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By Inibehe Effoing
There is a reason why judicial officers usually live a reclusive life, devoid of serious social contacts. It is not necessarily because of man’s propensity to corruption or their susceptibility to compromise.
It’s more about public perception and appearance of impropriety. Judges, unlike lawyers, are not allowed to associate or mingle with the society they live in. The fact that a judicial officer is also the head of the judicial arm of government does not change this ethical standard.
I know in this country, we wickedly use religion as an alibi to evade responsibility and conceal the truth. Breaking Ramadan fast is not an official function, it is not part of the obligations of the office of the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria in any way. It is a personal thing. And if I were a judicial officer, let alone the most senior judicial officer in the country, I would not be breaking fast or paying Christmas visit to the President of Nigeria.
If I must do it, it will not be to a President who is a notorious violator of the rule of law. If I have to dine with a President who disobeys court orders, it will certain not be at a time when the same President is a litigant before a Tribunal hearing a petition against his election, knowing that the decision of that tribunal will most likely come before me in the Supreme Court. I will think about the perception of right thinking members of the society before dining with that President.
But this is Nigeria.
Are we not aware of the serious controversy and harsh criticisms that trailed President Trump’s improper embrace of his erstwhile FBI Director, James Comey? Trump was harshly criticised for trying to be too friendly with Comey, who was overseeing the Russian investigation.
Chief Justice John Roberts publicly rebuked the President of the United States of America over the latter’s disparaging comments about judicial officers.
It is in Nigeria that intellectuals defend the madness and impropriety of politicians with so much Passion.
When you have the head of the judicial arm, dining with a President who has publicly asserted his disdain for the rule of law, a President who has a petition challenging his election before the courts, at a time that the judiciary is plagued by a crisis of confidence, and you still come here and insult me over my harmless observation, is there hope for the future of Nigeria?
I have said it before and it bears repeating, no matter how arrogant we may be as professionals (lawyers) towards public perception about our profession, we will all be here to pay the price of our complicity in the destruction of Nigeria.
Judges are required to avoid social contacts as much as possible. The CJN should be the shining example. Justice is rooted in confidence, not in legal technicalities.
Here is what the law says:
RULE 1 OF THE CODE OF CONDUCT FOR JUDICIAL OFFICERS OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, 2016 STATES THUS:
Propriety and the appearance of propriety, both professional and personal
1.1 Propriety and the appearance of propriety, both professional and personal, are essential elements of a Judge’s life. As members of the public expect a high standard of conduct from a Judge, he or she must, when in doubt about attending an event or receiving a gift, however small, ask himself or herself the question- “How might this look in the eyes of the public?”
1.2 A Judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the Judge’s activities both in his professional and private life.
1.3 A Judicial Officer should respect and comply with the laws of the land and should conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary.
1.4 The Judge must be sensitive to the need to avoid contacts that may lead people to speculate that there is a special relationship between him and someone whom the Judge may be tempted to favour in some way in the course of his judicial duties.
1.5 A Judicial Officer must avoid social relationships that are improper or may give rise to an appearance of impropriety or that may cast doubt on the ability of a Judicial Officer to decide cases impartially.
I want you to convince me that the above rules are not applicable to the instant case. Until then, whatever you say on this issue is immaterial.