By Edward Usoro
The legislature has a crucial role to play in checking corruption and breaches of integrity in the judiciary. And, beyond politics, it is now committed to see that happen. That was the summation of a paper presented by the President of the 10th Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly, Senator Godswill Akpabio, CON, at the All Nigeria Judges’ Conference, recently.
As a lawyer and representative of the masses, Akpabio is well aware of the issues of alleged corruption pervading the judicial system. Hence, in addressing the egg-heads gathered at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja, on November 14, 2023, he felt the weight of the moment. He knew exactly what the common man feels when expectation for justice is deliberately denied on account of corruption.
Akpabio’s discourse on:“Preventing Corruption and Breaches of Integrity in the Justice Sector, the Role of the Legislature,” therefore flowed from the deep. His avowed “legislative interventions” towards eliminating corruption in the judiciary has drawn grand applause because it is long overdue. What however gives much hope now is the declaration to pursue “the alleged corruption and breaches of integrity in the justice sector” with vigor and intentionality.
A lot contribute to the alleged corruption and breach of judicial integrity. For long, Nigerians have been fed with mere rhetoric, when it comes to the vexed issue of corruption in the judiciary. Copious excuses have often been advanced for the cankerworm. But, for once, Akpabio’s commitment appears to generate hope. “This collective action-plan must be intentional to create a just, accountable and reliable justice system that serves the very best interest of every citizen”, he said.
Riddled with nonexisting tools, poor working conditions and motivation, inadequate number of judges and other judicial staff, exacerbating economic challenges, among others, the judiciary has been staggering on the brink of collapse. What then can the legislature really do to strengthen judicial integrity?
According to Akpabio, through appropriate legislation, the National Assembly is bent on changing the status quo. “The legislature is determined to improve the judiciary through very intentional appropriations and we are going to work closely on this”, he assured.
The Judiciary and the Legislature share a unique relationship. In Akpabio’s words, “the legislature is the assembly of the people, while the judiciary is the people’s last hope.” If each complements the other, as expected, the result will be “strong, productive and independent” institutions with high utilitarian value. On the part of the National Assembly, however, Akpabio has promised a “stringent resource allocation, transparent and merit-based appointments” as some of the measures to assist the justice sector to regain its glory.
It was. heart-warming listening to a reader. who seemed to have not just the grasp of the subject but the passion to change the nagetive narratives. “Let it be known also that fostering a culture of integrity and accountability is achievable through continuous training of judicial officers on ethical standards and anti-corruption measures. Educating the public about their rights and the justice system’s operations, enhancing transparency in court proceedings and making legal processes more accessible and affordable are essential components, ” he said, confidently!
A justice system that encourages a case running for a long as 20 years is bound to be susceptible to manipulation and corruption. But Akpabio, to the delight of many, announced an impending reform. The National Assembly, he said is soon to ensure that some matters stop at the court of appeals, for the reason of ensuring quicker dispensation of justice. A bill, he said, was on the way to ensure that.
As hinted by the Senate President, the judiciary needs proper funding. Thus, the legislature should allocate sufficient funds to the sector to ensure its effective functioning. This article agrees that judicial officers need further trainings, for instance, on ethics and integrity. The court infrastructure also needs modern technology, to reduce errors and opportunities for corruption.
To further the cause, it is hereby proposed that independent bodies be established to oversee the judiciary’s activities and ensure accountability. These bodies, which must not be subject to political manipulation, should have the authority to investigate allegations of corruption, conduct audits, and impose disciplinary measures when necessary. They can also provide a platform for citizens to report corruption cases and seek redress for any grievances.
Additionally, aside setting up laws that require judges to disclose their financial interests and assets, there is a need for “ghost monitoring”. There should be mechanisms for reporting corruption anonymously and protecting whistleblowers.
Furthermore, the legislature can encourage public participation and engagement in the fight against corruption within the judiciary. This can be done through public hearings, consultations, and involving civil society organizations in the development and implementation of anti-corruption initiatives.
In trying to strengthen judicial independence the legislature should enact laws that safeguard and ensure that judges are free from political pressure or interference. This includes protecting tenure, immunity, and non-arbitrary removal processes for judges.
Specifically, the legislature can strengthen the independence and impartiality of the judiciary by safeguarding its autonomy and ensuring that the appointment and promotion of judges is based on merit rather than politics. This would help prevent corrupt practices, such as bribery or favoritism, from undermining the fairness and integrity of the judicial system.
The judges also need adequate international exposures. Participation in anti-corruption conventions, sharing information and best practices with other countries, and cooperating in cross-border investigations are bound to increase their experience and secure integrity.
So far, Rh avowed National Assembly’s commitment to prevent corruption and uphold integrity within the justice sector is not in doubt. Already, Akpabio has assured the nation of robust legislative actions. “With these interventions and strategic moves, the 10th Assembly is dedicated to enhancing the administration of justice and improving justice service delivery across the nation”, he said.
Soon, if all goes well, the nation will be sure of, as the President of the 10th Senate put it, “a judiciary that is perceived as fai,r, independent and justice-driven with improved positive perception by the members of the public”.
* Usoro, a public affairs commentator, writes from Lagos.