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Home Law News Enthroning the Independence of the Judiciary in Nigeria

Enthroning the Independence of the Judiciary in Nigeria

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By: Douglas Ogbankwa Esq

The Nigerian Judiciary , especially at the State Level is under siege .Held in the jungular by the Governors of the State , who run the State Judiciary as a Parastatal of the State Government .Aside some few States , in most States in Nigeria , the Chief Judge is just a figure head ,who bows down before the Governor on all issues .You have to have a very corageous and incorruptible judge of a State Judiciary to give Judgment against a State Government.By the Management Matrix of the State Judiciary , if you are doing a Matter against the State Government , you are likely to be wasting your time and money at State High Court , except in some exceptional cases .Justice for you is likely to come from the Court of Appeal Stage.The situation is very bad and rotten and it is time for the Bar to rise up and ensure the right thing is done , so that our Judiciary can be independent once and for all .

The Independence of the Judiciary is the fulcrum of a disinterested Judicial System.It is an anomaly for a Governor of a State or Officials of the Executive Arm of Government who are Parties before Courts to be the approving Authorities for the same Courts that their cases are pending in. Budgeting is Governance.

He who feeds you ,control your actions .If Nigeria was to be serious to have a fair dispensation of Justice, implenting the Provisions of the Law that removed the undue and illegal Executive Interference in Judicial Activities is the way to go.Some times , the Governors buy cars and write the names of Judges to be given the cars and they also determine those who go for trainings and who even get Law Reports .How can you ensure a fair dispensation of Justice within such a strong hold on the Judiciary by the Executive?

The Judiciary Budgetary Process is left to Political Control, because some of them are beneficiaries of the skewed process .The Nigerian People are however the biggest losers .Some times, they are just pawns in a complex puzzle like in the Game of Chess ,which actually translates to the Game of Thrones .

The Nigerian Judiciary is under siege from Politicians and their Internal Collaborators in the Legal Profession and the Judiciary itself and it is now a laughing stock of the Public and the International Community .

The State of our Judiciary is getting worse , as our Courts churn one obnoxious judgment to another .
We now have judgments that do not even make common sense or legal sense ,even to the most experienced lawyers .As J.B. Daudu SAN ,former President of the NBA and the Chairman of Council of AfBA once said in the NBA AGC at the International Conference Centre in Abuja in 2018:

If you wanted to know if a Judge Compromised reading the Judgement can provide evidence of same ,you do not need to see him collect a bribe

The situation is very dire and Lawyers need to do some thing about it .We either get it right now or lose it forever. We will be victims one day.Justices Taslim Elias ,Fatai Atade.Williams ,Chukwudifu Oputa ,Udo Udoma ,Aniagolu ,Mohammed Bello ,Peter Irekefe ,will all be crying in their grave ,lamenting the State of the Nigerian Judiciary.The Bar Must rise up to the Occasion

The Appointment Process of Judges must be taken out of the purview of Politicians. In this regard ,we must amend the Constitution to leave Judicial Appointments to Judicial Authorities alone ,this also includes the swearing in of Judges and the Chief Judges .

The Out going Chief Judge or any retired Chief Judge of any State should be made to swear in the in coming Chief Judge ,while the Chief Judge swear in newly appointed Judges.A Nigerian anomaly requires a Nigerian Solution .Since the President and Governors have abused the Power of Swearing In of Judges and Chief Judges ,we should make them irrelevant in the process ,so that the sanctity of the Judiciary can be protected .

Appointments and Interview of Kenyan Judges are covered live on Television, why can’t we do the same in Nigeria to bolster the integrity of the process. We must remove the secrecy that accompanies the appointments of Nigerian Judges .It must be open to public glare and public scrutiny. This is the only way we will be sure that there is transparency in the process. Publicity is a sure safeguard , that guarantees fairness and equity in any Judicial Process .

The days of announcing Appointment of Judges by NJC Statements should be over .Let Nigerians see by themselves , who is qualified and who is not .Let the selection process and Interviews for Judges be covered live on Television. That is the only way we can vouch for the sanctity of the process .

We will not be proud to bequeath this current Nigerian Judiciary to our Children .You might be gaining the system today ,but you can become a victim tomorrow.

We should also fight for the Financial Independence of the Judiciary,as provided for by Section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 (As Amended ), 4th Alteration, which provides thus :

Any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned

There is no magic about the issue.Just pay the money standing to the credit of the Judiciary on first line Charge from the Consolidated Revenue Funds to the Heads of Court .It is that simple.What is the hullabaloo about this? If you protected the Rule of Law ,while in Office ,the Rule of Law will protect you, while you are out of Office The Judiciary should be allowed to keep all monies they are generating by their orders and their processes .A large chunk of the money declared by States Board of Internal Revenue are monies generated by the Judiciary as monies paid for affidavits ,filing fees for court processes , default fees ,CTC ,fines for convicts, 10 percent or 5 percent as the case may be for money standing to the credit of a deceased estate in the bank or property of a deceased ,Letters of Administration, Money Lender’s Licence ,etc.Let the Judiciary keep these monies are these monies are standing to their credit as stipulated by Section 121 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 (As amended),4th alteration.This will help alot in ensuring the Independence of the Judiciary.

The Judiciary should also be self-assertive on issues when the Law is on their side .It follows the Law of Protectionism. Judges are supposed to.protect their space ,not to cede more powers to their adversaries .The Nigerian Judiciary has acted severally ,like the State Houses of Assembly that refused to vote for its own financial autonomy ,even when they had the power to do so .A case in point will suffice for this point made above.

In Kunle Edun & ors. V. The Cross Rivers State House Of Assembly & Ors

where Kunle Edun ,the National Welfare Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA ), Ike Augustine a radical Lawyer from Owerri,Imo State and other Radical Lawyers challenged the propriety of the Cross Rivers State House of Assembly denying the most Senior Judge in Cross Rivers being the Chief Judge of Cross Rivers because she is from Akwa Ibom though ,married to a husband from Cross River, the Federal High Court in Calabar ruled that there is no evidence that the House of Assembly was unfair to the the Judge.

That was another case of the Judiciary not being self assertive,ruling against itself when the facts and the law was on its side .It had to take a political solution and the pressure of the case on Appeal for My Lord to be eventually sworn in as Chief Judge of Cross Rivers State .

If you can not liberate yourselves little by little,nobody will liberate you and if the Political Class knows that you are a toothless bulldog when it comes to your issues ,they will continue to run the Judiciary as a Parastatal of Government House .

Budgeting is Governance .The Man who controls the budget controls the structure. The inconvenient truth is that you can not get real Justice in Nigeria,the way the Judiciary is being run now as per the budgeting process. The men who approve the budget ,signs the cheque, all have cases or have friends and family who have cases in Court .How do you expect Justice is such a very partisan arrangement?

A situation where a Chief Judge or the Chief Registrar goes to Government House and beg for Money which is that of Judiciary and sometimes they are denied is completely unacceptable.In some States of the Federation any expenditure outside 1 Million Naira requires the approval of the State Government, how can we have an independent judiciary ,when they are being financially controlled from Government House .

The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) , should target the coming period of Election Tribunals in 2022/ 2023 and even the Pre Election Matters to go on strike and ensure that all the matters expire .If the Governors do not budge,JUSUN should embark.on an indefinite strike .The Nigerian Bar Association should also embark on a Nation Wide Boycott of Courts .This should not be called off , until our Judiciary is independent .The NBA should also stop being a rubber stamp in the appointment process of Judges .The Chairman of the NBA , in the State Capital Branch of the State for starters must be a Member of the State Judicial Service Commission the same way ,the President of the NBA is a Member of the National Judicial Council.This does not stop.other Lawyers from being appointed as Members.This will make the Bar to have a Bird Eye’s View of the appointment Process of Judges and other matters that concern the Judiciary, to contribute to strengthening the integrity of the Process .

The NBA Chairman should also stop writing recommendations from to the Bar to intending appointees to the Bar , as a routine .The Bar must put the Candidates for appointment as Judges in the hot seat and ask about their antecedents and preparedness to proceed to be a Judge .If the Bar recommended an unfit person to become a Judge ,the Bar has no right to complain ,when that unfit person begins to manifest the symptoms of being unfit , because the Bar recommended the Person to be a Judge .Volenti non fit injuries -That which you consent to , can not be considered an injury.

Some times the NBA does not realize the powers it has in the process of appointing Judges or it is too carried away by familiarity with those to be appointed to do the right thing.If the Bar insisted on due process in the appointment of Judges ,the right thing will be done ,as the Independence of the Judiciary as to decisions taken by it , can only be secured by scrutinizing the appointment process to get our best in ,who do not owe allegiance to major political actors .Some Components of the Judiciary gradually is becoming an extension of the Political Class .The Desperation of Candidates to be Judges questions whether they are going to the Bench for Service to the People or for something else .If you heard some of the intrigues involved in the appointment process and things some of them do to become Judges ,they are things not for for a Lawyer to do ,not to take of some one for an Office whose appellation “My Lord “, is only reserved for the Almighty God .Those who are Judges must act like they are of God and must like Caesar’s Wife at all times be above board .For they to be called My Lord ,they must act godly and leave no room whatsoever for suspicious of any wrong doing .It was so bad in one of States of Federation ,where alot of alleged fetishness was unleased on would be appointees that all Candidates shortlisted to be appointed as Judges in that State , died one after the other in mysterious circumstances .Some Lawyers promptly said the State does not have a Judiciary ,but a jujuciary

That is how low we have become !

About the Author:

Douglas Ogbankwa Esq., @ douglasogbankwa@gmail.com , a Benin Based Lawyer is the Convener of the Vanguard of the Independence of the Judiciary

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