Tuesday, December 12, 2017
As presently protected by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, immunity to the President and his Vice as well as State Governors and their Deputies remains a highly volatile provision against the background of unbridled brigandage, banditry or naked criminality displayed by those covered by this provision while in office. It is therefore very disturbing perceiving attempts by some strands of the judiciary to cloak that arm of government, particularly serving Judges with immunity from the backroom as evidenced in the recent pronouncement of Appeal Court quashing corruption charges against Justice Nganjiwa.
It would be recalled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arraigned Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa for allegedly receiving the sun of $260,000 and N8.65Million to unlawfully enrich himself as a public officer. In the trial, he pleaded not guilty and contended the jurisdiction of the trial court to entertain the case. He lost the contention and proceeded to the court of appeal where it was held that the Judge cannot be prosecuted until he had either been dismissed or compulsorily retired by the National Judicial Council (NJC). In every civilized society governed by the rule of law, it a given fact that there is always separation of powers and where there is overlap, the traditional custodian of the right supersedes the interloper. For instance, the provisions of an enactment of the parliament is superior to a case law while Judiciary interprets the law, it is the executive arm that carries out the day to day running of the law.
It is thus confusing when an NJC is being rubbed with the investigative powers of a law enforcement agency. There is no doubt that the NJC as a professional administrative body for legal practitioners, which include judges and justices, has the power to set standards, ethics, practice regulations and investigate and sanction members over professional misdemeanors, but that is just where it ends. The body does not have powers to investigate or sanction members over allegations bothering on criminal malfeasance; this is an offence against the State.
It is very unfortunate that the NJC which is NOT a court of law is indirectly been empowered to supersede the court of law by its assertion that a Judge can only be investigated after NJC “Green Light”. This further confounds any reasonable thinker to wonder if any law enforcement body like the anti-corruption agencies would be able to investigate and prosecute members of the NJC, the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, the High Courts or the Magistrate Courts? If a Judge conspired with others to steal, rape, kill or receive bribe from a politician or any other private citizens, how would such a Judge be brought to book since there is already brick wall of unconstitutional “Judicial Immunity” smuggled in to our legal system?This is akin to the attempt by the National Assembly earlier made in the year to surreptitiously confer immunity against prosecution on its Principal Officers!
We, of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, unambiguously condemn this ploy to shatter and destroy known pillars of rule of law and democracy with this judgment. It is a trite fact that the law respects nobody and there is equality before the law just as every person even when on trial is presumed innocent until proven guilty. One therefore wonders why some sections of the judiciary are in haste to provide protection and barricade of immunity for its privileged members from been investigated or prosecuted except on clearance from its administrative body – NJC. The determination of this case would decide whether Judges through the instrumentality of NJC and manipulation of processes would soon become a specie of “above the law”.
CACOL, like many other Nigerians, are asking NJC to come out into the public market to manifestly demonstrate how many of its high profile members that it has sanctioned or recommended for appropriate criminal investigation prosecution. Whereas, any toddler would roll out cases of cover-ups and filibustering perpetuated by the Judiciary to protect its own. We warn that justice must be done at all times and on whoever is involved, no matter how powerful, influential and crafty, and no heaven shall fall.