Nigeria’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, said in Lagos on Tuesday that judges found to have corruptly enriched themselves would be prosecuted, jailed and would lose to the state any asset they acquired with such stolen funds.
Mr. Malami, who was the special guest at the launch of a report by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) titled, “Go home and sin no more: Corrupt judges escaping from justice in Nigeria”, said judges should be beyond reproach.
“Considering the pivotal role that they play in the administration of justice, it is important to ensure that Nigerian judges, like the proverbial Caesar’s wife, are beyond reproach or even suspicion. Gone are the days when corrupt judges escaped from justice in Nigeria!”
“I can assure you today that in line with the cardinal agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation shall ensure that every appearance of corruption in the judiciary is dealt among other measures through criminal prosecution and forfeiture to the State of illegally acquired assets,” he said.
The minister was represented at the launch by his senior special assistant, Abiodun Aikomo.
He added that the Buhari administration would not tolerate judicial impunity and would do everything within the law to ensure that judicial accountability in “a corruption-free judiciary which is both independent and impartial”.
“The judiciary’s one and only mandate should be to deliver justice without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. The world over, the rule of law, and separation of powers which are inseparable components of a democratic government, presupposes the existence of an independent and impartial judiciary,” he said.
He said judges found to have been corrupt were removed in the past by the National Judicial Council.
“In reality, on a comparison between the widely reported cases of corruption in the Judiciary vis-à-vis the records of judicial officers who have actually been punished therefore, it would appear as if Nigerian judges enjoy total immunity from prosecution for corruption (and allied offences), whereas judges are not immune from discipline for any misdeed let alone for corruption,” he said.
SERAP executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, who welcomed Mr. Malami’s commitment, said corrupt judges are more dangerous to the society than corrupt politicians because a corrupt judiciary denies both victims of corruption and those accused of corruption access to an independent, impartial and fair adjudication process.
Mr. Mumuni explained that the report advocated the prosecution of corrupt judges; referral by the Chief Justice of the Federation and the National Judicial Council of all cases of judicial corruption to appropriate anti-corruption agencies; publication and auditing of spending by the judiciary; public and periodic disclosure of assets by the Chief Justice of Nigeria and all other judges.
The report also recommended that retired judges should be allowed to lead the National Judicial Council to improve its independence; and urgent investigation of allegations of age falsification among judges by the National Judicial Council.
The report also called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to proactively and robustly use their statutory powers to investigate and prosecute judicial corruption and to request from the National Judicial Council files on cases of corrupt judges for prosecution.