As the federal government decides to take the war on corruption to the Judiciary, we insist that the members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) must not be left out in the cleansing exercise. Without fear of contradiction, we posit that hardly will a judge go out of his way to ask to be ingratiated for favours done or expected to do. Lawyers are known to play that role. We are compelled to cast our mind back to an earlier editorial with the above title to justify our demand that lawyers should take part of the blame for the embarrassment judges are presently facing. In that editorial we said:
Finally, a government official high up enough, Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, has voiced out publicly the widely held view that most lawyers, especially some of them that claim to belong to the inner bar, deliberately abuse the judicial process for pecuniary gains.
Magu, apparently reacting to the limited success of the agency in the courtroom, is accusing the senior lawyers of frustrating the efforts of the agency in its fight to rid the nation of corruption. The anti-graft czar lamented that they not only take tainted briefs but also facilitate the commission of crimes by knowingly supplying the technical know- how, and later, helping in the dispersal of the proceeds of crime.
Weighty as this allegation is, it is not far from the truth and ought to tug at the conscience of the lawyers in particular and the profession as a whole. Since the inception of the agency, many political figures have been arraigned for looting public treasuries while in office but few have been convicted except in one prominent case where the governor was fined a mere N3 million for the crime he committed which he promptly paid, in cash, from the boot of his car. And his lawyers, all of the inner bar, were beating their broad chests in self-adulation even as they eulogised what they perceived as the beauty of the rule of law that, in all ramifications, did not serve the common good. And EFCC could do nothing about it. These politicians, as if to dare the rest of us, recycle themselves back into office as governors, senators and even ministers.
We recall that in an election- related case arising from the gubernatorial election at a time, and involving the immediate past Delta State Governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, the Supreme Court, in exasperation, imposed a fine of N8 million on a lawyer, not his client for abuse of court processes and for misleading his client.
That lawyer must have incurred the wrath of the apex court in an attempt to justify the outrageously high fees he charged his client. He is not alone in that brinkmanship. The sad part of it also is that some of these senior lawyers use their old boy network which involves some judicial officers who, in collusion, employ all manner of delay tactics that end up subverting the cause of justice. The practice is worse when it involves very high profile persons, in particular, politicians who are willing and able to use the funds acquired corruptly while in office to fight the system.
That has always been part of the handicaps of the anti-graft operatives who, obviously, cannot match the heavy war chest of the corrupt personalities they are investigating. This is not to discount the outside manipulations of the process for political reasons as well as the connivance of the agencies’ staff in the past dispensation who are too willing to compromise if the price is right.
In our candid opinion, EFCC can do better than agonise and wring its hands in utter helplessness. There is no law, to the best of our knowledge, which restrains the anti- graft agency from investigating these lawyers for aiding and abetting criminal tendencies. We proffer this way out of the situation believing that the EFCC’s boss is sure that the lawyers actually facilitate the commission of crimes.