The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, yesterday urged the legislature to use its powers to sanitise the society and make it free of corruption by amending necessary laws. Specifically, Justice Muhammad canvassed stiffer penalties for corrupt people, saying laws were not adequate.
“Some people are willing to commit and suffer the punishment which is light. So, they will go and spend two years only to come out and go and enjoy their millions. The legislature needs to rise to the occasion and put things right,” he said. Muhammad, who made the comments while answering some questions from senators shortly before he was confirmed the CJN by the lawmakers, said things were better for Nigeria in terms of low level of corruption when the colonial masters were in charge of the country.
“Unfortunately when it came down to us, this happens virtually in all the states now, we started facing problems here and there. Let me say generally that corruption is inbuilt in the person who wants to be corrupted or the person who corrupts because if there is no corruption then there is no person who will be corrupted.
“Left to me, they should face some music. Therefore, I am urging members of the parliament, both here and at the state level, if need be, to take a holistic look at our criminal laws and let us amend them. It is the responsibility of the legislature to sanitise the society,” he said.
The CJN said corrupt people must be rendered helpless in their efforts to be involved in graft. “The judiciary is willing to do its job. Once they don’t have anywhere to rely on, or where what is given to them is limited, by law, certainly that is the end of it, there is nothing they can do. I believe the legislature, either at the national level or at the state level, has every power to legislate or amend the legal system through legislation to overcome these,” he noted.
He recalled: “Gone are the days when we used to sleep with our eyes closed in an open air space, with your room opened, nobody would enter to do anything. I am talking of the early 60s, and I believe that up to 1975 it was something like that. It can never happen again. It may be difficult for it to happen. We have to check ourselves because the problem is with us. That is one of the ways we can sanitise society.”
When the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, asked the CJN to explain why there appeared to be serious conflicts in the pronouncements of the Supreme Court on the issue of technicalities, particularly as they affect some judgements, Justice Muhammad said: “We have technicalities in our laws, and this is because these laws were inherited from the British who had for some time ago introduced what is known as technicalities in their laws.
“If something is technical, it is in a way giving leeway for double interpretation. It may be interpreted one way by Mr. A or it may be interpreted the other way by Mr. B. “If something technical comes before the court, what we normally do is that the trial court will ask people who are experts in that field to come and testify.
“Several of our laws are dependent on a technicality. But remember when we come, we have what is known as rules of interpretation. We resort to rules of interpretation. There are several rules of interpretation. It is through that we resolve the problem that is technically raised. That is the answer.”
Justice Muhammad stressed the need to facilitate the smooth operations of the judiciary by the executive arm of government by providing necessary facilities and structures. The CJN disclosed that lack of financial autonomy is crippling the operations of the judiciary.
“The judicial arm of government in some states is being denied even the statutory grants. It is time for the National Assembly to intervene and close all loose ends. What is keeping the judiciary aback is the lack of autonomy. We are not asking for anything more than what is provided in the budget. If you go to some states you will find out that the judiciary is refused even the normal monthly grant.”
The Senate confirmed Justice Muhammad yesterday following the screening conducted by the upper legislative chamber in the Committee of the Whole.
Muhammad’s name was sent to the Senate last week Thursday for confirmation as the substantive CJN by President Muhammadu Buhari.“I have the honour to forward the nomination of Honourable Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria,” Buhari said in a letter read by the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan.
“It is in accordance with Section 231 (1) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), which gives the president the power to appoint a Chief Justice of Nigeria on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council and subject to the confirmation of the appointment by the Senate,” Buhari had said.
The confirmation came against the background of the controversial removal of his predecessor. Buhari, after suspending the former CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen over allegations of breach of code of conduct was swift in swearing-in Muhammad as the acting CJN in January 2019.
President Buhari said Onnoghen’s suspension was necessary because of the ‘respect’ his government had for the rule of law.“In line with this administration’s avowed respect for the rule of law, I have wholeheartedly obeyed the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal dated 23rd January 2019,” Buhari said.
Onnoghen, however, alleged that his assets declaration forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) were tampered with by agents of the government. Onnoghen later resigned in April, two months after he was sued for false declaration of assets. President Buhari accepted his voluntary retirement in June.