Is Buhari getting it wrong on anti-graft war?

Controversy has continued to trail the recent invasion of the residences of some judges and their eventual arrests by operatives of the Department of State Services in connection with their alleged roles in corrupting the nation’s judiciary. While some observers are of the opinion that the move was proper, other critics are saying that the anti-corruption fight of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has been selective, draconian and simply undemocratic.

According to the DSS, the “sting operation” was in tandem with its core mandate, having monitored the alleged expensive and luxurious lifestyles of some of the affected judges, as well as complaints from other concerned members of the public over the alleged fraudulent judgments granted by the judicial officers. The DSS had further claimed that credible intelligence revealed that a particular judge had $2m stashed away in his house and when he was approached for due search in his house, as if he had something to hide, quickly called his state governor, who allegedly mobilised to resist lawful arrest by the DSS.

Those that have blamed the invasion and arrests of the judicial officers by the DSS had argued that rather than take that particular course of action, the National Judicial Council should have been approached with evidence of judicial malfeasance and the council should have been permitted to take over the case, especially, in view of the fact that during the 78th meeting of the body, disciplinary actions were taken against erring judges that led to the retirement of the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin, Ladan Tsamiya; Innocent Umezulike, former Chief Judge of the Enugu State; and Kabiru Auta of the Kano High Court, who in addition, was also recommended for prosecution.

An important stakeholder in the administration of justice, the Nigerian Bar Association, has been accused of shielding corrupt judges despite having relevant information about their unbecoming activities; as such negligence has been blamed for the rot. It is believed that if NBA had effectively played its regulatory and supervisory roles, it would have been possible to put the alleged excesses of their members under check and the frequent allegations against members of the Bar and Bench would have been drastically reduced. Unfortunately, the few lawyers who are known to have summed up the courage to expose alleged corrupt judges and lawyers are said to have been stigmatised by their colleagues.

In the last one week, the development has elicited divergent political and legal discourses, which should ordinarily be expected in a complex political environment like ours, where various interests are in constant alterations. Certainly, opinions are bound to differ depending on who is talking and from what vantage position. Human beings are known to want to naturally feather their nests, irrespective of what the political equation looks like. This should be expected. But the truth of the matter is that if the nation is ever going to record any meaning impact or success in the fight against impunity and corruption, the legal framework, institutions, resources and most importantly, the political will that is needed to win the battle, should be put in place and made functional because winning the war on corruption is a daunting task.

We cannot pretend not to know that corruption would always “fight back” using various means possible – legitimate and illegal means/strategies such as the manipulation of the judicial system, sponsored advocacy, parochial deployment of regional, tribal and religious sentiments and trying to make the matters of impunity, corruption and economic sabotage to simplistically look like partisan politics. The confusion that people are bringing into the scenario, to suggest that the anti-corruption fight is selective, draconian and undemocratic, is fallacious. The Federal Government does not appear to be fighting judicial officers but graft.

Corruption is a big problem to many developing countries that lose, at least, $1tn, yearly. Corruption in the judiciary appears to be worse. It means we are all sitting on a keg of gun power that could explode at any time whenever the judiciary, which is the last hope for the common man, is compromised, as the Nigerian experience has shown. That is why nothing can be too much to tame the monster, provided it is done within the ambit of the law.

The Federal Government should shun distractions and discordant tunes coming from the beneficiaries of graft.

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice should ensure that only trusted, experienced, sound and fearless persons constitute the prosecution legal team. The EFCC, and other anti-graft agencies should make thorough investigation the hallmark of their operations before embarking on the arrest of suspects and building the necessary capacities to thoroughly handle the processes of investigation, arrest and prosecution. For emphasis, the effects of corruption in the life of the nation are better imagined. Should we then continue in our normal ways of life? No, we should not. That is why the anti-graft war should be on course.

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