escape the consequences of their crimes. Such impunity reduces the perceived cost of corruption. The risk that corrupt activity will result in imprisonment and accompanying public humiliation is minimal. The gains from corruption are therefore not discounted and there is thus little reason beyond personal integrity not to engage in corrupt acts.

'For a better understanding of the role and limitations of the judiciary as the bastion of constitutional democracy, it is important to take stock of the challenges that it grapples with. These include the lack of independence of the judiciary especially at the state level, in terms of funding, political manipulation of the processes of appointment and removal of judges by some state chief executives and their respective Houses of Assembly, delays in the administration of justice occasioned in part by institutional limitations, incapacities and corruption.

'It is regrettable that some state chief executives treat the judiciary as an appendage of the executive arm. While it is true that, in some cases, this is self-inflicted (because of the way some judges conduct themselves), it does not invariably follow that a distinct arm of government should, because of the action of a few, be treated in a manner that compromises its independence and its integrity.

'Sadly, the judiciary in several states still goes cap in hand to the executive begging for funds that should naturally come to it. By section 162(9) of the constitution, any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Federation Account is paid directly to the NJC for disbursement to the heads of courts including those at the state level. However, a significant part of the funding requirements of state judiciaries especially in the area of the provision of infrastructure and welfare of magistrates and other lower court judges remain the responsibilities of state governments.

'The plight of state judiciaries is compounded by the fact that in spite of the best efforts of the NJC, the process of appointment and removal of judges/security of tenure is the subject of political discretion. Delay in the dispensation of justice remains a major challenge due largely to institutional incapacities in the areas of infrastructure (especially e-infrastructure), in-built delay mechanisms in the law as well as failings on the part of some judges, some members of the official and private bars, law enforcement agents, litigants and witnesses.

'The sobering reality is that if court backlogs grow at their present rate, our children may not be able to bring a lawsuit to a conclusion within their lifetime. Legal claims might then be willed on, generation to generation, and the burden of pressing them would be contracted and passed on like hereditary disease.

'My office has worked to introduce a number of procedural changes that enhance transparency. In fact in that regard we have invited Transparency International, TI to oblige us its time-honoured experience and expertise in providing voluntary technical support/assistance to the Nigerian Judiciary.'