Nigeria needs virile, independent judiciary, say lawyers



There is no argument about the fact that every aspect of our national life needs urgent attention for the purposes of either to fix or remedy its present state. The judicial sector is definitely not different.

The Judiciary is one of the three arms of Government under Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution. It has the responsibility of interpreting laws passed by the various legislative bodies. It also has the responsibility of checking excesses of the legislative and executive arms thereby ensuring that these arms of government do not act ultra vires at all times.

But the judiciary has also suffered from a battered image. The cankerworm of corruption and other vices to which the judiciary were isolated from, or so it seemed, stealthily crept into the system and stained its image.

As a result, expectations are very high for the administration of Muhammadu Buahri to fix the sector and restore the confidence earlier reposed on it, in addition to providing the required infrastructure to keep the sector running smoothly. Moreso, with a professor of law vice president, who is reputed to have embarked on deep-seated reforms as attorney general and commissioner for Justice in Lagos State and a reverred senior advocate of Nigeria.

Expressing his views on what the new government should do to repostion the sector, a professor of law and senior advocate of Nigeria, Taiwo Osipitan believes that the judiciary should be the pillar upon which the government of Buhari stands. He said: “The legal profession is indeed a noble profession. Judges, Justices, High and Appellate Courts and the Judiciary are evidently reputed for nobility. The same is also true of members of the learned profession.

“It is perturbing, that the nobility of the Bar and Bench is fast disappearing. We have recently witnessed and may still witness contemptous distruption of Court proceedings and assault of Judicial Officers and Judges by Political thugs procured by Political office holders. We have seen and are likely to still see Court premises being locked up against Judges, lawyers and litigants by judicial workers procured to go on indefinite strikes by Politicians who are afraid that they will be successfully impeached by Legislative bodies if the Courts are not closed.

“The restoration of the dignity of the bar and the bench, as well as respect for the Judiciary and the Judicial system are the pillars upon which the Buhari administration’s agenda for the judiciary should stand.”

He stated that the mode of appointing and promoting judicial officers must be revisited. His words: “A more transparent system of appointment, which ensures that brilliant, knowledgeable, hardworking, courageous and well mannered persons get to be appointed as judges and promoted in the Judiciary is a must. Discipline of Judges should not be the exclusive affair of judges who are members of the National Judicial Council. Members of the bar who are in the council must participate. “Only a bold person will contend that the cankerworm of corruption afflicting our nation has not affected the Judiciary. The Judiciary has its own share of allegations and proven cases of corruption. Admittedly, erring/corrupt Judges have in the past been disciplined/removed from offices. The Buhari Administration should go a step further. It takes two to be corrupt. The receiver as well as the cheerful giver are both guilty of corruption.

“Corrupt Judges and those who corrupt them should be arraigned and prosecuted for corruption. Where there is conviction, the proceeds of corruption must be traced and fortified. The Judiciary should be helped to regain its lost glory and respect. Salaries and Allowances of Judicial officers must be reviewed periodically/regularly in order to reflect with economic realities. Entitlements of judges must be paid promptly. Judges should not be made to feel financially inadequate. It is a thing of pride and joy to be a Judge. The incoming administration should restore that pride and joy.”

The former president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN shares similar views. To him, the nation is fortunate to have a professor of law and a former Attorney-General of a state, who gave a complete face-lift and content enrichment to the Lagos State judiciary as Vice-President.

“This feat should be repeated at the centre. We must begin with ensuring the independence of the judiciary, then move on to sanitizing the judicial sphere. I must not be understood that my call for sanitizing the judicial sector tantamounts to a call for the government to pocket the judiciary. Far from that. The judiciary must be respected and recognised as an independent arm of government, just like the executive and legislature, and, it is not and never inferior to either of the two. “Part of sanitizing the judiciary entails proper funding and making it self-financing. Thank God for majority of our Judges who shun corruption like a plague, and who would deliver judgments based on facts and law and not on extenuating over-bearings or influences. However, my take has always been that a single bad egg can and will always give our judiciary a bad name, and stigmatize the vast majority of excellent judges. Thus, the few bad eggs, when and where identified, should be shown the way out, while more thorough and painstaking efforts should be put in place at appointing new judges”, he stated.

According to him, the judiciary itself, through some of their serving judges should stop the fanfare of randomly issuing ex parte orders of injunction against the National Judicial Council (NJC) in the performance of its constitutionally assigned duty of putting machineries in motion at disciplining erring judges, as the practice has virtually crippled the Council.

His words: “The Nigerian judiciary has been constitutionally ‘unitarised’. This is unfair and unjust. An agenda for decentralising the judiciary should be quickly put in place. State or Regional Courts of Appeal and Supreme Courts should be allowed to flourish and decide cases to finality within their different spheres, zones and regions. The Federal Government has no business establishing a federal judiciary to handle state matters, whether criminal or civil’.

Former chairman of NBA, Ikeja, Monday Onyekachi Ubani said financial autonomy for the judiciary is his desire. He said: “The first thing I will desire is the restoration of financial autonomy to the judiciary as prescribed by the 1999 constitution as amended.Several states judiciary are still on strike as a result of that issue. Therefore it will be proper to ensure their financial autonomy.”

In his own opinion, the issue of appointment of judges deserves great attention as well. “The issue and mode of appointment of judges must be totally overhauled. The present mode is clearly defective. The NJC should not be the one that determines the manpower requirements of the various states. That is a clear breach of our federalism.

“The basic infrastructure in the judiciary should be reformed and upgraded. Long hand in writing proceedings, rulings and judgements should be abolished.

“Finally our substantive and procedural laws should constantly undergo review to reflect present trends. The manpower should be upgraded and their welfare and economic well being well taken care of. Administrative bottlenecks, bureaucracy and other man made lapses which aid delays in the administration of justice should be eliminated”, he advised.

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