A few days to the last Christmas, Justice Lateef Lawal- Akapo of Ikeja High Court, sentenced a court registrar, Mrs. Oluronke Rosolu, to 10 years imprisonment for defrauding a former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi (rtd) of $330,000. Rosolu stood trial for aiding Mr. Fred Ajudua to perpetrate the fraud at Kirikiri Maximum Prisons between November 2004 and June 2005 at a time Bamaiyi and Ajudua were remanded at the said prison for their alleged involvement in various offences. During the trial, the EFCC and Bamaiyi testified that Rosolu visited the prison to help Ajudua take delivery of the funds; and that Ajudua made a false representation to Bamaiyi that the $330,000 was the professional fee for the law firm of Afe Babalola and Co to facilitate Bamaiyi’s release from prison, a claim which the firm flatly denied long time ago.
The convict’s counsel, Mr. Bamidele Ogundele, while pleading for leniency on her behalf, revealed that she had been on suspension from the judiciary for over a year and would be retiring this year after 34 years of active service in the public service, an indication that the convict was not a novitiate court registrar. In other words, she most probably understood the implications of the high risk she took, obviously for pecuniary considerations, as well as its legal implications when caught, but was undeterred in taking the plunge. For her, however, the chicken has come home to roost.
It is a setback for the nation’s criminal justice system that the likes of Rosolu, who a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Kastina-Alu, once described as operators of the engine room of the judiciary and whose absence could jeopardise proper justice delivery, are desecrating the temple of justice by colluding with criminals to infract the law. Sadly, too, she is not the only traveller on that ignoble path. From the hierarchy of the judiciary are allegations that some court registrars and related staff engage in leaking judgements before they are delivered; demanding bribes before doing any paper work for persons in need of their services, and acting as go-between for dishonest litigants and corrupt judicial officers, among others.
Indeed, the immediate past CJN, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, shortly before she left office, stated as follows at a public function: “Now more than ever, the public has become more critical of the conduct of the judicial staff, perhaps buoyed by public outcry against unwholesome conduct of the judicial staff, like leakage of judgements before delivery, demanding bribes before the preparation of records of appeal, acting as go-between for some overzealous litigants and some corrupt judicial officers, ostentatious lifestyles beyond legitimate earnings, and a host of other activities.”
In August last year, for example, this newspaper broke the news of the Chief Registrar of Kebbi State High Court, one Abubakar Siddiq Bello, who allegedly forged the judgement of a superior court to facilitate a N29 million fraud. Latest reports say the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had waded into the matter, and that the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Adamu Bukkachuwa, had in addition, formally written to the incumbent CJN, who also heads the National Judicial Council (NJC) as chairman, Justice Mahmud Mohammed; and the Chief Judge of Kebbi State High Court, Justice Ibrahim Bala Mairiga, on the allegation against Abubakar.
On May 19, 2015, according to reports, the Sokoto Appeal Court set aside the judgement of the Kebbi High Court on the payment of all check-off dues of secondary school teachers in Kebbi State and awarded N30, 000 cost in favour of COSST (Conference of Secondary School Teachers). But the Chief Registrar allegedly went behind and forged a judgement that was not the product of that Court of Appeal; and through it reversed the original appellate court’s ruling with the intention of illegally cornering N29 million. With this type of court registrars in the system, the much touted reform of the nation’s judiciary, and ridding it of bad eggs are doomed already, because corruption in the judiciary is not just limited to judges or magistrates that sit in judgement.
Therefore, curtailing the endemic nature of unethical behaviour and misconduct among judges and other judicial officers, calls for an all-embracing radical surgery in the entire gamut of the nation’s judiciary. Persistent references being made to the rot in the Nigerian judiciary has done untold damage to its image, locally and internationally.