Among the eminent jurists in attendance were former Presidents of Court of Appeal, Justice Mustapha Akanbi and Justice Isa Ayo Salami, Chief Judge of Kwara State, Justice Ayinla Bamigbola, acting Grand Khadi of Kwara State Shari’a Court of Appeal, Justice Salihu Oloruntoyin Mohammed, among others while the ceremony was declared open by the state governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed.
Justice Salami who chaired the opening ceremony delivered a thought-provoking address which raised fundamental question about the integrity of the judiciary regarded as the last hope of the common man.
According to Salami, the Nigerian judiciary presently stinks of corruption with the judges aiding and abetting corrupt practices in order to enrich themselves. He declared that many retired and senior judges now act as consultants in fixing judgements.
He said, “The problem of corruption in the Nigerian judiciary is real and has eaten deep into the system. It must, however, be noted that it is not all Judicial Officers that are corrupt and dishonourable. There are those who are clearly identifiable as corrupt but they are protected by the system. There are those who lack courage and their timidity is exploited to pervert the course of justice.
“We hear constantly that the lack of courage of these ones are exploited by either their colleagues or retired senior judges who practice as consultants in fixing judgements. These consultants take money from litigants to give judges or intimidate judges to pervert justice. It is my respectful view that appeal should be made to these retired senior justices to leave the despicable role of bribing or intimidating judges. They should engage themselves in other respectable vocations.
“The judges who lend themselves to this dishonourable practice of receiving money or lending themselves to perverting the course of justice under any guise of not receiving reward, monetary or otherwise, should note that there are other means of checking their excesses.”
According to him, many judges live in opulence in Nigeria, owning as much as 16 vintage cars in addition to having “houses which are talk of the town in their community furnished with exotic furniture.”
Salami also noted that the nobility of legal profession is fast waning, lamenting that a body as important as Nigerian Bar Association ( NBA) was given just a slot in the ongoing national conference. He said this “shabby treatment” was possible because the body’s leadership has “meekly submitted to political leadership in return for patronage.”
He recalled that in the good old days, a counsel would not hesitate to put forward authority which does not favour his client but assist the case of his opponent, adding, “But today, our counsel would not only keep such authority from their learned friends, they would goad the court to follow wrong principle of law. Some Senior Advocates misled a Supreme Court panel to employ provision of the Supreme Court Rules to override the provision of the constitution which denied Supreme Court of jurisdiction to entertain matters relating to election petitions thus causing that court to unconstitutionally and illegally dismiss an appeal pending in the Court of Appeal where it terminates. The conduct of the Senior Advocates cannot be considered as a case of competence but dishonesty.”
“Arising from this particular issue is lack of sophistication on the part of our litigants or accused persons. If a court brazenly violates the constitution in order to vest itself a jurisdiction which it does not possess it cannot claim to be acting bona fide. It is clearly acting mala fide which an adroit counsel can exploit to bring an action in tort against such a judge or members of the court dealing with his client’s case in bad faith.”
The comment by Salami, according to many analysts, reflects the pervasiveness and ubiquity of corruption in Nigeria. It therefore becomes worrisome when the menace now spreads to the temple of justice.
Reacting to Salami’s remarks, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher who was a special guest of honour at another event organised the following day by the Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin, said it would be scandalous if the statement was true.
However, he confessed that the system is so bad nowadays owing to desperation by officers to become judges. “In those days people do not even ask to be appointed judges. The mere fact that you asked to be appointed a judge, you have disqualified yourself”, he said, adding, “All kinds of people find their ways into becoming judges. Just as I said, the legal practice itself either on the bench or outside must be done with the sense of decency and sense of justice. That is what is done everywhere.”
However, Governor Ahmed who noted that the only panacea to growth and development is equity and justice said Nigeria judiciary must maintain its neutrality and impartiality.
“I urge the judiciary to maintain its impartiality, resist the temptation to descend into the arena at all times, promote strict adherence to the rule of law and uphold the independence of the judiciary as safeguards against political interference and manipulation,” Ahmed added.