I thank you, my Lords, my brothers, Senior Advocates of Nigeria and my other learned friends, for the privilege of addressing you on this occasion. I do so on behalf of the Abuja Branch of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
The place to commence this celebration is at the feet of the Lord as we did in church this morning. We appreciate the Lord for all that he has done for us in a difficult profession at a difficult time. Now, more than at any other time in our history, it is necessary to remind ourselves that it is to God that we owe everything. This is a time for prayer. Lawyers and judges must now work on their knees if they are to survive the uncertainties that now characterize our affairs.
Therefore, we pray for moral strength. We pray for mental, intellectual and spiritual strength. We pray for the courage and the patience to confront the dangers that menace us on every side. At a time of mindless violence and corruption, we pray that the Lord may keep us safe and clean. As we look up to God for sympathy, may we also look with sympathy upon those whom he has committed to our care. It is midnight in our country. Let us proceed with the hope and the conviction that the Lord is present even, in this darkness. We are consoled by the scripture that;
“God intends out of all this darkness to bring a great light, to rectify all these crooked things to the greater glory of His name and to the humbling of the pride and wisdom of man.”
May I begin by congratulating those members of our profession who were recently called to the inner bar. We commend your untiring devotion to the legal profession and your sacrifices all which enabled our noble profession to single you out in this way.
Your elevation is a call to higher and greater responsibilities. For you, the work of charity is just beginning. May the Lord guide and strengthen you as you strive for greater excellence.
To our young lawyers our word of advice is this: do with all your heart whatever the hand finds to do. Promotion does not come from the east or from the west but from the Lord and if he has not yet promoted you it simply means that you have not been passionate enough. You must not despair.
That you, judges, have been singled out and appointed to administer justice is the ultimate expression of the nation’s determination to resist violence and corruption and all the evils associated with these vices. You constitute the proof that however violent or corrupt the nation becomes, a time will never come when we shall legitimize violence or corruption.
Judges and lawyers are the agents of change. And so, we must lead the effort to transform the nation. Our place is in front. The nation looks up to us for guidance. We must give hope to the nation. As for you judges, the law is what you say it is. What that means is that you have the final word. Say it and save the nation. Your courage must not fail you. But it will fail you if you are not honest and dedicated. It will fail you if you do not know the powers that you have and search deep within yourselves for whatever you can do to make a difference.
It has become fashionable to blame all the ills of the nation on the judiciary. We often forget that the judiciary cannot cope if crimes and civil wrongs become unlimited. The judiciary is founded on the premise that the cases which the judges will be called upon to determine shall be limited. If that limit is exceeded the judges cannot cope. As it is, you judges are overworked. We are not surprised therefore that some judges confronted with situations about which they can do nothing, have become indifferent. The solution is to reduce crimes and civil wrongs. We cannot have courts and judges for every home or every street.
When we are not blaming our ills on our judges we blame them on the economy. Some blame it on our politicians. Yet others say it is the social system or the legal system. Whatever it is, it ought by now to be evident to us that no political theories, no legal theories are going to save the nation until we repent and return to the Lord. We must first seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness. Any approach based on the illusion that we can first acquire wealth and power and after that purchase the kingdom of God is nothing but an illusion.
Bread alone will not suffice. If bread alone did not suffice in the time of Christ, bread alone will not suffice now. At the time that Jesus said so, the political, economic and social conditions of the world were very much the same as they are now. Labour was exploited then as it is now. Religion was on the decline at that time just as it is now. Wealth was then in the hands of a few just as it is now. If bread alone did not suffice in the time of Christ, bread alone will not suffice now. Be still and know that the Lord, He is God.
As lawyers and judges we are bonded by the legal profession. whether we are Moslems or Christians; we are bonded by the legal profession. We have a common Father in God and we have a common father in the nation. If nothing else binds us our common experience of adversity should do so. There is not a single home that is not now distressed by violence. And so we must unite against violence, unite against corruption and unite against all the uncertainties that now afflict us on every side.
Presently, the judiciary seems helpless. But your day is coming. That day is already here. It is here in the form of the power vested in the judges to punish the indiscretions that are responsible for misfortunes. It is already here in the form of the powers made available to the judges by the constitution to expand the frontiers of their jurisdiction through the work of interpretation.
We have a judiciary that we ought to be proud of. We have in the judiciary today, judges who are the equals, even the superiors, of the judges of other nations. Had it not been for the courage and competence of our judges, had it not been for their foresight and patriotism, this nation would long since have perished. That is not to say that we have a perfect judiciary. None of the arms of government is perfect. But I dare say, without fear of contradiction, that of the three arms of government the judiciary is the most competent, the most transparent and the most dedicated.
Our judges need all the support and encouragement we can give them. Our duty in that regard is unqualified. This is no time to proclaim the weaknesses of the judiciary. Whatever others may say of the judiciary, it is our duty to defend her and to protect her. Our gratitude to the judiciary should in no way be diminished by the mistakes that some judges and magistrates have made or are still making. It is not the fault of our judges that democracy has not yielded equal opportunities for all Nigerians; that merit does not count in our country; that our elections are open to justifiable suspicion. What can the judiciary do when in virtually all our states the structures for accountability have been set aside and no one is accountable?
It is a credit to you judges, that you have not despaired. And you must not despair. Nothing that has happened or that is happening should cause you judges to lose confidence in yourselves. The few of you who disappoint the expectations of the nation provide the proof that the judiciary is a human institution. At a time of gross materialism many of you judges deserve commendation for the restraint that you have exercised. When the temptations are so great and so persistent and so rampant, we marvel, not that some judges have fallen, but that the vast majority are still standing.
Whatever happens, we should never lose sight of the fact that our judges are human beings responding, as other human beings do, to the conditions around them. We should also remember that each and every one of us, in one way or another, is responsible for the calamities that are daily befalling the nation. Dictatorship never took root in our country until corruption had permeated every department of it. Cooks and stewards, drivers and mechanics, ministers and legislators, all and sundry were implicated. Before we sit in judgment over the judges, we must first examine ourselves. We are all, in one way or another, guilty.
We are all well aware that our specie of democracy has brought with it hatred, fear, prejudice, shame, violence and bloodshed. We have proceeded on the false premise that fraud is an indispensable part of politics. We refuse to acknowledge that we cannot be strong in numbers without first being strong in spirit and in truth. The judiciary cannot cope if we persist in fighting falsehood with falsehood, vice with vice and violence with violence.
This is a time of high politics in our country and the judiciary must ensure that it does not become an instrument in the hands of politicians. The judges cannot become the allies of politicians. It will be most tragic indeed if a man’s political enemies are able to get him in court when they have been unable to get him in their political battlefields.
Under the constitution, our judges have all the powers and sanctions of a court of law. That gives you a wide discretion. The phrase “all the powers and sanctions of a court of law” was deliberately inserted in the constitution in order to resolve any doubts that our judges may entertain as to the nature and extent of their powers. The constitution itself makes it explicit that the powers of our courts are not only those specified in the constitution but also all those other powers essential for dispensing justice. Had the constitution not referred to them so emphatically and specifically we would call them implied powers. The powers that in the past were called inherent or implied have been elevated by the constitution to another and higher level. By these provisions the constitution itself does not permit that our judges should suffer any feelings of helplessness in the dispensation of justice.
You judges should be bold, courageous, imaginative and visionary. By vesting these powers, the constitution ensures that through the wise exercise of discretion, the nation does not perish under law. On the contrary, by the intelligent and visionary exercise of its interpretative jurisdiction, law is made to serve the ends of justice. If the law is what the judges say it is, then they are right who say that the nation is ruled by the judges rather than by the law.
The powers conferred by the constitution on the judiciary are those powers that every young democracy must confer upon the judicial arm if they are to withstand or survive the assaults of the political class. It is left for you to exercise your powers. And whether our democracy will survive depends to a large extent on how these powers are exercised by you. At the same time we must realize that no judiciary, however good or competent can save a nation totally lacking in moderation. A nation which abandons all her responsibilities entirely to the judiciary cannot survive. On the other hand, if the judges do their duty, it will not be long before the nation is rid of frivolous actions filed by litigants who believe that the system is easily open to manipulation and that all that is required of them is the disposition and the resources to manipulate the courts. As soon as litigants realize that the judges are not accessible to be manipulated, they will stop filing many of the actions that presently congest our courts.
The judgments of our courts should encourage the nation to look inwards and to find solutions from within. Only by so doing can the judiciary be that viable instrument of social change which it was intended to be. And only by so doing can the judiciary break the severe limitations under which it is presently labouring. It is for our judges, by themselves to push further and further the frontiers of the judiciary until they eliminate completely those conditions that hinder their participation as equal partners of the other arms of government in the administration of our country.
CHIEF KANU AGABI SAN
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