Foremost constitutional lawyer Prof Itse Sagay (SAN) yesterday said corrupt judges should suffer the fate of ordinary men.
He said the judiciary, which used to be revered in the past, had lost is dignity due to high level of corruption.
According to him, the Federal Government is left with the option of either “twiddling its fingers” and doing little or taking drastic steps.
According to Sagay, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has become “ineffective” in its ability to handle “monumental” graft in the judiciary.
The Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC) chairman, in a statement, said the good old days where the judiciary was held in the highest esteem were gone.
He said that “dreamlike era” had degenerated into “the world of mammon, where cash dictates justice”.
His words: “The searches of the premises of judges by the DSS is a sad development in our legal history brought about by inevitable circumstances.
“Although no judges had ever been subjected to search of premises and arrest, from the colonial period until recently, this was not because there was any law protecting Judges’ immunity against arrest and criminal prosecution. Rather, it was based on a convention arising from the need to respect the dignity and sanctity of the Judiciary.
“In other words, the practice of respect for members of the Judiciary was a convention, not a binding rule of law. Members of the judiciary do not enjoy immunity against searches, and arrests under any law. Therefore the sustenance of sanctity of the person, office and residence of a judge depended on the continued maintenance by the judge of decorum, dignity, honesty and integrity.
“The explosive and expanding epidemic of judicial corruption, which has taken an alarming character since the 2007 elections, has totally overturned the culture of respect for the judiciary and brought the revered institution into disrepute and ignominy.
“The epic and corrosive nature of the problem has made the system expressly laid down for dealing with judicial indiscipline, that is, the NJC system, totally ineffective. The level of moral depravity and the enormous number of culprits engaged in aggressive or rampaging corruption was just too much for the orthodox system of discipline to deal with.
“The amount of raw cash recovered in the process of the DSS searches is mind boggling. We, therefore, have a situation in which a deadly disease was threatening the very existence of democracy and the Rule of Law.”
Sagay said ultimately, the very foundation of Nigeria’s democracy was in danger of collapsing.
He referred to elections contested in the manner of “a bloody conflict” in which the victor was like a military conqueror and was then endorsed by the judiciary.
To him, in such a situation, democracy is abandoned in favour of a jungle culture where life would be nasty, brutish and short.
Sagay said the endorsement of electoral victories by violence, fraud and rigging was an abandonment of civilisation and a descent into anarchy and disorder, leading to a dysfunctional society.
He said: “The question must be: do we take drastic and unprecedented steps to sanitise the judiciary and save the institution from those who are prepared to drag it and our democracy down for filthy lucre? Or do we twiddle our fingers in despair and let the shameful erosion and retrogression of a once famous and revered institution to go on?
“This is a country that once had one of the greatest judiciaries in the world. It now seems unbelievable that our judicial benches were once graced by legendary figures, like J.I.C. Taylor, Louis Mbanefo, Joseph Adefarasin, Adetokunbo Ademola, Akinola Aguda, Anthony Aniagolu, Kayode Eso, Mohammed Bello, Chukwuweike Idigbe, Andrews Otutu Obaseki, Augustine Nnamani, Adolphos Karibi-Whyte and Chukwudifu Oputa. Between 1980 and 1990, we had an outstanding group of Jurists in the Supreme Court who created the golden age of the judiciary.
“What has happened between that dreamlike era and now is a rapid descent into the world of mammon, where cash dictates justice. With that degeneration of our judicial standards, our judicial ‘gods’ have descended from mount Olympus and joined the ranks of ordinary men and thus are suffering the fate of ordinary men.”
The eminent professor of law said “justices of the golden age” decided cases such as Governor of Lagos State vs Ojukwu, Bello vs Attorney-General of Oyo State., Garba vs Attorney-General of the Federation, Obeya Memorial Hospital vs Attorney-General of the Federation, Wilson vs Attorney General of Bendel State, all of which he said were decisions against military governments.
“Because of the superior moral authority of the Justices who presided over those cases, their fearsome reputation as men of steely integrity and honour, those judgments were obeyed without question. Even the military were afraid of these men of uncompromising integrity.
“It was unthinkable that the DSS or its equivalent in the days could invite them for questioning, not to talk of searching and arrest. Their strong moral armour protected them against executive adventures and gave them real power over the other arms of government.
“Surely, we could be like that again if we rebuild our judiciary and hold them up to the highest standards of morality, transparency and integrity,” Sagay added.