Corruption most rampant at Magistrates’ courts – CJN

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The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, who was confirmed yesterday by the Senate, has described the magistracy, the lowest ebb of Nigeria’s judiciary, as the most corrupt strata of the judiciary.

His confirmation was sequel to the consideration at plenary of his nomination by President Muhammadu Buhari by the Senate Committee of the Whole headed by Senate President Ahmad Lawan.

Justice Muhammad, 66, had during the session which lasted from 11.40a.m. to 1.15p.m, answered questions from senators after which the Senate president asked him to take a bow and leave.

Justice Muhammad, who had acted for six months before his confirmation, also said technical cases were leeways to double interpretations of judgments.

To him, justices of the Supreme Court and other judges deserve better pay, as their current salaries are ridiculous and laughable.

The CJN in response to a question on rampant corruption cases among judicial officers, said while some judges were corrupt the level of corruption among the magistrates was alarming.

“Talking about corruption in the society and judiciary in particular, I always say that the Nigerian judiciary is part and parcel of Nigeria. Therefore, I am not surprised if I see some justices that are corrupt but that such judges who are corrupt should be identified and prosecuted under our laws.

“Now the most worrisome of this trend is at the lower ebb of our judiciary. For those of us at the lower court, that is the magistrate. This is where the corruption arises. I was a magistrate then we had a white man who was Chief Judge of our state; we inherited him, he will kill any trace of corruption, but unfortunately, it rubbed down on us and this eventually happened in all cases.

“Corruption is in-built in the person who wants to be corrupted because if there is no corruption, there shall be no person who will be corrupted. Left to me, the corrupt judges should face same music as other Nigerians,” he stated.

The CJN urged the legislature, both at federal and state levels, to review the nation’s criminal laws.

“I am charging the legislature, both in state and federal levels, to take a holistic look at our criminal laws. Let us amend them; let them take care of all the lapses in our laws. Let us provide adequately so that it will serve as guide to these anomalies. It is the duty of the legislature to sensitise the society.

“Much as the judiciary would like to work, but what is given to us is limited by law. But I believe the legislature at both federal and state levels have every power to legislate or to amend the existing legislations in this country,” he added.

On technical judgments delivered in the past by the Supreme Court, Justice Muhammad defended the verdicts, saying such judgments were subject to double interpretations.

He said: “if something is technical, it is in a way giving a leeway for double interpretations. 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 the trial court will ask people who are experts in that field to come and testify. We rely on their testimony because they are experts in that field.

“Ask me anything on aeroplane, I don’t know; ask me to fly an airplane, I am sure if they told you that that flight is going to be piloted by Tanko, I am sure you will jump out of the plane. Because it is something that is limited to technicality, my technicality is in law.

“Therefore, it is something that has to do with the perception of the way you think you can achieve the goals for what you want to achieve. Several of our laws are dependent on 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.

“We have technicalities in our laws and this is because these laws that we have inherited from the British, the British had for sometimes ago introduced what is known as technicalities in their laws.”

Commenting on the independence of the judiciary, Justice Muhammad identified lack of financial autonomy as the main impediment to a free judiciary arm of government.

“We are not asking for anything more than what is provided in the budget but believe me, if you go to some states you will find out that the judiciary is refused even the normal monthly grant. They have houses, offices to maintain, and where they are collecting revenue they are not supposed to dip their hands into the revenue because their revenue must go back to the state,” he said.

The CJN decried the meagre salary earned by Justices of the Supreme Court, saying “what is the allowance of the justice of the Supreme Court – his salary what does it amount to? If I tell you, you will laugh.

“I cannot go begging or asking for something. The legislature I am sure has every right and every power to see that things are put right,” Muhammad added.

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