Friday, May 25, 2012

United States says Nigeria's judiciary system is corrupt with impunity

United States has said that despite the fact that the nation's law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, government does not implement it effectively, "and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity".

The US also said though the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the Nigerian judiciary "remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and the legislative branches, and the business sector".

These verdicts were contained in a new report titled: "Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011", which was submitted to the Congress Thursday by the Secretary of State, Mrs Hillary Clinton.

The report lamented that, "Official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process. The law provides for access to the courts for redress of grievances, and courts can award damages and issue injunctions to stop or prevent a human rights violation. However, the decisions of civil courts were difficult to enforce."

In the report, US also noted last year's suspension of the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Ayo Isa Salami, by the National Judicial Council (NJC) over his refusal to apologise to the NJC and the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (NJC), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, and his compulsory retirement by President Goodluck Jonathan, who acted under his constitutional authority.

The report however noted that, "The case raised questions regarding the partisan nature and level of independence within the judiciary."

Giving details of the case, the report said: "Salami had accused Katsina-Alu of interfering in the proceedings of the 2007 Sokoto State gubernatorial court case. In an attempt to settle the dispute, the NJC set up three panels to investigate the disagreement.

"The panels declared neither justice was at fault, declared the issue resolved, and requested that Salami apologise to the NJC and Katsina-Alu. The Nigerian Bar Association reached contrary findings, and Salami refused to apologise."

It specifically noted that, "Massive, widespread and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security forces."

While noting that the government brought few persons to justice for abuses and corruption, it said despite the arrest of several high-ranking officials by the EFCC, allegations continued that the agency's investigations targeted individuals who had fallen out of favour with the government, while those who were in favour continued their activities with impunity.

On the anti-corruption crusade of government, the report said that since 2005, the EFCC prosecuted 26 nationally prominent public officials and recovered N1.7 trillion ($10.5 billion).

It however noted that "only four of these officials - former Inspector General of Police Tafa Balogun, former Bayelsa State Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, former Edo State Governor Lucky Igbinedion, and PDP chieftain and former Nigerian Ports Authority chairman Olabode George - were convicted", while the courts granted bail to all the others.

The report also identified the harsh and life threatening conditions in Nigeria's prison and detention centres as one of the human rights problems in the reporting year, adding, "Most of the country's 234 prisons, built 70 to 80 years earlier, lacked basic facilities."

It said the prison system included 11 maximum security prisons, 80 satellite prisons, 10 farm centres, eight zonal offices, and six directorates - all of which held prisoners and detainees.

Quoting statistics released by the Nigerian Prison Service last year, it said the country's prisons held 48,124 inmates, with individual prisons holding as much as 500 per cent of their designed capacity.

Citing examples, it said Owerri Federal Prison had a capacity of 548 prisoners but held more than 1,635, Ogwuashi-Uku prison in Delta State, with a capacity of 64 prisoners, held 358 inmates, while Port Harcourt Prison, with a capacity of 804 prisoners, held 2,594.

The report said other serious human rights problems identified included arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pre-trial detention; sporadic abridgement of citizens' right to change their government due to some election fraud and other irregularities; infringements on citizens' privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and movement; official corruption; violence and discrimination against women; child abuse; and female genital mutilation.

It said other serious human rights problems included killing of children suspected of witchcraft; child sexual exploitation; ethnic, regional, and religious discrimination; trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution and forced labour; discrimination against persons with disabilities; discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; vigilante killings; forced and bonded labour; and child labour.

It however identified the abuses committed by Boko Haram, which was responsible for killings, bombings, and other attacks throughout the country; abuses committed by security services with impunity, which included killings, beatings, arbitrary detention, and destruction of property; and societal violence - including ethnic, regional, and religious violence, as the most serious human rights problems during the reporting year.

On the importance of the report, Clinton noted that Congress mandated these country reports more than three decades ago to help guide lawmakers' decisions on foreign military and economic aid.

She said: "Today, governments, intergovernmental organisations, scholars, journalists, activists, and others around the world rely on these reports as an essential update on human rights conditions around the world."

It was also noted in the report that, while political leaders influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels, also identified understaffing, underfunding, inefficiency, and corruption as problems which continued to prevent the judiciary from functioning adequately.

It further gave a harsh verdict on operators in the judicial arm as it said: "Judges frequently failed to appear for trials, often because they were pursuing other sources of income and sometimes because of threats against them."

Apart from that, it noted that, "court officials often lacked the proper equipment, training, and motivation to perform their duties, with lack of motivation primarily due to inadequate compensation."

The report also said: "There was a widespread perception that judges were easily bribed and that litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments. Citizens encountered long delays and alleged requests from judicial officials for bribes to expedite cases or obtain favourable rulings."

Assessing civil judicial procedures and remedies, the report noted that although the constitution provides for independent judiciary in civil matters, "the executive, the legislature, and business interests, however, exerted undue influence and pressure in civil cases".

This Day

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