By Nabil Brown
In what stands out as a most egregious departure from judicial ethics, certain judges in Nigeria insist on defendants before them bringing Senators, senior civil servants, other specified high profile figures as sureties for bails granted by them. It doesn’t take hard reasoning to understand the exceptional abuse of power and corruption inherent in such practice.
Why would a judge demand, as a bail condition, that the defendant bring a Senator, a traditional ruler, a senior civil servants, a pastor, etc as surety? What happens to the principle of separation of power? What about the principle of independence of the judiciary? Why insist on dragging members of the legislature or the executive arm of government into the cases they are trying? What is wrong with the judge simply demanding for a credible surety without specifying the particular office of the surety? Why not allow the defendant to bring any adult citizen with verifiable good standing as he can find?
The Nigerian judges involved in this practice have systematically compromised the ethics of the judiciary and undermined the separation of power, which is a cornerstone to our constructional democracy. To be accepted as a surety the judge will vet and verify a proposed surety and decide one way of the other whether such surety is credible, of good standing and reliable. A judge should never chose with undue particularity the people he wants to subject to such controlling and intrusive vetting. To do so is a dangerous abuse of power and influence, and thus corrupt.
Justice Abang of the Federal High Court Abuja, and Justice Hassan of The Federal High Court, Lagos, not to mention more judges, are notorious for this practice.
Some Nigerian Senators are complaining bitterly. They do not understand why judges are dragging them into adjudications to which they are not parties. For them, the practice is as absurd as them dragging judges into their legislative work. Similarly, civil servants are bothered. How can an executive agency be prosecuting a person for a crime against the state and a judge will order that a senior civil servant (Directors and Permanent Secretaries) must be the surety?
What if the defendant does not know any permanent secretary, but knows a successful businessman ready to stand as a surety for him? Essentially, judges who engage in this practice cannot justify their actions on any justice rational. They act totally out of their personal egos and possibly greed or they are under pressure from the security agencies. And this brings up the question of the independence of the judiciary. If a judge has no skeleton in Hus cupboard, he should not be easily susceptible to intimidation, blackmail or undue influence of any security agency, and would not impose bail conditions that were dictated by the officers of such agencies.
The ramifications of this practice are endless. In addition to the ethical compromises involved, it erodes the principles of separation or power and independence of the judiciary, as well as undermining the constitutional right to liberty of those who are not rich enough or well-connected enough to afford the highly particularized surety the judge is demanding.
It is to be noted that not all judges do this. We have numerous examples where judges reflected the right practice. For example, the bail conditions given by Justice Nyako of the Federal High Court Abuja in the case of Mohammed Adoke and the conditions given separately in Adoke case by Justice Kutigi of the Federal Capital Territory High Court both reflect the right standards. These two judges, going by the objective terms of bail imposed, showed they have no personal interest in the cases and were only acting judicially and judiciously. Also, the recent case of some Chinese charged in Sokoto for offering 50 million dollar bribe to officers of the EFCC is another example of the best practice. Equally, a close examination of bails granted by Justice Liman of Federal High Court, Lagos reflect the right standards. Many more judges get it right. But a few serious create problems for the Nigerian judiciary.
Nigerian stakeholders must look into this problem that tends to erode fair administration justice in the country. It is sad to observe that Nigerian Bar Association is too enfeebled and too compromised to fight this cause. A backlash from the legislature is something the country doesn’t want. We must understand that if pushed to the wall, the legislature could make a law that specify standard conditions for bail which the courts must follow, and this will be at the risk of whittling down the discretion of a judge over terms and conditions for bail he grants.
By Nabil Brown
Office of Director of Communications