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NATIONAL: Why we can’t prosecute judges, lawyers involved in N9.4bn bribe – ICPC

THE Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, (ICPC) has revealed why its hands are tied and may not be able to prosecute those involved in the N9.4b bribes which allegedly exchanged hands in the judicial sector between 2018 and 2020 as exposed by its survey.

Speaking on the ugly revelation on a programme on 99.3 Nigeria Info, a senior research at the Anti-Corruption Academy, an arm of the ICPC, Dr. Elijah Okebukola said that the survey was not obtained to initiate prosecution against anyone as respondents were assured they would remain anonymous before they divulged some secrets.

He, however, stressed that the data and information collected by the agency would serve it in good stead to effectively fight the endemic corruption in the country.

There have been growing concerns over the rising incidence of corruption in the judiciary which is seen as the bastion of hope and justice for the common man.

This supposed incidence of corruption in the judiciary has become worrisome because of the way outcomes of court proceedings could make or mar people’s right to life and liberty.

The ICPC had in an 84-page survey titled, ‘Nigeria Corruption Index: Report of a pilot survey 2020,’ revealed its findings about the level of corruption in the justice sector, executive and legislative arms of government, including ministries, departments and agencies.

“The total amount of money reported by the justice sector respondents as corruptly demanded, offered and paid between 2018 and 2020 was N9,457,650,000.00,” the report noted.

However, when asked what would happen to the respondents who admitted to have witnessed or partook in the bribery, Okebukola said, “We need the survey to get knowledge and data, so we may not be able to get the kind of evidence that can be used for prosecution.

“Every survey of this kind that gives you this kind of information and data does not give you the kind of data and information that you can use to prosecute anybody, so you cannot go to court and say you asked a number of lawyers their experience with bribery in the justice sector. That’s not the kind of evidence you want to approach the court with.

“That does not mean prosecution is not important, it is very important and nobody is above the law. But this kind of data certainly cannot lead to the prosecution of anybody; it can guide prosecutors in exercising their prosecutorial interventions. So, it wasn’t aimed at getting evidence to prosecute.

“If it was aimed at that, it would be unethical. When you ask respondents to share their experience with you, you are not investigating them, and it is on that basis that they would even agree to share their experiences with you. If you ask them with a view to prosecuting them, nobody would share their experiences with you.

“Also, they are supposed to be anonymous, and with that array of anonymity, you cannot prosecute anyone.”

He, however, reiterated the significance of the survey, noting that it would give the agency hints about what could likely be going on in other sectors and it could be decisively dealt with.

He added, “It helps to know what we are dealing with and how to deal with it. That brings us to the point that in anti-corruption, prosecution is not necessarily its most effective tool. Prevention is actually the most important tool to fight corruption. When you know who is doing what and how they are doing it, policy makers, those who implement the policies, anti-corruption agencies, law enforcement agencies, CSOs and the media would know what steps to take.”

Okebukola noted that the survey focused on the respondents’ experiences and not perception.

He pointed out that all the respondents agreed that the independence of the judiciary is necessary in the fight against corruption, and that when asked about the practices that erode the independence of the judiciary, the majority said non-compliance with court orders, which, according to them, reduces the effectiveness in fighting corruption.

Okebukola added, “We asked further those who, from their own experience, refuse to obey court orders, a vast majority said private citizens, including private commercial companies, are at the fore in refusing to obey court orders, followed by law enforcement agents, MDAs.”

He said that the respondents identified lawyers to top the list of those most responsible for initiating bribe for judgement, followed by the litigants, court officials and the judges, etc.

His words: “The initial assumption was that judges were at the fore, but it turned out that lawyers are at the fore.”

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