In the past, the judiciary was known as an embodiment of justice and the last hope of the common man. But with what is happening recently in the judiciary, this learned and once enviable profession is no longer the epitome of justice and the last hope of the common man but the last hope of the rich. This is so because judges now decide court cases in favour of the rich who offer them so much money. Thus, when the poor steals a loaf of bread, they are given expedited trial and sentence to various jail terms whereas the rich who steal hundred of billions of naira have their cases dragged on for years without judgment being given on them.
Even when judgments are given on them such judgments do not commensurate with the level of crimes they have committed. This is because the poor do not have money to hire the services of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) that will help them argue their cases in the courts or bribe the judges in charge of their cases. But the rich have so much money and can engage the services of SANs who argue their cases for them and also seek frivolous court injunctions to deliberately delay such cases indefinitely. In 2010, an Osogbo Magistrate Court ordered that a 41 year-old attempted bungler, Mr. Timothy Awolowo be given 10 strokes of the cane once in two months for five years while in prison! What was his crime? He was convicted for attempting to bungle into a house but was caught. Just for attempting to bungle into house, he was sentenced to five years in prison with 10 strokes of the cane in every two months for five years! Recently, Nigerians were shocked to hear that one Adamu Abubakar was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for trying to spend a fake Nigerian currency note at Darazo Market in Bauchi State when he was arrested on March 19, 2012. He was convicted by Justice M.T. Salihu of the Federal High Court, in Bauchi. A whole 10 years for for trying to spend a fake Nigerian currency note! Another man called Sani Ahmed, was remanded in prison custody by Justice B.O. Quadri of the Federal High Court, Gombe, on two counts charge of counterfeiting and possession of fake N1000 bank notes. Also, a Jos High Court sentenced Obinah John, a 26 year-old-man, to death by hanging for robbing one Dorothy Olaniyi of N1,705. The convict was also sentenced to death for robbing Olaniyi of two rolls of peak milk in sachets, valued at N 400. According to the prosecution Counsel, Mr. G.D. Fwonyon, who is also the deputy director, Public Prosecution in Plateau State, had told the court that John, in a company with an accomplice also named John, now at large, robbed the woman on November 18, 2005 in her shop at Gada Biu, Jos. The presiding judge in the case, Justice Yargata Nimpa said, “The accused is hereby sentenced to death by hanging, but the judgment is liable to an appeal”. These are strange judgments. A 27 year-old-young man named Anayo Nwagwa was arrested by the Lagos State Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) brigade for hawking fruits and gala meat pie. He was subjected to a speedy trial in a mobile court and sentenced to six months imprisonment. A whole six months for hawking gala while those who stole billions of naira have their cases drag on for years and are never convicted when such cases are concluded. The EFCC suit against Abia State former governor, Orji Uzor Kalu has been in the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division since 2007. On May 31, 2007, the Abia State High Court, gave an ex-parte order constraining the Federal High Court to stop all proceedings against Orji Kalu. Abubakar Audud, the ex-governor of Kogi State was arraigned on November 30, 2006 on an 80 criminal charge of embezzlement of public fund amounting to N 4 billion while he served as governor between 1999 and 2003. The ex-governor has used many delay tactics to frustrate the case for six years. Other ex-governors indicted for corruption have also employed various manipulations to prevent their cases from being decided. The following ex-governors: Ayo Fayose (Ekiti), Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu), Sani Ahmed (Zamfara), Saminu Turaki (Jigawa), Rashidi Ladoja (Oyo), Joshua Dariye (Plateau) and Jolly Nyame (Taraba), have cases of corruption that are pending in the court since 2007. Nevertheless, both private and public office holders whose corruption cases had been decided received very mild sentences in spite of their weighty corruption offences. For instance, Chief Olabode George, the former Chairman of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) who stole N100 billion was sentenced to one and half years only! Today, Chief Olabode George is a free man and he is enjoying his loot. What is the correlation between N100 billion and one and half years imprisonment? If it takes just one and half years imprisonment for the crime of such a magnitude, then everybody will be willing to steal so much money from public vaults, go to jail for one and half years, come out of prison and enjoy their stolen money! Former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun embezzled a whooping N17 billion police’s fund that was meant to provide uniforms, shoes, accommodation, equipment etc for the police force. Tafa Balogun was tried and sentenced to three months imprisonment only! He has since completed his jail term and he is now enjoying his stolen wealth abroad. How does three months jail imprisonment commensurate with N17 billion theft? Chief (Mrs.) Cecilia Ibru, former MD/CEO of Oceanic Bank International PLC, stole over N300 billion and was also jailed for three months only. She even served her imprisonment in a hospital bed! Dr. Erastus Akingbola is standing trial for allegedly misappropriating N 740 billion while he was the MD/CEO of Intercontinental Bank PLC. Also, former MD/CEOs of Finbank PLC and Bank PHB PLC Mr. Okeh Nwosu and Mr. Francis Atuche, respectively are standing trial for embezzling huge sums of depositors’ funds. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) incurred N200 billion losses and liabilities of N140 billion. Over $1 billion was spent on Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) between 1999 and 2010. The four refineries achieved a mere 13 percent capacity utilization in 2009 but made a cumulative loss of N25 billion. All these losses were incurred due to corruption. This huge sums of money spent on maintenance of the old refineries could have been used to build new refineries. Is N 25 billion not enough to build a new refinery? The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) data revealed that about N1.5 trillion from the Petroleum Support Fund (PSF) was spent in 2008 alone on petroleum products subsidy. How can such huge amount of money be spent on subsidy? How much does it cost to build a new refinery that such a colossal amount of money be spent on subsidy? Also, in 2011 alone, about N1.7 trillion was spent on fuel subsidy that was never imported. Nigerians are bothered by the manner our judges decide cases in our courts. What criteria do our judges use to pass sentences on those convicted of crimes? Do they have different criteria for the rich and the poor? Do the poor have stringent sentences and the rich mild sentences for committing the same kind of crimes? These questions are imperative because while the petty thieves get speedy trial and are sentenced to many years imprisonment, the big thieves, sorry, those who misappropriate government funds are never arraigned in courts. Even when they are arraigned in courts, such cases are allowed to drag on for years without coming to conclusions. This is because the rich have enough money to hire Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) who use obfuscating legal technicalities to bamboozle the judges and continue to prolong their trial. And when such cases are eventually concluded, the rich receive mild sentences! This is why the rich continue to commit heinous crimes against the society because they can always buy their freedom with money. There is no doubt that the judiciary is no longer the last hope of the common man as the common man does not get justice in our courts but the hope of the rich who have all the money to buy the judiciary and go scot-free. The masses of this country are gradually losing confidence in the judiciary because of corruption and this is not healthy for our democracy. Corruption is an open secret in the judiciary this was why the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime said, “Nigeria courts of law receive the biggest bribes from citizens among all institutions in which corruption is rampant”. The judiciary should examine itself and turn a new leaf in order to build confidence in the Nigerian masses if not they will lose confidence in it and resort to self help which will not do us anything good.