The hallowed chambers as cesspool of corruption



Uba Group

Last week, the All Progressives Congress warned the New Nigeria People’s Party-led government in Kano State to desist from embarrassing the Chairman of the National and State Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal, Justice Flora Azinge, following allegation that attempts were being made to bribe the tribunal judges.

Justice Azinge had, in the open court on Tuesday, raised the alarm that some lawyers were attempting to offer bribes to the tribunal judges.

The judge said “money is flying,” adding that “it’s being rumoured that a staff member collected N10 million.”

In reaction to the revelation by the tribunal chairman, the Kano State government in a statement called on security agencies to dig deep into the allegation and bring the ‘strong forces who are well-known for their corrupt attitude’ to book.

The state raised the alarm that some “strong forces who are well-known for their corrupt attitude are working tirelessly to scuttle the hard-earned mandate of the people of Kano State.”

The statement, signed by state Commissioner for Information, Baba Dantiye, further said the NNPP government viewed the incident as a litmus test for the present administration to ensure that the case was thoroughly investigated and the culprits prosecuted.

“The anti-corruption agencies are equally expected to swing into action, especially when this type of allegation was made in an open court by a respected judge,” he said.

But in reaction, the Chief of Staff to the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Abdullahi Ganduje, Muhammad Garba, said the statement by the NNPP-led Kano State government was a subtle attempt to denigrate the APC and the court.

Garba said, “The Kano State government is pre-empting the possible revealing of the bribe giver by the tribunal and, therefore, wants to malign the judges.

“We will want My Lord to disclose all details and particulars of the lawyer in question or those lawyers that are making attempts to bribe My Lords”

The statement issued by the state commissioner for Information, Baba Dantiye, indicates that the government is trying to vilify the tribunal before the judgment so that it can draw sympathy from the unsuspecting public in the event it is defeated.

“With an apparent sign of victory on its side, the APC has not and will never offer any bribe to anyone involved in the case considering that it has presented facts and figures to prosecute the matter before the tribunal.”

Disturbed by the bribery allegations rocking the tribunal, the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association in Kano, Sagir Gezawa, on Wednesday, formally wrote a letter to the Secretary of the tribunal, demanding the identities of the lawyers attempting to bribe the judges.

The Kano NBA Chairman said, “We will want My Lord to disclose all details and particulars of the lawyer in question or those lawyers that are making attempts to bribe My Lords.”

Gezawa said copies of the letter were forwarded to the National Judicial Council, the President of the Court of Appeal and the President of the Nigerian Bar Association.

He said the Kano NBA was also seeking to have a meeting with the tribunal Justices, saying the Bar was committed to the fight against corruption.
“We are willing to do our own part of the fight, so we are awaiting My Lord’s response,” he said.

Recently, the confession by a former Senator, who represented Bauchi North, Adamu Bulkachuwa, at the valedictory session of the ninth Senate, was a big shame to the Nigerian judiciary as it further exposed the rot in the system and the extent to which the course of justice is being perverted.

Bulkachuwa threw a bombshell at the Senate, revealing how he used his wife to help his colleagues in the Senate.


Bulkachuwa confessed to having influenced the decisions of his wife, Zainab, while she was serving as a judge and President of the Court of Appeal to deliver favourable judgments for himself, his colleagues and other politicians.

Speaking during the Senate valedictory session, the former senator shocked his colleagues when he admitted that he encroached on his wife’s independence to apparently manipulate justice in favour of some senators.

Senator Bulkachuwa, 83, the spouse of Justice Bulkachuwa was elected senator during the 2019 general election on the platform of the APC.

Justice Bulkachuwa retired from the Bench after clocking the statutory retirement age of 70 years for justices of the Appeal Court in 2020. She presided over many election cases.

Speaking at the session, Bulkachuwa looked around at the faces of his colleagues and said: “I know – I look at faces in this chamber that have come to me and sought my help when my wife was the President of the Court of Appeal and I am sure…”

It was at this point that the former Senate President, Ahmad Lawan quickly interjected and said, “Distinguished Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa, I think I will advise that you just round off and sit down.”

Some senators who were obviously embarrassed also shouted at him and challenged him to mention names but he declined, insisting that, “we know ourselves.”

An apparently apprehensive Lawan also interrupted him again, saying, “But this kind of insinuation will mean that there was favour; there was this and the rest of it; I don’t think it is a good idea.”

But Bulkachuwa, who was determined to make his point politely refused to give up.

Responding to Lawan’s comments, he said, “well, Mr. Chairman, I must say that okay, to round off, since that is what you want me to do, I will do that and I must thank particularly my wife whose freedom and independence I encroached upon while she was in office and she has been very tolerant and accepted my encroachment and extended her help to my colleagues.”

At this point, Lawan interrupted him for the third time, saying, “Distinguished, please I don’t think this is a good idea going this direction; it is not a good idea, please.”

Lawan’s interventions and the shouts of disapproval by other senators forced Bulkachuwa to end his speech abruptly, saying, “Well, Mr. President, I will say ‘thank you’ and I will sit down.”

Before her retirement, many Nigerians were not satisfied with his wife’s handling of some cases.

For instance, in 2019, the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, had filed an application asking Justice Bulkachuwa to recuse herself from the presidential election tribunal hearing their petition, against the election of President Muhammadu Buhari.

One of the grounds for the application was that Justice Bulkachuwa is the wife of Senator Bulkachuwa, a prominent card-carrying member of the APC and then senator-elect for Bauchi North senatorial district which was a political party involved in the suit.

While the Senator later said he was quoted out of context, Justice Bulkachuwa also denied any interference from her husband during her stint at the bench.

However, the Coalition for Protection of Democracy urged the National Judicial Council to review all decisions taken by Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, following the confession of her husband.

Reacting in a statement by its National Coordinator, Daniel Elombah, it described Bulkachuwa’s confession as a “monumental embarrassment” to the judicial arm of government, regarded as the last hope of the common man.

The group said the NJC must review all the decisions made by the Court of Appeal on election matters under the leadership of Justice Bulkachuwa, especially those connected directly or indirectly with the ruling All Progressives Congress.

In October 2016, officials of the Department of State Services arrested some judges, raided their homes
The former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said the raids were routine investigations, and were legitimate.

Malami said the government had resolved to fight corruption, and would not be deterred by the class or reputation of suspects.

“Once crimes and criminality are concerned, nobody is an exception. I think the undertone should be exclusively the consideration of the existence of a prima facie case; existence of reasonable grounds for suspicion of commission of a crime.

“And if there are, no member of the legislature, judiciary and executive can definitely be exempted from investigation. I think where we are now is the point of investigation and that is what is taking place,” he said.

Malami said the search and subsequent arrest of seven judges were steps in an ongoing investigation that even constitutionally guaranteed immunity does not prevent.

“The bottom line is that we have a responsibility to fight corruption. Corruption is a crime and nobody, regardless of how highly placed, is exempted as far as issues that border on crimes and criminalities are concerned.

“The limited exceptions, as we know constitutionally, are the exceptions of immunity. And to the best of my knowledge, those exceptions do not apply to investigation. For those that are conferred with the immunity, the right to investigate has not been taken away constitutionally.

“So, I think the framework and the circumstances within which we are operating are clear whether there exists the right to investigate or not, and whether the action borders on criminality,” he said.

During the raid, the DSS said it recovered a huge sum of money in local and foreign currencies.

Seven judges were arrested, and have since been released on bail.

Those arrested included Justice Sylvester Nguta and John Okoro of the Supreme Court and Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court Abuja.

Others were Justice Muazu Pindiga of Gombe State; Kabiru Auta of Kano State, Innocent Umezulike, of Enugu State and Justice Mohammed Tsamiya, an appeal court judge in Ilorin.

“Time was when a lawyer could predict the likely outcome of a case because of the facts, the law and the brilliance of the lawyers that handled the case. Today, things have changed and nobody can be sure”

To show how bad things are in the judiciary, lawyers and retired judges have all joined in criticizing the rot in the sector.

One of the most recent criticisms came from a former President of the NBA, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), who expressed his waning confidence in the Nigerian judiciary, blaming his decision on the recent judgments coming out of the courts.

The senior lawyer recalled the good days when one could easily predict the outcome of a case by analyzing available facts with the law.

He described the Supreme Court’s decision on the former Senate President, Ahmad Lawan as the silliest judgment.

Agbakoba also cited the apex court’s judgment on Imo State, where according to him, “everything was turned upside down.”

In the past, renowned lawyer, Afe Babalola (SAN) had lamented how corruption had dented the image of the judiciary, noting that it was regrettable that Nigerians were no longer reposing confidence in the judiciary despite the acronym that it is the last hope of the common man.

He posited that experience in the past had shown that “our bitter experience is that election petitions have inflicted severe injuries and damage on both the electorate, the judiciary (which has been brutalized and called all sorts of names) as well as the political class.”

According to Babalola, “time was when a lawyer could predict the likely outcome of a case because of the facts, the law and the brilliance of the lawyers that handled the case. Today, things have changed and nobody can be sure.”

Before his demise on November 16, 2012, the renowned retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Kayode Eso, had once taken a long view of Nigeria’s judiciary and concluded that the institution was full of judges and justices who ought not to have been there in the first place.

Over the years, the judiciary has been severely condemned, lambasted and castigated. There have been claims and counter-claims from people who alleged perversion of justice in matters relating to their cases. The insinuation often made is that justice goes to the highest bidder.

Whenever elections are conducted in our democracy, the results are often resolved in the courts. Judges always decide the direction of the pendulum and there have always been insinuations that where the drum beats harder, there, the pendulum of justice swings to. Simply put, when it comes to who emerges the winner in Nigerian elections, justice is for sale.

The judiciary is saddled with the responsibility of upholding the rule of law by interpreting, construing and applying the laws of the land in the resolution of disputes and act as checks on the two other arms of government while also adjudicating on contentious issues.

It has been perceived that some judgments and rulings have been up for sale in Nigeria for as long as anyone can recall.

Failure of leadership, corruption and bad governance are being felt across all sectors and segments of Nigeria polity; unemployment, insecurity, crude oil thefts, dearth of infrastructure, problems in education, health services, transportation, accommodation, communication, to mention a few.

Nigeria’s social politico-economic history has revealed that many of its leaders over the years have been using the “iron law of oligarchy” and ‘judicial manipulation’ which explains the triumph of the leaders’ ambitions for office over the citizens’ revolutionary goal.

The judicial arm of government has over the years been drawn into the arena of corruption and appears to be deeply engrossed in excessive acts of corruption, impropriety and mismanagement of judicial power.

All available means were employed by Nigerian political leaders to ‘grab’ power at all cost including the blatant rigging of elections, mismanagement of public fund, manipulation of census figures, violence, thuggery, arson, vandalism, gangsterism, corruption, religious ethnicity, regionalism, tribalism, ethnic sentiments, judicial corruption and acts of brigandage.

A report in 2022 by the United States Department of State alleged that the judiciary in Nigeria remains susceptible to corruption and is constantly under pressure from the executive and legislative arms of government.

In its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021,” the US stated that although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, political leaders influence the judges and lawyers, particularly at the state and local government levels.

The document added that there was a widespread public perception that judges were easily bribed, and litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments.

“Many citizens encountered long delays and reported receiving requests from judicial officials for bribes to expedite cases or obtain favourable rulings,” the report stated.

It listed understaffing, inefficiency, and corruption as factors preventing the judiciary from functioning adequately.

Other challenges, the US stated, included the absence of continuing education requirements for attorneys coupled with the fact that police officers were often assigned to serve as prosecutors.

It alleged that judges frequently fail to appear for trials, stressing however that the salaries of court officials are low, and officials often lack proper equipment and training.

“The constitution and the annual appropriation acts stipulate that the National Assembly and the judiciary be paid directly from the federation account as statutory transfers before other budgetary expenditures are made to maintain their autonomy and separation of powers.

“Federal and state governments, however, often undermined the judiciary by withholding funding and manipulating appointments,” the US report noted.

On problems with trial procedures, the US posited that although defendants were presumed innocent and enjoy certain rights, authorities do not always respect these rights, most frequently due to a lack of capacity.

“Insufficient number of judges and courtrooms, together with growing caseloads, often resulted in pre-trial, trial, and appellate delays that could extend a trial for as many as 10 years.

“Although accused persons are entitled to counsel of their choice, there were reportedly some cases where defence counsel was absent from required court appearances so regularly that a court might proceed with a routine hearing in the absence of counsel, except for certain offences for which conviction carries the death penalty,” it alleged.

According to the document, in some cases, the police would demand additional payment from family members who wanted to attend a trial even as the authorities could hold defendants in prison awaiting trial for periods well beyond the terms allowed by law.

Furthermore, the document alleged that Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission were mainly focused on pursuing low and mid-level corruption cases.

The US stated that although there had been a few indictments of active top level government officials, the cases were being hampered by administrative delays.