THE IMPACTS OF CORRUPTION ON ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE IN NIGERIA
BEING A PAPER PRESENTED BY: DR. MUSA ADAMU ALIYU
HONOURABLE ATTORNEY GENERAL/COMMISSIONER FOR JUSTICE, JIGAWA STATE.
AT THE 1ST ANTI-CORRUPTION SUMMIT ORGANISED BY:KANO STATE ANTI-CORRUPTION INSTITUTE.
9TH DECEMBER, 2022.
In YAKUBU V. FRN (2022) LPELR-57749(SC) three Justices of the Apex Court made pronouncements on Corruption in Nigeria as follows:
“If this contrary (sic) must survive and provide for the yearnings and aspirations of its honest, hardworking and productive citizens, all its wise sincere and responsible minds and hands must ceaselessly fight corruption. We cannot afford to fail! The trial Court’s sentence of a manifestly corrupt person, who inspite of the trust he enjoyed in the position he held, shamelessly stole this country dry to say the least, is preposterous. The lower Court’s intervention is a remarkably commendable enforcement of decency. It cannot be interfered with.”
Hon. Justice M.D. Muhammad, Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria
“…I think the time has come for us as a Nation to embark on meticulous scrutiny of proceeds of crime in the hands of offenders to ensure that they go home dry with nothing, this will show that there is no incentive in stealing public funds, it is unfortunate that, all efforts to ensure total restitution is hardly achieved as acknowledged by the Legislative Guide to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crimes and the Protocols thereto … As a nation, we must continue in our efforts to show that crime does not pay, we can only achieve so doing if the Court even where there is a contraption in the name of plea bargain takes proactive steps to ensure that criminals are totally and completely stripped of proceeds of crime.”
Hon. Justice Tijjani Abubakar, Justice of the Supreme Court
“… eradicating corruption or reducing it to the barest minimum, our judicial institutions must take that giant stride to make fearless pronouncements as done by the Court below. It is the duty of the Court in joint task with our law enforcement agencies to make crime less attractive. It is infuriating that a Civil Servant will embezzle such a humongous sum which was meant to be held in public trust. Ex-Police Officers who have done nothing but dutifully serve this country for years are left to die in the abyss of penury just because an unscrupulous individual in connivance with others chose to fraudulently convert monies they were meant to keep in public trust.”
Hon. Justice Adamu Jauro, Justice of the Supreme Court.
Nigeria as a democratic country is governed by the Constitution as a grundnorm. It is the Constitution of 1999 (as amended) that established courts to settle disputes between parties. Parties before court deserve justice and fairness in the hearing and determination of suits. Justice and fairness cannot be achieved if extant rules are disregarded by the stakeholders in the administration of justice. Infraction of extant rules by the stakeholders that consist of judges, lawyers in the public and private bar, auxiliary staff of court and police in carrying out their responsibilities is tantamount to corrupt practices. Corruption is an abuse of trust by stakeholders for personal gain. The allegation of corrupt practices in Nigeria’s justice sector is no longer news, and it has impacted the administration of justice. This paper has identified and highlighted the impact of corruption on the administration of justice in Nigeria.
2.0 Meaning of Administration of Justice
The word administration may be defined “as the management or performance of the executive duties of a government, institutions, or business.” While justice means “…fair and equitable allocation of rights, duties and burdens…” The word justice can also be defined as “…impartial, proper and effective application of the law.” However, for the purposes of this paper, administration of justice may be described as a fair systematic application of the law in the settlement of disputes between individuals in the society. In the administration of Justice, judges, lawyers and supporting staff of court have significant roles to play. These three stakeholders cannot contribute their quota in the administration of justice without adherence to the rule of law and ethics of their responsibilities. The Rule of Law can only be upheld by a judiciary that is independent with judges that are impartial and competent in the discharge of their function. “Three major things play an important role in sustaining the judicial system of a nation and by extinction (sic) the administration of justice. The three things are the public confidence in the independence of the judiciary, public confidence in the integrity of the judges that man such courts and the impartiality and efficiency in the administration of justice”.
Administration of Justice can generally be classified into two (2); the criminal and civil administration of justice. Administration of criminal justice deals with public wrong. The public wrongs can be found in legislations enacted by appropriate authority in accordance with the standards prescribed in the supreme law. A person who has been subjected to criminal proceedings and found guilty beyond reasonable doubt will be punished in accordance with the sanctions provided by the law which may be death, imprisonment for specific number of years or life and in some cases with fine. And the main objective of criminal justice system is to punish the wrong doer in accordance with the law.
Unlike the criminal justice administration, civil justice system or administration of justice “…is a system used to resolve disputes between individuals and/or organizations.” In other words, civil administration of justice permits person wronged to get remedy in court through monetary awards or restitution etc.”
3.0 Historical Development of Administration of Justice
Historically, man lived in a state of nature “when the society was primitive and private vengeance and self-help were the only remedies available to the wronged against the wrong doer. He could get his wrong addressed with the help of his friends or relatives.” The stages of the development continued to evolve up to the time established political authority was formed. Organized government has been instituted in various Constitutions across the globe. In Nigeria, the 1999 Constitution (As amended) has established the government and provided the legal framework for the administration of justice.
4.0 Definition of Corruption
Definition of corruption is wide and there is no clear-cut acceptable definition. However, one feature that is contained in the various definitions of corruption is dishonesty. The Longman Active Study Dictionary has defined corruption as “dishonest or immoral behaviour by politicians or people who work for the government.” According to Transparency International corruption is “…the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” However, Law dictionaries have linked the definition of corruption with infraction of official duties to derive benefits: “the impairment of public official’s duties by bribery.” Another meaning of corruption is “… the giving and taking of bribes to carry out an official duty, or to violate such a duty…”
From the foregoing definitions, corruption may be described as any conduct that is inimical to the discharge of official responsibility assigned to a person and such behaviour is immoral and exploitative. Corruption in the judiciary consists of inappropriate benefits in kind and or in cash and conferring in furtherance of political and professional ambitions.
5.0 Corrupt Practices in the Administration of Justice
In determination of disputes between two parties before the Court of law, the litigants expect nothing less than fairness and justice in the hearing and determination of their cases. The persons that play critical roles in ensuring justice to the litigants are the supporting staff, judges, lawyers and security agents who are the stakeholders. The conduct of the stakeholders is regulated by rules and regulations. Breach of the rules is detrimental to the rights and interests of the litigants. It has negative impact on the administration of justice.
There are researches conducted that provide the level of corruption in the administration of justice in Nigeria. It has been observed that corrupt practices have been institutionalized by deviant stakeholders in the justice sector. The unethical behaviours of police, judges and staff of the ministry of justice most particularly the office of the Director Public Prosecution that have impacts on the administration of justice have been highlighted.
6.0 Corrupt Practices in the Judiciary
The judiciary as an arm of government is saddled with the responsibility of hearing and determination of disputes between parties before trial and appellate courts. Litigants and lawyers’ first point of contact with the court is the registry manned by supporting staff that are legal practitioners and non-lawyers. Within the circle of the auxiliary staff of the courts, there are unethical practices that are pervasive. Demand for payment of money by court registrars, bailiffs and clerks as a condition for the discharge of official function has been institutionalized. In addition to that, there are practices of improper filings and documentation of court processes that are tantamount to corrupt practices.
There are judicial officers in the lower and higher benches that exhibit corrupt behaviour in the discharge of their sacred duty. Such conducts are contrary to the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers in Nigeria. Conducting proceedings deliberately contrary to the extant rules such as conflicting decisions and wanton disregard of judicial precedent are also examples of corrupt practices. Court of Appeal Abuja division in Makarfi & Anor v. Poroye & Ors (2016) LPELR-41296(CA) has described a judgment as a vexed decision that ought not to be allowed to stand. “Most undoubtedly, as aptly found by my learned brother, ITA GEORGE MBABA, JCA at page 16 lines 9 – 16 of the leading Judgment, the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division, … was a fraud, diabolical contraption and perverse. It is so obvious from the records of appeal, as effectively found in the leading judgment that the Appellants’ fundamental right to fair hearing has been wantonly and violently trampled upon and breached. That breach and denial of fundamental right to fair hearing as cherishingly enshrined in Section 36 (i) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended completely and irredeemably renders the said judgment perverse a nullity, and liable to be set aside by this Court.”
There are other unethical conducts by some judges that led to their removal from office, such as falsification of age, and collection of bribes. The National Judicial Council and relevant State Judicial Service Commissions have sanctioned the judges to serve as deterrence.
7.0 Corrupt Practices by Legal Practitioners
Some private legal practitioners have to share the blame for corruption in the administration of justice. Most often than not, it is the private legal practitioners that act as linkmen between stakeholders in the administration of justice and their clients in a compromised manner:
“Most times, they act as link between their clients and the officer involved. Right from when they go to see their clients in police or prison custody, some lawyers gratify the police or warders to see their clients; to obtain bail or for the police to drop the charges against their client. Where they do not do this directly, they encourage their clients to do so. In some cases, where the lawyer is briefed to secure bail for a client who is alleged to have committed a serious offence, the lawyer might decide to secure bail at all cost, and disregard due process, especially in capital offences. In such cases, the police is heavily bribed to tamper with the results of the investigation, or cause the disappearance of the case file, or exhibits and/or the accused person, thereby, obstructing the course of justice. These practices are clearly at variance with the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct in the Legal Profession.
Furthermore, there are sharp practices employed by private legal practitioners to delay or frustrate hearings and the determination of cases on merit. In PDP v Jime & Ors (2019) LPELR – 48229 CA Honourable Justice Abiru cited an example of a tactic by private practitioners “… of duplicating motions and appeals …” which “…is very selfish and antithetical to an efficient and effective administration of justice system. It clogs up the system as the Courts must to attend to the duplicated processes and it constitutes a big strain on the already stretched and scarce resources of the Courts.”
The legal practitioner working in public service are not left out of the corrupt practices. State Counsel are employees of government legal departments supervised by the Attorneys General of the Federation and the States. It is their duty to write legal advice and draft charges in criminal cases. In discharging their responsibilities some of them do not stick to the ethics of their work:
“…the State Counsel has enormous say on the fate of a criminal case. Where the officer handling a particular file is corrupt, and has received gratification to do what he ought not to do, or refrain from doing what he ought or ought not to do, he could easily twist the case to go to any direction favourable to the party he desires to please.
The officers in the Office of the DPP, upon perusal of the case file, render necessary advice on the appropriate line of action, as to whether to prosecute the accused person, if so, what charges to prefer against him. In his exercise of discretion to prosecute, a law officer may exercise the discretion negatively or positively, depending on the party whose bidding he wants to do, where he has received or been promised a reward. In the same manner, he might decide to oppose or not oppose a motion for bail, depending on the party he received gratification from such an officer could intentionally fail to direct the police to carry out further and better investigations where he observes that there are some arrears in the evidence that needs to be clarified by further investigations. He could also frustrate a case by employing delay tactics, either in writing the legal opinion, or during the prosecution, by absenting himself in court, etc., all in a bid to cause a deadlock of the case.”
The powers of the Attorney General to enter nolle prosequi if not exercised for the overall public interest may be considered a corrupt practice. “This power is very difficult, if not impossible to curtail, given its constitutional backing. Nonetheless, the exercise of this power can be influenced by corruption, and where it is wrongly entered or denied, our society becomes the worse for it. Such an action further weakens the already lean public confidence in the criminal justice system.”
8.0 Corrupt Practices by Police
The police are an integral part of the administration of justice in Nigeria. They have function to investigate allegations of crimes and forward the case diary to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution. The police are blamed of delay in investigation and tardiness in forwarding case diaries. There is allegation of extreme bribe-taking by police. This is contained in the 2017 National Corruption Survey Report issued by the National Bureau of Statistics. However, the practice of police involving themselves in civil cases such as debt collection has been condemned in numerous cases by superior courts:
“The Courts in this Country especially the Supreme Court and this Court have variously warned against the use of the police for the pursuit of purely civil claims. See paragraphs 10 and 11 of the Further Affidavit of the 1st Respondent. See also Arab Contractors (O.A.O) Nig. Ltd v. Umanah (2013) 4 NWLR (pt.1344) 323; Abah v. UBN Plc & Ors (2015) LPELR – 24758 (CA) and Nwadiugwu v. I.G.P. & Ors (2015); LPELR – 26027 (CA). Thus, in Igwe & Ors v. Ezeanochie & Ors (2010) 7 NWLR (pt.1192) 61, Ariwoola, JCA (as he then was) said: “The Police are not and should not in any community of civilized people be used as debt or levy collectors. The Courts have in strong terms condemned the use of Policemen and Soldiers in the resolution or settlement of disputes amongst people, as such the use of Policemen often lead to infringement on the fundamental rights of others. See Agbai vs. Okogbue (1991) 7 NWLR (pt.391); Nkpa vs. Nkume (2001) 6 NWLR (pt.710) 543 at 561.” Accordingly, where the police willingly entangle themselves in matters that are purely in civil nature, they should be prepared to reap the consequence of any damage or breach of right occasioned to any of the parties to the dispute.”Per Tsammani, JCA (Pp. 49-50, para. E-E).
And the above practice condemned by the Court of Appeal is a corruption because the police force of Nigeria was not established to settle civil disputes amongst parties. The constitutional duty of the police has been spelt out in the grundnorm and the Police Act which include: “…the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of Law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all Laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act.”
9.0 Impact of Corruption on Administration of Justice
Corruption has tremendous impact on the administration of justice in Nigeria. The critical impact is that it makes people to lose confidence in the administration of justice. “The moment members of the society lose confidence in the system of administration of justice, a descent to anarchy begins.” Anarchy in society breeds insecurity and a country that is not secure will not attract investment. Without adequate investment in a society, there will be unemployment.
Inordinate delay in disposing cases in courts sometimes has connection with unethical behaviour of the stakeholders in the administration of justice. Whenever one of the stakeholders fail to discharge his responsibility in accordance with the extant rules the attendant consequences are: “…in efficiency of the system, increase in the cost of administration of justice, lack of equity in administration of justice, weakening of the integrity of the system, and weakening of public confidence in the system.
It has been opined by a senior legal practitioner that as a result of the current happenings within the justice system it is difficult to predict outcome of any case pending before court of law. “Time was when a lawyer could predict the likely outcome of a case because of the facts, the law and the brilliance of the lawyers that handled the case. Today, things have changed and nobody can be sure.”
One worrying irregular practice that has impact on the administration of justice is the conflicting judgments by courts of coordinate jurisdiction. Forum shopping by lawyers is one of the reasons for the conflicting decisions. “Between June and August no less than six High Court judges had issued restraining orders on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and major political parties in the country, as well as the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus. While the CJ of the High Courts of Imo, Jigawa and Anambra were to explain the roles of their courts in the Anambra governorship election slated for November 6, 2021, their counterparts in Rivers, Kebbi and Cross River on the other hand are to explain the role of their courts in the PDP leadership crisis.”
The members of the public and senior members of the judiciary have raised concerns over the contradictory decisions of courts. “The late Chief Justice of Nigeria – Honourable Justice Dahiru Mustapher had once lamented about conflicting Court Orders and decisions of Courts. He said: “I must mention that quite a number of judgments from the Court of Appeal and a few from the Supreme Court appear to have created some confusion amongst practitioners and the general public.”
Based on the discussions in this paper, it is apparent that the administration of justice in Nigeria is facing challenge of corruption. The stakeholders in the justice system are enjoined by the law to be fair and just in the justice dispensation. However, infractions of the extant rules by the stakeholders in the administration of justice breeds corrupt practices such as the collection of bribes, delay in discharging responsibility and those behaviours and others stated earlier have negatively affected the integrity of the stakeholders, consequent upon which members of the public lack confidence in the administration of justice. The way out to tackle the menace of corruption in the administration of justice is for the stakeholders to ensure adherence to the rules of the duties, and anybody who commits infractions should be sanctioned.