The judiciary came under scrutiny yesterday for its role in allowing corruption and money laundering to fester.
Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Prof Bolaji Owasanoye (SAN), also lashed lawyers for aiding money laundering and abetting graft.
He said judges grant injunctions that restrain anti-graft agencies from doing their jobs while indulging lawyers who bring such applications.
Owasanoye spoke on How corruption fuels insecurity and bad governance: The role of lawyers in tackling corrupt practices in Nigeria at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual General Conference at the Eko Atlantic, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Rights crusader Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) accused the government and politicians of undermining the judiciary.
He said judges lack the courage to give fair verdicts.
Activist-lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) said judges must be firmer and stop the preferential treatment they give to Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs).
Convener of justice sector watchdog, the Access to Justice, Joseph Otteh, agreed that judges sometimes fail to exercise courage in the face of impunity.
The three spoke on Consequences of undermining the judiciary under democracy organised by the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL) at the NBA conference.
Owasanoye pointed out that lawyers act as middlemen for suspects in most money laundering and corruption cases.
He cited a case under investigation during which the money involved was traced to a lawyer’s account.
“When we got to the account, the looted money has been further transferred to so many accounts in an effort to frustrate investigation,” he said.
In the case of courts, the ICPC Chairman said they issue orders stopping anti-corruption agencies from investigating and making arrests.
“The biggest culprits are senior lawyers and it is a matter of regret that the NBA is not doing anything about it,” he lamented.
Chairman, Civil Society Against Corruption, Olanrewaju Suraju, agreed with Owasanoye, saying some senior lawyers were clogs in the wheel of justices.
Some, he said, do not defend the rule of law.
“They are agents of money laundering and they undermine the legal profession.
“These lawyers allow the corruption of judicial officers and judges to the extent that some lawyers are abused by court clerks,” he said.
Falana said the courts give more attention to political cases than those of thousands languishing in detention.
According to him, only cases of the rich and politicians are attended to speedily.
To buttress his position, he cited the case of the deposed Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi.
He said the case was filed, processed, assigned to a judge, heard and determined the same day.
He emphasised that a common man could not achieve that in the country.
Falana urged judges to learn to manage cases, saying the procedure where cases of senior lawyers are heard first must stop.
“Our judges must learn to manage their courts if we must ensure speedy dispensation of cases.
“I see no reason why the provision in the Legal Practitioners Act that allows cases of senior lawyers to be heard first in court must continue.
“We must stop it and adopt more efficient ways of freeing the court docket,” he said.
Falana, citing several instances, also blamed lawyers for not using the law and precedents to fight their cases and causes in court.
Ozekhome was of the view that the judiciary was in a quagmire.
He said: “Judges are afraid to deliver fair judgments because the government is on their neck.
“This is because the executive dictates the pulse and the judiciary is hopeless.
“The judiciary itself, particularly judges, put manacles on their feet where non exist.
“They want to obey the executive even when the executive is saying don’t obey me.
“They forgot that judgment must be respected. They deny litigants who are judgment-creditors the fruits of their labour.”
He questioned why a judgment creditor must go through the Attorney-General to enforce it.
To him, this factor is one of the consequences of undermining the judiciary under the country’s democracy.
Ozekhome said judges must be allowed to operate unfettered.
Otteh identified overcrowded dockets and escalating costs of filing cases as major barriers to justice access.
He believes the courts are not responsive enough to the need for more access.
“We are still paper-driven, which is labour-intensive and we are not prepared enough for another pandemic,” he said.
Otteh frowned at delays, attributing the development to the transfer of judges without adequate preparations.
“Our judges fail to exercise the courage they need to display when they face challenges like impunity from the state.
“If the judiciary cannot faithfully exercise their authority, it will be undermined,” he added.