Dr Abdullahi Ishola
(Islamic Law Department, College of Law, Kwara State University, Malete – Nigeria: KWASU)
The official regulatory body for the judiciary in Nigeria, the National Judicial Council (NJC) recently put a bar on gifts from the other two arms of government, i.e. the Executive and the Legislative, to judges and judicial staff. Well, this is laudable as a further step towards fighting judicial corruption and restoring the dwindling public confidence in the judiciary. However, the NJC still needs to take the steps further and fight the judicial corruption from within the legal profession itself.
Like a Yoruba adage says, “the army warm eating vegetables is within the vegetables”. I believe the NJC ought to also declare gifts from lawyers to judges and judicial staff expressly as unacceptable and illegal. Lawyers exchange gifts with judges and judicial staff as a norm. Christmas, Easter and Sallah seasons provide a seemingly proper occasions for them to do this in addition to other occasions like wedding and funeral ceremonies. Surprisingly, some of those lawyers doing this can hardly extend their hands of generosity to young lawyers who are much more in need.
Those lawyers do this on the claim that legal profession is their immediate constituency. Some claim that those judges are their colleagues or fellow lawyers. The question is, is every lawyer rich enough to share gifts to judges? Is the status of one lawyer before judges different from the other? Are there not the same responsibilities imposed on all lawyers in the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners towards judges? Will judges and judicial staff favoured with gifts not have better minds or better special good mind towards lawyers that send them gifts compared with those that do not? Is this not natural for human beings? If lawyers have not realized this, gifts from them to judges and judicial staff perfectly exemplify what is known as “anticipatory corruption”.
I firmly verily believe that there is no moral or legal justification for gifts from lawyers to judges. How many lawyers ever gave gifts to such judges before their appointment, even despite their being colleagues and fellow bar men before joining the Bench? Would they have given out such gifts to such judges if they had not been appointed as judges? Do legal practitioners (lawyers) want to claim their exemption from Rule 3 F (1) of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers? Or do they want to claim that they are all covered by Rule 3F (2)(i) as judges relatives or personal friends?
My humble message to NJC is that, there is still much more to be done on the rules guiding gifts to judges. Banning gifts from other arms of government is not enough. Gifts from lawyers to judges should also be more explicitly outlawed.
The NJC can be guided on this by the rules of Islamic law on gifts to judges which stipulate that gifts to judges from any person are outlawed except if such a person has been used to giving to such judges before his appointment, and of course he is not a party before his friend judge. This is why Caliph UMAR declared gifts from anyone to judges as bribery (rashwah).
Therefore, without banning gifts from lawyers to judges and judicial staff, the target eradication of corruption in the judiciary through exchange of gifts will not be achieved with much impacts. Some lawyers are agents of judicial corruption through exchange of personal or clients gifts with judges. They should therefore also be barred from extending gifts to judges. Let charity begin at home.
Duty of full disclosure of any gift before receipt and acceptance should be placed on every judge and judicial staff. Also, no gift should pass to them except through the respective judicial service commission for approval. Thus, any direct exchange or receipt of gifts from lawyers by judges and judicial staff should be presumed as bribery and corruption. Once this is done, the desired sanity would be achieved in matters of gifts to judges and judicial staff in the country. A trial of these suggestions are worthwhile.