Newly appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alooma Mukhtar, on Wednesday said there was corruption in the nation’s judiciary and pledged to rid the system of “bad eggs.”
Mukhtar, the first female to be appointed as the CJN, assured the Senate, while defending her appointment by President Goodluck Jonathan, that there would be “internal cleansing” to shore up the image of the third arm of government.
She said, “Corruption is in every system of our society and I cannot pretend that it is not in the judiciary. What I intend to do to curb this is to lead by example and to hope and pray that others will follow.
“As the chairman of the National Judicial Council, I will encourage internal cleansing based on petition.”
Mukhtar’s submission confirms critics’ allegation that the judiciary even as the last hope of the people has been taken over by the pervasive corruption in the country.
At the 4th Annual National Conference of the Academics for Entrepreneurial Studies, Nigeria, held in May at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, speakers took turns to lash at the judiciary’s record in corrupt practices.
“We believe that the judiciary is the last to be affected by corruption. Now, the judiciary has been riddled with corruption and this has affected other sectors of the country. If the judiciary becomes corrupt, where is the hope for the nation?” former President Olusegun Obasanjo had said at the forum.
A former CJN, Justice Muhammadu Uwais, also did not spare the system.
He said at the conference, “It is true that Nigeria needs a strong judiciary which started on a strong footing from the colonial masters. But corruption has affected the judicial arm of government.
“When I was the Chief Judge of this country, I worked with the president to remove quite a number of the judges from office on the recommendation of the Nigerian Judicial Council. This is because they were found wanting. That was the standard we expect from the NJC. However, unfortunately, judges who were corrupt were allowed to go scot-free.”
Mukhtar, bemoaned the state of the judiciary, admitted that confidence in the nation’s justice system was at its lowest ebb.
“As I said I will try to make sure that the confidence reposed in the judiciary as it were before will be restored. I will try as much as possible to ensure that the bad eggs that are there … that there will be cleansing by the NJC based on petitions.
“It is sad that the ordinary man in the street now thinks and feels that he will not get justice and this is because of the situation we find ourselves. I will ensure that this perception is changed.”
The new CJN also spoke on the concept of plea bargaining which has become an issue in the fight against corruption, saying that there was nothing wrong with the option, provided that it was done in good faith and properly.
Speaking on the enactment of the law on terrorism, Justice Mukhtar said the National Assembly should immediately put the law in place to curtail the increasing cases of terrorism, promising that the judiciary would activate the law once it was enacted.
Mukhtar however played down on the call for a special court for suspected terrorists, arguing that the court might be idle since terrorism was not an offence committed on a daily basis.
Instead she recommended that a single judge could be designated within a court to hear terrorism cases, “or at least three judges in a division, instead of an outright separate court.”
Addressing the fears of senators on the alleged indiscriminate release of terror suspects by judges, she said, “I think this depends on what is before the judge. If the judge finds that there is nothing that should warrant remand of a person accused of terrorism, he will be at liberty to release him on bail.
“But then, I think I will take steps so that we partner effectively with the authority to ensure that unnecessary granting of bail is limited.”
Justice Mukhtar also commented on the declaration of assets by public officers, saying that the declaration of assets every four years as required by extant law was sufficient, but doubted if it could be extended to private concerns since it was not provided for in the nation’s constitution.
On conflicting judgments by the Appeal Courts, she noted that the time she joined the judiciary, there was nothing like conflicting judgments, noting that the problem came when more divisions were created and the emergence of the problem of coordination.
She noted that the problem could be curtailed if other divisions were allowed to make inputs to a sensitive judgment to be delivered by a particular division, so as to promote uniformity.