Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) has revealed how some retired Chief Justices of Nigeria (CJN) had, over the years, acted as conduits for corruption on the Bench. Besides, he offered explanations why President Muhammadu Buhari would not rubber stamp a nominee, Justice Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, as recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) for the office of the nation’s Chief Justice.
Sagay specifically accused two former CJNs of collecting bribe on behalf of serving judges to pervert the course of justice. These past CJNs, according to him, had brought ruins to the judiciary as they were still collecting bribe in dollars on behalf of their ‘vulnerable colleagues’.
He, however, did not mention the former CJNs involved in the corrupt practices. His words: “The lack of due diligence on the part of the NJC allowed at least two Justices of the Supreme Court to slip through the net of judicial vetting to become the Chief Justices of Nigeria. And that became a permanent embarrassment to the judiciary and Nigeria as a whole.
“Up till today, one of them calling himself ‘Consultant’ regularly carries money to his former colleagues, still serving in the judiciary, to buy justice for his law chamber clients while the other one specialized in dollars and distributing it amongst vulnerable colleagues.
“These are the types of Justices who have brought ruin to the Judiciary, making it necessary for close vetting of candidates for Chief Justice of Nigeria at the Presidential level.” Sagay, apparently rooting for a substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria with established reputation and integrity, blamed the highest judicial organ, the National Judicial Council (NJC) for the seeming corruption on the Bench.
According to him, corruption in the judiciary was fuelled by the NJC’s lack of due diligence in the appointment of Justices for the apex court which had occasioned the decay and the embarrassment the nation’s apex court was being faced in today’s emerging Nigeria. His words: “This load has fallen on the President because of the failure of the NJC to exercise due diligence in the past when making recommendations to the President. “From my own perspective, without any privileged information, I believe that this is the process ongoing right now.”
Already, a Justice of the Supreme Court, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta and two Justices of the High Court, Adeniyi Ademola and Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia are facing allegations of bribery and corruption following their arraignment in courts. Sagay, in an article emailed to New Telegraph, entitled ‘Appointment to the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria’, said it was time to inject fresh blood into the office of the CJN rather than stick to the age-long tradition of most Senior Justice of the Supreme Court as being canvassed for the nation’s number one judicial officer.
Faulting views by a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who pushed for a substantive CJN, Sagay said President Buhari was not bound to ratify Onnoghen’s name as recommended by the NJC. He specifically said that since Buhari was neither rubber stamp of the NJC nor a robot for the conveyance of a recommendation from the NJC to the Senate’, Onnoghen’s recommendation or any other names were not automatic for the CJN’s chair.
Section 231 of the Constitution provides for the appointment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, ceding appointor’s power in favour of Mr. President, who must act on a recommendation by the NJC. The NJC’s recommendation would, in turn, be passed to the Senate for ratification only if Mr. President was satisfied with the NJC’s nominee. However, Sagay said that the integrity, skill, productivity, established reputation of who becomes the substantive CJN must form the fulcrum of the ongoing debate, saying the tradition of the most Senior Justice for the CJN’s office was unhealthy to the nation’s judicial system.
He said: “There has been extreme agitation and frenzy over the failure of the President to send Hon. Justice Onnoghen’s name for confirmation, literally within seconds of receiving the NJC’s recommendation. “These agitations have exhibited either ignorance, bad faith or downright primordial motives. The crossroads in which we find ourselves today is entirely of the making of the NJC and the legal profession as a whole. “There is need to inject fresh blood into our judicial system by appointing qualified lawyers from outside the bench straight to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
“In this regard, senior law academics in our universities and senior renowned legal practitioners of integrity and acclaimed knowledge and skill in law should be an additional source to the appointment of appellate Judges, even as Chief Justice of Nigeria, directly. “An appointee to the position of Chief Justice need not be the most Senior Justices of the Supreme Court.
We must take into consideration the reputation, the integrity, the skill, productivity, established a reputation of the candidate before appointing him to the position of Chief Justice of Nigeria.”
He decried the appointment process of the CJN. “It is unhealthy to the judicial system and the performance and integrity of the Supreme Court to continue with the present system in which a recently appointed Justice of the Supreme Court could calculate the date in which he is going to become the Chief Justice of Nigeria based on the ages of those above him in the hierarchy.
“I, therefore, appeal that our notoriously loquacious and unrestrained compatriots should desist from further hysteria to allow the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria to earn his position on his own merit rather than create a frenzy and furore which can result in the very opposite of what they are loudly agitating for.