One would be a fool to believe that there is in Nigeria a final authority to turn to in case one is seriously wronged. One would be a bigger fool to believe that critics of the Nigerian judiciary are merely sore losers or angry convicts, and perhaps judicial misconduct would be exposed by appeal courts or the mass media and corrected. Why guess our way without the facts? Such pre-dispositions held by many otherwise educated adults like you allow pervasive institutional corruption of the judicial branch to remain hidden.
Judicial corruption is invisible to the masses because lawyers are trained and motivated to lie, deny and cannot safely speak of it, because mass media corporations agree with judicial prejudice and live in fear of judicial whims, because non-lawyers cannot obtain the facts without prohibitive cost and effort, and because the myth of judicial salvation has broad appeal and is propagated by the mass media. Judicial corruption is discovered by its victims and not even they can confidently speak of it in Nigeria without repercussions.
Nigerian lawyers do not speak against judges, on whom they depend for income stability AND SUCCESS. And of course, they aspire to be judges. They do not criticise the law practice and precedent, which they are selected and trained to accept regardless of validity, and which they could not otherwise use successfully. The persistent citizen can only see judgements written by the selected winner to sound plausible. The other facts and argument are costly to obtain, and mountains of cases must be studied in each area to see how rules are misapplied and facts fabricated, and how false “principles of law” are abstracted from bad precedents. After several years of trying to reform the judicial system, the judiciary has only become worse. Any honourable court would have jumped at the opportunity to defend the masses from obvious wrongdoing. But there are no honourable courts in Nigeria.
Living in the prison barracks in Kirikiri town and hearing my father and other prison warders discuss cases of prisoners, I understood how the Nigerian judiciary is utterly corrupt from bottom to top, so completely that I would rather seek alternative means of settlement than experience the staggering level of corruption of our judges.
Do not be deceived by the myth that the judiciary is the last hope of the ordinary man. Firsthand stories of people who had been in court will teach you not only the irrelevant laws and court procedures, but also about the corruption of the judicial branch than any written book.
It is very easy for a Nigerian judge to choose the wealthiest or most powerful party in a legal case, and the outcome which serves himself, and to allow or dismiss the case, corrupt the facts for his preferred side to win.
As seen today in Nigeria, the wealthy and powerful have little need for individual rights; it is too much of a costly inconvenience in business: they can buy influence and respect, and their interests are granted as needed by sympathetic judges. Judges loudly declare their defences of constitutional rights for the rich and powerful, but scorn the same rights when asserted by the poor, the few, or those without a voice.
If we must move forward as a nation, citizens, lawyers and courts must have access to a legal advisory service to provide mandatory guidelines for conduct and judgement, both in general and for any specific case. Judges and lawyers must be strictly monitored for compliance with a guideline for judgement, and their financial and all other transactions reported and monitored for corrupt influence. Lawyer fees must be regulated by type of case, service performed, and quality of work. No action should be dismissed without judgement on the merits. Appeal of any judgement, including findings of fact, should be allowed at least twice with judges of distinct legal philosophy, with or without new evidence or legal theory.
Citizens should be allowed to sue any government entity, including the judiciary, for noncompliance with the law, and no judgement in favour of the government should be final.
Finally, members of the judiciary, lawyers, and the instructors and administrators of law schools in the country must be thoroughly cleansed. Most are just the wrong people with the wrong motives to perform these functions. They have selected their careers and have caused these problems for personal gain, and have mastered skills which would enable them to ruin any reform and to reinstate their corrupt friends and clients into the government. The reform of legal education and judge selection is a good starting point.
Culled from Etcetera Live on Saturday Punch Newspaper.
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