The Chief Justice of Nigeria has said that the war against corruption can only be successfully prosecuted through strict adherence to the rule of law.
Onnoghen was speaking during the National Dialogue on Corruption which was organized by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, at the State House banquet hall, Abuja.
The CJN in his address noted that corruption and all forms of social vices thrive in a culture of impunity where certain individuals believe that they can get away with anything.
He said that the Judiciary holds the principle of the rule of law very dear “because that is the only way by which you can ensure an orderly society, and ensure the growth and maintenance of democracy and justice for all.”
“So if you are to fight corruption, then we should fight the culture of impunity which is an attitudinal phenomenon, by adhering strictly to the constitutional provisions and the rule of law,” Onnoghen said.
“If we allow the rule of law to reign, then you will indeed agree with me that there will be a dramatic reduction in corruption and injustice.
Addressing the issue of corruption in the judiciary, the CJN said that while not denying the fact that there are a number of corrupt elements in the system, care should be taken to carefully sieve them out without destroying the institution itself.
He said: “When you see what is being painted of the Judiciary, we see an institution that epitomizes corruption. That is not fair, that is not correct.
“The Nigerian Judicial officer is a gentleman. We have gentlemen on that bench.
“So when we are dealing with judicial corruption, where one exists, we ought to do it in accordance to the rule of law.
“And then channel whatever you have through the appropriate channel, so that you don’t destroy that institution, because destroying it will not do us any good. They will do us more harm than good.”
Onnoghen pointed out that it takes three agents to prosecute a case namely: the investigator, the prosecutor and the Judge, adding that the in a situation whereby a case is shoddily investigated and poorly prosecuted, the Judge could not be expected to convict.
Also speaking at the event, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo noted that the welfare of judges should be looked into and improved as a way of encouraging them to stay away from corruption.
He also said that the culture of impunity must be done away with and persons who have run foul of the law must be made to account.
Osinbajo recalled a survey carried out in 1999 which showed that about 89 percent of judges in Lagos state at that time were corrupt.
On scrutinizing the salaries and allowances of the Judges, Osibanjo said it was observed that they could barely cater for their families if they relied only on their legal earnings.
According to the acting President, a judicial reform was embarked upon, with emphasis on improved Judges’ welfare.
He noted that the reforms led to the sacking of over 30 magistrates and 3 high court judges.
“In 2006 we conducted the same survey that was conducted in 1999, assisted by some of our partners. And this time we find zero percent of Judges of the high court … were corrupt.”
It would be recalled that the Judiciary has been hit in recent times with allegations of corruption.
Two senior Judges – Sylvester Ngwuta, of the Supreme Court and Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja – are currently undergoing trial for various cases of corruption including accepting gratifications from persons whose cases are before them.