The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was, the other day, reported to have sent to the National Judicial Council (NJC), a petition against three judges. According to the report, the petition is on alleged corruption in the temple of justice. EFCC is prosecuting the three judges at the Court of Appeal. In one of the three cases, the court is reported to have ruled that EFCC lacks the power to investigate and prosecute serving judicial officers, except where such judicial officers have been dismissed by the NJC. Therefore, EFCC’s petition to NJC is to enable the NJC to perform its statutory role regarding the allegations of corruption against the judges. It is an attempt to follow due process in the prosecution of serving judicial officers and to forestall similar judgment in the outstanding two cases in court. Fair enough.
It is worrisome that since its establishment in 2002, over 15 years ago, the EFCC is yet to understand, appreciate and follow due process towards ensuring success of its prosecution of judicial officers suspected to have been involved in financial and economic crimes or corruption. This either signifies lack of depth and inexperience of officers of the Commission or a deliberate attempt to cause unnecessary mischief. Thus, the human capacity and quality in the Commission is questionable especially if there is also a legal team on its pay-roll that ought to provide legal advice prior to the Commission dragging suspects to court.
It is embarrassing that it was only at the Court of Appeal that EFCC found out it did not have the requisite powers to investigate and prosecute serving judicial officers. If only due diligence and legal opinion had been undertaken, EFCC would have saved itself the embarrassment of putting the ‘cart before the horse.’ Indeed, EFCC’s belated or second-thought petition to NJC would not have arisen as it would have, in the first instance, petitioned the Council and waited for its decision before taking further steps, including proceeding to the law court. Such due diligence would also have saved this nation scarce financial and other costs arising from the failed prosecution. There is hardly any doubt that EFCC, having run into this avoidable situation has, however, succeeded in learning, after many years of its existence, how not to treat any case involving a serving judicial officer in this country. It is a veritable lesson the Commission must internalise so as to prevent a re-occurrence.
Now that it has made a u-turn and sent its petition to the NJC, it has become the responsibility of the judicial council to consider the petition and make its decision known. It is in the interest of the Council to do everything humanly and legally within its powers not to delay consideration of and decision on the petition. This will win the trust of more than a few citizens who perceive or indeed, believe that the Council unduly delays petitions sent to it against judicial officers. Even, in some cases, the NJC has been accused of either frustrating petitions or protecting officers of the law under its jurisdiction. This latest petition by EFCC is therefore, one opportunity for the NJC to prove its critics wrong especially given that this is a case of corruption against which this nation has taken up arms. The NJC will also be contributing towards the efficacy of the national and global war against corruption, if it handles the petition expeditiously.
Notwithstanding what must have been stated since the searchlight on the activities of judicial officers debuted in 2016/2017, it is worth emphasizing that, it is more than a national shame and embarrassment for some judges in this country to be among individuals corruption allegations are being leveled against. It becomes even worse when such allegations are substantiated through the court of law. While it is the individual culprit that bears the burden of shame and loss of the respect associated with the very exalted office of a judge, the situation robs off negatively on the image and reputation of the entire judiciary and that of the country. If a judge is proved to have been corrupt, the last hope of the common man is dashed, irredeemably. If there are corrupt judicial officers, where else shall the people look for integrity and credibility, for justice and succour? This is why it is important that corruption allegations against judicial officers must be thoroughly and quickly investigated and where incontrovertible evidence supports, prosecution must be diligently and flawlessly proceeded with, of course, following due process. And if the suspect is convicted, the strictest punishment must be imposed and enforced. That will not only serve as a lesson but most importantly, a deterrent.
Although the laws of the land have provided various forms of sanctions, it has become necessary to propose a consideration for inclusion in the law such penalties as derobing, cancellation/withdrawal of academic and professional certificates, delisting from the register of legal professionals, prohibition (for life) from practising law under any guise and withdrawal of any awards, such as chieftaincy and so on.
It is, however, imperative that the country reconsiders very seriously all the mechanisms and frameworks necessary to ensure that the country’s judicial officers imbibe and uphold zero tolerance for any form of corruption. Such mechanisms must be activated and monitored to be functional all the time and not some time. That way, corruption among judicial officers is likely to cease to be prevalent in this nation.
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