Lawyers have reacted to the latest Auditor General of the Federation’s report highlighting corruption in the judiciary.
PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported findings of the report, including that about N4.8 billion was either misappropriated or unaccounted for between 2012 and 2015 by federal courts across the country.
The report said the money was siphoned through “ghost contracts”, non-remittance of taxes, failure of senior court officials to retire advances collected for assignments and refusal to repay vehicle loans.
In other instances, court officials overpaid for items bought, many payments made were without receipts and wide discrepancies were discovered in the transcript and analysis books.
The audit report said in 2012 about N985 million was not accounted for.
Also, in 2013, officials could not explain what they did with about N71 million and in 2014, an estimated N1.4 billion was misappropriated through unlawful insurance policies, failure to pay taxes and missing documents to back expenditure.
The amount misappropriated in 2015 almost doubled that of the preceding year. That year, the audit report revealed that officials of federal courts could not account for N2.4 billion.
Judicial authorities are yet to formally react to the damning report.
However, in separate reactions via phone interviews, the lawyers condemned the alleged acts of corruption and called for appropriate sanctions to be meted out to those found culpable.
In his reaction, Femi Falana, a lawyer and human rights activist, said the officers involved should be prosecuted and made to account for the missing funds.
“Judges are not the accounting officers of the courts. The accounting officers should be made to account for the missing funds and prosecuted if it is established that the funds have been criminally diverted.”
In his own reaction, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, called for the immediate investigation and prosecution of the culprits to serve as a lesson to others.
“The culprits should immediately be exposed, investigated, derided, excoriorated, prosecuted and punished adequately, to serve as a lesson to themselves and others that crime does not pay and that no one is above the law.
“This must be after the NJC has tried them under sections 153,158 and part 21 to the 2nd Schedule of the 1999 Constitution. To do otherwise will be for the Executive to usurp the powers of the Judiciary,” he said.
Another lawyer, Charles Musa, said those involved in the misappropriation of the funds, should be investigated and made to face justice.
Describing the revelation as an unfortunate one, Ebun Adegboruwa, a Lagos-based human rights lawyer, said it is the duty of the relevant statutory law enforcement agencies to study the report and deal appropriately with those indicted.
He however said the present administration failed to do a thorough job by stopping at 2015 in the report coverage.
He said, “there seems to be a deliberate attempt by the present administration to paint the judiciary in bad light and keep it in the bad books of Nigerians. As it is clear from the report, it covers 2012 to 2015, cleverly excluding the period of the life of this administration.
“In a situation whereby the Buhari regime has been asking Nigerians to assess it based on its own performance, one would have loved to see the performance index of the judiciary under this dispensation.
“It is clear to me by now, that the preference for impunity has pitted this administration against the judiciary, which is the most potent organ of government, established to check impunity and the excesses of the executive.
Mr. Adegboruwa urged all agencies of government to work together to deliver good governance to the people.