Muhammad confirmed as CJN, says corruption more at lower courts

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed.

The Senate yesterday confirmed Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) after a screening session that lasted from 11:43am to 1:18pm.

Daily Trust reports that a total of 10 Senators grilled the nominee on various judicial matters and topical national issues.

They include Sen Abba Moro (PDP, Benue), George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers), Orji Uzor Kalu (APC, Abia), Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia), Ajayi Boroffice (APC, Ondo), Abdullahi Adamu (APC, Nasarawa), Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta), Sen Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti), Gabriel Suswam (PDP, Benue) and Oluremi Tinubu (APC, Lagos)

Responding to a question on corruption in the judiciary, the CJN said corruption was prevalent at the lowest ebb of the judiciary.

“I always say that the Nigerian judiciary is part and parcel of Nigeria, therefore I’m not surprised if I see some justices are corrupt; but that does not mean that such judges who are corrupt should not be identified and be treated under our laws.

“The most worrisome aspect of it is that it happens at the lowest ebb of the judiciary more. For those who know the area courts and the magistrate courts. This is where the main problem arises.

“Let me say generally that corruption is inbuilt in the person who wants to be corrupted or the persons who corrupts because if there is no corruption then there shall be no person who will be corrupted. Left to me, they should face the same music.

“Therefore I’m urging the distinguished members of the parliament both here and at state level if need be we take a holistic look at our criminal laws. Let us amend them to take care of all these kind of things so that it would serve to inhibit the practices of these kinds of things,” he said.

He said it was the responsibility of the legislature to sanitize the society by enacting and amending relevant laws.

“Much as the judiciary will want to do it, we don’t have anywhere to rely on. What’s given to us by the law is limited,” he said, adding that financial independence was hindering the performance of the judiciary.

“Honestly, what is keeping the judiciary aback is lack of autonomy especially financial autonomy. We are not asking for anything more than what is provided for us in the budget,” he said.

He urged the parliament to close all the loopholes where people may get corrupted.

  • Enumerates challenges facing judiciary

Talking about his vision for the judiciary, he said they needed the support of both the executive and legislature to address the challenges facing the judicial arm of government.

“The Nigerian judiciary is only one arm of government,” he said, adding that “except when we put heads together with the executive and legislature that we may be able to project the Nigerian judiciary to the limelight.”

“The judiciary doesn’t talk, we don’t say anything and we don’t make follow ups because we don’t want the same to be done to us. Therefore, we leave everything to the executive and the legislature, believing that the executive and legislature know the pros and cons of the judiciary.

“But with the due respect that is not the true position of what obtains in the society. Now, we therefore rely on what is made as provision for us. We never go cap in hands begging or asking for anything because if I ask, tomorrow I will be asked and I wouldn’t like it,” he said.

He disclosed that he will forward to the National Assembly proposals for the amendment of some of the country’s laws.

The new CJN said there was no office to accommodate the five justices approved for the Supreme Court recently by President Buhari, adding that “We have to remove some junior officers for the new justices to be provided offices.”

On thousands of suspects awaiting trial in prisons, the CJN said they could not do much because theirs was to interpret and apply the law.

“There are situation where offenses committed by suspects are primarily not bailable. There is no way a judge or a magistrate could admit an accused person to a bail when the offence is not bailable. The only place for such an accused person is to be kept in custody,” he said.

Our correspondent reports that there was a general laughter when the CJN spoke about how suspects jump bail and put their sureties in trouble.

Our laws dependent on technicalities

Responding to a question by Sen Abaribe on Supreme Court and technicalities in the administration of justice, the CJN said most of the country’s laws are dependent on technicalities.

“Now, if something is technical, it’s in a way given a leeway for double interpretation. It may be interpreted this way by Mr. A and it may be interpreted that way by Mr. B.

“If something that is technical comes before the law or before the court, what we normally do is to ask people who are experts. We rely on their testimony because they are experts on that field. Ask me anything on an aeroplane, I don’t know.  “Remember, we have what is known as ‘rules of interpretation’. We resort to rules of interpretation. There are several rules of interpretation and it is through it that we resolve the problems that are technically raised,” he said.

On concept of reform and imprisonment, he said imprisonment was a necessary evil for the administration of justice in the country.

At the end of the hearing, Lawan assured the CJN of the readiness of the legislative arm of government to work with the judiciary and executive arms of government to move the country forward.

Omo-Agege advised the CJN to give special attention to corruption cases.

Our correspondent reports that the Senate President advised the CJN to skip a question asked by Sen Ajayi Boroffice (APC, Ondo) on who has the final say on the appropriation between executive and the legislature.

Lawan said, “We are not in court at the moment and we are not seeking for interpretation.”

Muhammad has been serving as acting CJN since January 25 this year when his now predecessor Justice Walter Onnoghen was suspended over false asset declaration allegation.

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