A glimmer of hope came from the third arm of government, a few days ago, with the report that the National Judicial Council (NJC) had removed two judges - Justices Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court, Lagos, and Thomas Naron of the High Court of Plateau State - for ethical misconduct.
A third judge, Justice Abubakar Talba of the FCT High Court, is being probed over allegations of delivering controversial judgements. Also, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) has stripped Chief Ajibola Aribisala of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) because of his involvement in the wrong handling of a case involving a financial institution.
No doubt, the Nigerian judiciary has been unable to protect itself from the corruption scourge that is ravaging the Nigerian system. Some members of this hitherto hallowed institution have soiled their hands in the line of duty. Instead of being the last hope of the common man, the judiciary has been turned into a playground of the rich. Judgement could be procured at a fee.
Not long ago, for instance, the Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, Delta State, presided over by Justice Marcel Awokulehin discharged and acquitted a former governor of Delta State, Mr James Ibori, only for a court in London, the United Kingdom, to convict and sentence him on the same charges he had been discharged and acquitted by the Nigerian court.
But we are encouraged by the fact that the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mariam Alooma Mukhtar, and her lieutenants seem to have decided to take the bull by the horns. The cleansing of the stable should be total and unequivocal - in fact, both the Bar and the Bench should be scrutinised.
The sundry judicial workers should not be left out. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) should periodically organise refresher courses on ethics in its various branches. This is very important because the nation's political evolution is at a crossroads and the judiciary should rise up to its constitutional responsibility.
It is a pity that most of our judicial officers are politically exposed. The need has therefore arisen for the NJC to review this unhealthy trend. Judges and justices are not political appointees of either the president or governor of a state. These judicial officers are responsible to the NJC that has the CJN as its chairman.
Desecration of the temple of justice in any form is unacceptable. That is why we encourage the NJC to continue with this arduous task of cleansing the judiciary. It should also review the extant punishment for erring judicial officers and legal practitioners: there is need for heavier penalty. Those found to have breached their professional ethics should be debarred, irrespective of the height they may have attained, to serve as a deterrent to others.