In the Presidential system, the Legislative arm of government — which is the National Assembly (NASS) in Nigeria is supposed to check and balance excesses by the Executive and Judiciary while they in turn perform the same function on the other two arms.
Recent events in Nigeria exemplify why an INEFFECTIVE NASS is inimical to progress in that nation. The tussle for autonomy between the National Judicial Council (NJC) and security agencies in the investigative process concerning allegations of corruption against judges has led to the NJC making declarations that ascribe ABSOLUTE powers to itself which basically appears to give it the SOLE ability to determine if judges can be investigated or not by authorities.
Based on its interpretation of the law which set it up, the NJC declared in its statement about the raid by the Nigeria’s security agency on residences of several judges that unless it determines an allegation against a judge worthy of investigation by external bodies, NO SECURITY AGENCY in Nigeria — not just the DSS, can investigate a judge for criminal misconduct. That in my opinion is just wrong!
It is a cover no other person in Nigeria has. Not even government officials who are shielded by the obnoxious IMMUNITY clause in the constitution. They can be investigated at any time but charges cannot be brought against them until their immunity lapses. The NJC is working an even better deal for judges the constitution did not intend for them to have!
Now we are reading about an attempt to gag the press from reporting on investigations even the NJC itself is supposed to do on judges, stating that once there is a leak of any petition against a judge to the press, it will be DISCARDED regardless of the possibility it might be true AND the press CANNOT report on any allegation if the NJC determines it to be baseless. Imagine that?
As far as I know, it is only in Nigeria this kind of exclusivity obtains for an arm of government. It can only lead to an even more corrupt judiciary than we have now. The NJC has not cleaned the judiciary up till now — that is not a secret. Why should we then believe it will, under the guise of secrecy? Without transparency?
At this point, NASS should play one of the roles given it by the constitution.
This self-centered expansion of its powers can be curtailed very quickly by NASS amending the law which set up the NJC so that it is clear where its jurisdiction lies in investing judges accused of MISCONDUCT. The NJC is capitalizing on some ambiguity in that charter. The limits of its powers should be clearly enunciated.
OFFICIAL and JUDICIAL misconduct which do not border on criminal activity should be the prerogative of the NJC. Those are its regulatory functions.
A judge coming to work drunk, making unwanted sexual advances, lapses in judgement calls — ethical errors are what it should be looking into. Then it can decide to ignore, warn, demote, suspend or disrobe a judge for an offence.
However, ANY allegation that is a criminal misconduct SHOULD be within the jurisdiction of Nigeria’s security agencies. ALL OF THEM.
The POLICE for criminal activity.
The EFCC for financial crimes.
The SSS/DSS for activities that border on national security.
There is absolutely no need for any of these agencies to WAIT for NJC to give it permission before they institute investigations into judges on these kinds of allegations. Why should judges be given that kind of protection?
The argument that it will result in a cowed judiciary is ridiculous! It has not in nations which follow that process. All it will do is to make sure that judges will STOP circumventing the law to perform criminal activity which denies people justice.
A real fear exists that the Executive may use the SSS/DSS to intimidate the Judiciary. Then NASS again, needs to look into how the SSS/DSS becomes a truly independent agency as the Police and EFCC should be. They should not to be tools in the hand of the Executive. Actually, they have to be able to investigate the Executive as well.
All those trips members of NASS made to the USA should have been used to study processes the Congress there uses to pass laws that support democratic norms and guarantees freedoms which protect democracy.
Freedom of the press is one. A gagged press is the beginning of an oppressive system of government. NJC should not be allowed to determine if the press can report on its activities.
NASS needs to break free of its inertia and use this opportunity to do good as a platform to repair its image and make itself relevant to the Nigerian people the way it should be.
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