There is this fallacy about the effect of ethnic consciousness or tribalism on Nigerian national unity. The fallacy postulates that the Nigerian state will eventually collapse as a result of ethno-centric activities of its elites. I believe that those who subscribe to this view may be suffering from a kind of myopia because what will eventually undo Nigeria is not ethnicity but corruption which has completely pervaded every fabric of its society. CORRUPTION IS NIGERIA'S TERMINAL AILMENT. If and when Nigeria fails eventually, it will not be as a result of its elites' ethnocentric activities but as a result of corruption, of which ethnicity is a subset.
Until this week I was optimistic that it's effect on the Judicial Arm of Government was minimal. But the recent judgment by an Abuja Federal High Court convicting one John Yakubu Yesufu, a former Director of Pension of fraud and the obnoxious discretion exercised by the trial judge in giving him only two years jail time with an option to pay a cheap fine in lieu of jail time, shows clearly that the judiciary, as is, cannot help Nigerians to fight corruption. Let no one pretend that this is a one-off thing, because it is not. There are serial examples indicating that members of the bench are as corrupt, if not more so, as members of the executive and legislative branches of government.
In the particular case in focus, the trial judge is no doubt aware of the frustration of Nigerians over the intractability of the corruption monster, yet he could not exercise his discretion to discourage would-be fraudsters. This goes to show that the wide discretionary powers enjoyed by trial judges in Nigeria are not used by them in the interest of the common man. A poor man may be jailed for six years for stealing a goat but the man that steals hundreds of billions of naira gets only two years with the option of a cheap fine. Ooh! Very demoralizing. The same thing happened in the case of a former Inspector-General of Police who stole N17 billion Naira from the police.
It is only in this country you see trial judges apparently colluding with defence counsels to frustrate the trial of criminals for obvious pecuniary consideration. I want to know if the police and SSS routinely vet the lifestyles and incomes of judges and other high stakeholders in justice delivery in this country. Is it not their job? Are they waiting for petitions before they act, so that they can have a patriot to scapegoat? In other climes all public officers' incomes and life styles are routinely vetted to obviate corrupt practices.
In the final analysis, what makes corruption intractable in this country is the fact that those charged with the responsibility for fighting it are themselves corrupt. These include primarily the law enforcement agencies such as the police, the SSS, immigration service, customs service, the ministries of justice and the law courts. It does not require a scientific mind to discern that if these bodies have been effective, corruption would not have assumed the commanding heights it has in the country today. A majority of the operatives of these agencies sought to work in them because of the opportunity these agencies avail for the collection of 'rent'. In fact the mentality of the average Nigerian working in these agencies is like "after my turn we can fight corruption".
I wish to state categorically that the Nigerian government will show it is prepared to fight corruption, when it starts the fight from the justice administration system. Until judges are stopped from being corrupt they will not have the moral capital to be just! By the structure and composition of the Judicial System, the professionals there have more to lose when scandals break out and trials commence. If there is nothing to gain, the judiciary can be relied on to deliver justice. Right now the professionals in the judiciary are relying on the cooperation of their cohorts in the executive and legislative arms to hide them. If the search light is turned on the judiciary, it will easily turn a new leaf. The same applies to the police, SSS and the ministries of justice. Consider this statement common to the police: "no one is a saint"; it is just an apologia for their own corruption.
I trust that this treatise will be of no value to anyone without some suggestions as to how to deal with the problem. In this regard I wish to make the following composite suggestion: 1. To check corruption which has assumed epidemic proportions in the public services of this country, it is imperative for the National Assembly to amend the CCB Act to provide that:
a. All political appointees should declare their assets annually by making annual asset returns every January, (ala tax returns) because the extant provision that requires assets declaration every four years have several loop holes that are being exploited by public servants.
b. The CCB should create a unit within it for the continuous tracking of assets returns of politicians holding public office, senior civil and public servants, etc, similar to what the CBN does to check money laundering through the banks;
2. Reform the Justice Delivery system by replacing the status quo with a jury verdict system, through the ongoing constitution amendment process. You can trust the people to do justice to those who are corrupt, as members of a jury!
3. Make it mandatory for the police to release everyone arrested without warrant within 12 hours. Remove their discretion to detain anyone beyond 12 hours except for crimes such as treasonable felonies and murders. This is vital because abuse of human rights and "sale of bail" is a lucrative practice in ALL divisions and units of the police. What obtains now is that the report of a crime in any neighborhood is an invitation for the police to line their pockets through indiscriminate arrest of everyone in that neighborhood for "bail rent".
4. Routinely and quarterly, the Attorney-General/DPP/Justice departments should vet all occupants of police detention cells, custody rooms and those in prisons awaiting-trial to deliver innocent Nigerians from the corruption and inhumanity of the police.
It is time to fight for the soul of Nigeria. And it must, of necessity, start from its primary custodians: the justice administration system stakeholders. This is necessary in order to invest our justice delivery system operatives with the moral capital required to effectively do their jobs.
In conclusion, it is important to emphasize that the fight against corruption in Nigeria needs real patriots, men and women who are committed to the Nigerian project, not immoral personalities who want to serve their own or narrow group interests. It takes high moral rectitude to exercise the moral strength required to be an anti-corruption crusader in this country. That is why we say that given the high level of corruption in the Nigerian police, the Immigration Service, the Customs Service, the Prisons Service, the SSS, the Courts, etc, they cannot effectively fight corruption and other crimes.
Rev. Prosper Okujere is a Public Analyst
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters