CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, Monday, tackled President Muhammadu Buhari at the opening session of the 2017 All Nigeria Judges’ Conference, saying there is need for the executive arm of government to learn to obey court judgments and orders.
The CJN, who spoke at the event personally attended by President Buhari, maintained that obedience to court orders ought to be considered by other arms of government, especially the executive, “as a strong motivation for the fight against corruption and the entrenchment of the Rule of Law in our country.”
Justice Onnoghen said Nigeria should learn from countries like Kenya and the United States where he said there was “Rule of Law in practice”, with their Presidents and government agencies respecting court decisions against the interest of the government in power. The CJN further demanded total independence of the judiciary from any form of external pressure from other arms of government in the discharge of its duties.
He said: “Closely linked to the independence of the Judiciary is the need for governments and institutions to obey court orders and judgments.
“Today, Nigerians easily refer to the recent Supreme Court judgment in Kenya and some Court orders in the United States of America and conclude that the judiciaries in those countries are doing better than ours.
“They, however, forget to mention that President Uhuru Kenyatta promptly accepted the judgment annulling his victory in the August 8, 2017 Presidential election and agreed to a re-run against his opponent.
“In similar fashion, the United States Department of Immigration did not wait for a presidential directive to allow immigrants from seven Muslim countries continued access to the US as soon as a court struck down President Donald Trump’s Executive Order banning citizens of these countries from entering America.
“That is the Rule of Law in practice and I urge the other arms of government, especially the Executive, to consider the obedience of court judgments and orders as a strong motivation for the fight against corruption and the entrenchment of the Rule of Law in our country.”
It will be recalled that the President Buhari-led government had since refused to obey some court directives, including orders that granted bail to the detained former National Security Adviser, NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki, retd, as well a judgment that ordered immediate release of detained leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, Sheikh Ibrahimm El-Zakzaky and his wife.
The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, had on May 29, when the country marked its Democracy Day, also scored President Buhari’s administration low on respect for the rule of law, saying it was “appalled at the continued detention of certain individuals in blatant disobedience to court orders.”
Meanwhile, in his keynote address at the commencement of the All Judges’ Conference taking place at the National Judicial Institute, NJI, in Abuja, the CJN, said there was need for a holistic reform of the present justice system in the country. He noted that the judiciary had been in the eye of the storm in recent times, owing to activities of some corrupt elements on the bench. He said the only way to check excesses of the “bad eggs in the justice sector”, was for government to ensure that corrupt judges were not merely disgraced, but also effectively prosecuted and convicted.
The CJN said the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee, COTRIMCO, which was recently inaugurated by the National Judicial Council has kick-started the process that would expose more corrupt judges.
“Your Excellencies, Brother Judges, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, you will all agree with me that a corrupt judge is not only a disgrace to the Bench and the noble profession, but also a disaster to the course of justice and the nation.
“I must not fail to emphasise here that my definition of corruption is not limited to bribe-taking, but includes the giving of judgments or orders based on any consideration other than legal merit.
“I am confident that in due course, our efforts to rid the judiciary of questionable persons shall yield results. We all owe a duty to join hands together not merely to disgrace these misfits out of this exalted office, but also to ensure their prosecution and conviction.
“The designation of courts to handle corruption cases is also a step in the right direction as lingering corruption cases will be expeditiously dispensed with.
“It should no longer be business as usual. I believe the stream of justice must be kept pure and free at all times from poisonous contamination,” the CJN added.
Buhari tackles judiciary
Declaring the conference open, President Buhari, who listened to the CJN with rapt attention, also tackled the Judiciary for allowing cases in court to drag for “sometimes decades” without resolution, stressing that the public expected fairness, impartiality and speed in the administration of justice.
He said: “Regrettably court cases can drag on for years and years, sometimes decades without resolution. I need only mention land cases in Lagos to illustrate my point. “Furthermore, there are huge backlogs of cases waiting to be dispensed especially at the Appellate levels. Reform of the judiciary should start at eliminating these seemingly endless delays in settling what to the layman are apparently simple cases,” President Buhari stated.
He stressed that litigants expect that higher courts should endeavour to harmonise their rulings, noting however that “there are contradictory decisions of superior courts on the same subject matter in cases where facts are substantially the same without a clear attempt in subsequent cases to distinguish the earlier cases.”
According to President Buhari, lack of clarity from the superior courts lead to serious confusion in the lower courts. “The knock-on efforts of these delays and discontinuities range from loss of confidence in the judicial system to over-crowding of prisons. This is an area Your Lordships should pay close attention to in your efforts at reforming the system “Last month I wrote to all State Governors urging them to make special visit to prisons in company with State Chief Judges and release prisoners unnecessarily detained without due process.”
The President said the anti-graft drive of his administration would require close cooperation of other arms of government. He said the recent arrest of some alleged corrupt Judges was not aimed at intimidating the judiciary.
No intimidating judiciary
“My lords, earlier this year the Judiciary came under investigation. Let me again assure the judicial community, this action taken by the Executive was in no way a prelude to usurping the powers of the National Judicial Council or aimed at intimidating the Judiciary as wrongly portrayed in some sections of the media. Executive and legislative officials were also investigated.
“I am aware that the majority of judicial officers are learned and incorruptible and day in day out acting in the best spirit of their oath of office. At the same time, I am quite aware of the problems besetting the Judiciary including under-funding, inadequate personnel and absence of modern technological aids.
“Bearing these in mind, this Administration increased allocation to the Judiciary from N70 billion to N100 billion in the 2017 Budget. A similar figure has been proposed for 2018. “Mr. Chief Justice, our Administration’s commitment is to accord the Judiciary its constitutional rights.
“I therefore, commend your recent decision to ask all judges at lower courts to provide you with a comprehensive list of all corruption and financial crimes in order to designate special courts to handle them. I support your action and the public is awaiting the results of this initiative,” President Buhari added.
In her welcome address, the Administrator of the NJI, Justice R.P.I. Bozimo, said the conference which has the theme, ‘Strengthening Judicial Integrity and the Rule of Law’, is a biennial event that allows Judges of Superior Courts of Record from all over the country to converge and reflect upon the activities of the judiciary vis-a-vis its achievements and challenges. “The Conference also provides a platform for Judges to strategise on the means of adopting global best practices to meet critical challenges in the dispensation of justice to all in our great country,” Justice Bozimo added. (Vanguard)