This is the first anniversary of the famous sting operation yet no conviction has been secured in the highly sensationalised operation that shook, surprised, embarrassed and misled a lot of Nigerians across the length and breadth of the globe.
Many criminal law lawyers from the onset predicted that the cases against the judges were going to fall like a pack of cards because the process from the beginning was designed to shame and fail. Indeed, it has shamed and it is failing. Many lawyers believe that, blackmail and shaming was the main objective of the strike not necessarily the desire to fight corruption or even secure convictions. Many judges and reputable lawyers have had their integrity put on the line by the bogey man the law enforcement agents have assumed and it has been a tough venture for them in efforts to redeem their image. As they struggle, the bogey man continues to use the media to drag them around on the mud, putting petrol soaked tyre on their neck and getting the public to strike the match stick.
While the law enforcement agents are holding sway in the media with a convenient narrative, some serious business is going on in the courtrooms where unfortunately, the struggles of the prosecutors are evident.
There is no doubt that the reputation and integrity of many judges and lawyers have been bruised in this whole charade and it will take many of them a life time to rebuild. In this whole drama, the silver lining one can see is the discerning bystanders who helplessly watch the law enforcement officers, cajole the public through the media to set fire on the tyre they placed on the neck of their victims as they dance round the burn fire with a false sense of accomplishment.
It cannot be disputed that the judiciary all over the world is plagued with corruption. In the UK last year about three Judges and fifteen magistrates were removed after a free, fair and clear process that established wrong doing unlike in Nigeria where the process is first of all tainted ab initio leaving the defendants struggling with their reputation before they have the opportunity to clear themselves. This has become so bad that even when the law enforcement agents invite lawyers and judges to make a statement in the course of an investigation, they end up running into the ambush of waiting pressmen who begin the job of making sure that these lawyers and judges are found guilty in the eyes of the public before they are charged with any offence.
In Nigeria, many lawyers admit that there is corruption in the judiciary though not as bad as the media is making it look. They also agree that lawyers are also involved in driving it.
However, many lawyers are in agreement that 95% of these corrupt acts can be found in high profile cases mostly political, election and high volume commercial disputes not in landlord-tenants matters, employer-employee, small claims etc. where bribery will not really have any “probative value”.
The law enforcement in building their case have grabbled with everything to make a case even in small gifts given to judiciary officers by lawyers who have personal relationships with them (ignoring instances where judicial officer do same for lawyers) that is unfortunate. The question becomes at this point, is it wrong to advance gifts or loans to Judges. No it is not but subject to Section 3 (f) of the code of judicial officers provides that :
- A Judicial Officer and members of his family shall neither ask for nor accept any gift, bequest, favour, or loan on account of anything done or omitted to be done by him in the discharge of his duties.
- A Judicial Officer is, however permitted to accept:
(i) personal gifts or benefits from relatives or personal friends to such extent and on such occasions as are recognised by custom;
(ii) books supplied by publishers on a complimentary basis.
(iii) A loan from lending institution in its regular course of business on the same terms generally available to people who are not Judicial Officers;
(iv) A scholarship or fellowship awarded on the same terms applied to other applicants.
It is not arguable that judicial officers were first lawyers who have forged a lot of friendships with fellow lawyers before they crossed over to the bench.
In view of this, it makes a lot of sense that judicial officers will have a lot of lawyer as personal friends.
Another question comes up here. Will it be out of place for a lawyer to extend gift or loan to a judicial officer who is his friend? The answer is obvious in view of section 3 above. It is not out of place even if the lawyer in question has a case before the judicial officer, if it can be established that they are personal friends and that such gifts or loan was not intended to influence. Of course that can be easily determined when timing, quantity, quality and originality (whether the gift has been advanced before in good faith) of the gift is considered. This will be a bitter submission for hardliners to swallow but it does not change the truth.
Again, taking into consideration, the status of judges, it is more honourable to seek help from either a fellow judge or a lawyer when a judge finds himself in financial needs.
The charade of this whole process was revealed in the most celebrated case of them all; the trial of Justice Ademola whose case was dismissed on no case submission because the prosecutors could not link him to the charge. Many more are likely to go that way.
The case of Fishin J., a Judge of the National Industrial Court, a court that is not “JUICY” is burning a lot of reputable senior lawyers who at some point made friendly contacts with the judge.
In the centre of it is a prominent Pastor who has an impeccable character, a senior advocate of Nigeria who is a leading telecommunications lawyer who has worked closely with the Judge in their days in practice in the communications sector and has built a reputable practice, another Senior advocate of good standing. Etc
In the proof of evidence before the High court in Lagos, the State intends to use some of these Lawyers as witnesses. What they intend to achieve by that is still unsure. However, the result is almost certain and when it happens, the dance around the burn fire will begin again but this time it will be a desperate dance to get the public dance to the tune that the people they set on fire did not burn because the fire was not hot enough. Yes, some will buy that, some will not and many will lose interest from fatigue of dancing to a boring tune. Of course, some of the defendants will come out with burns from the bogeyman but they will be alive all the same and that discerning bystander will have a good reason to smile and walk home with smiles.