“In Justice, integrity is a necessity…”
President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, 2016
The Nigerian judiciary revolves at periodic stages of the general polity. In this process, senior officers of the bar and bench who would ordinarily be clogs in the wheel of the effective administration of the criminal justice system are excused.
Recently, the federal government launched what was called an onslaught on the Judiciary using the DSS; in the process of which shocking revelations about alleged grand corruption emerged. Certainly, the executive was wrong to break service protocols by not involving the National Judicial Council in that drive but that act of wrong doing doesn’t suggest that the Nigerian Judiciary still doesn’t house even senior judges with questionable commitment to the rule of law and the administration of justice.
President Muhammadu Buhari aptly captured the strength of these negative forces when He confessed in 2016 during an open conference that “In justice, integrity is a necessity. Hence judicial officers and all other members of this sector must always demonstrate manifest integrity.”
Regrettably, while the purge is on, a few repugnant characters still dot the legal landscape of Nigeria. Justice Ndahi Ibrahim Auta of the Federal High Court, Abuja readily comes to mind. In the last decade, this senior legal officer has been implicated in one scandal or another. From accepting heavy cash inducements from parties to cases pending before Him, to out rightly taking sides in matters involving political parties. From making irrational pronouncements to arbitrary reassignment of cases. Justice Ibrahim Auta is alleged to have received bribe severally in order to assign cases to corrupt judges who also give him returns. One of such matter is EFCC’s case against a former Governor of one of the South-Eastern states.
Most recently, Justice Auta who ordinarily should be on the watch list of both the DSS and EFCC on account of some of the most unwholesome judicial practices appears to have struck a unique kind of plea bargaining. It is therefore not surprising that rather than face sanctions for acts capable of destabilizing Nigeria, Justice Auta appears to be the main contact person of these agencies in the judiciary where He is now popular by reverse for his capacity to within very short notice mobilize and give the most ridiculous judicial fiats, pronouncements and even judgements or even blackmail his colleagues into giving dubious rulings in favour of his newly found associates, the DSS and EFCC .
It is obvious to most Nigerians that Justice Auta has a grave challenge divorcing his emotions from cases pending before Him. To be exact, Justice Ndahi Auta is an unscrupulous legal officer. Perhaps, it is on this account that a past president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Joseph Daudu agrees that there is a severe crises of confidence in the Judiciary. He wonders if the courts are meeting the expectation of Nigerians and agrees in the negative. He concludes that the corrupt elements in the Nigerian court system and the bar have given the entire legal system an almost irredeemable bad name.
Salvaging the image of the Nigerian judiciary isn’t such a herculean task. It simply requires a more precise concentration of efforts on specific officials of the bar and bench who by themselves constitute 90% of 90% of the rot in the judiciary.
The judiciary is an extremely important arm of government whose independence is paramount. However, Nigeria is faced with an unfortunate situation as whispers within the judicial circle indicates that Justice Auta has become the ring leader of a newly incorporated cabal of corrupt judges doing the bidding of security agencies whose primary duty is to influence the outcome of his colleagues’ ruling in favour of other government agencies/parastatals through blackmail and intimidation. Justice Ndahi Ibrahim Auta is definitely in this class of legal officials who must be excused from the system so confidence may return.
Mohammed Umar writes from Abuja