Although the week-long 2016 biennial conference of all Nigeria judges of the lower courts had come and gone, participants have not stopped talking about the many gains and funs of the programme.
From Lagos to Kano, Abuja to Maiduguri, Lokoja to Port-Harcourt, judges of the lower courts from all over the federation who attended the conference had a unanimous verdict: it is one conference like never before with a lot to take home.
The judges’ conference themed “The lower courts as veritable instruments for justice and peace in a democratic society”, was organised by the National Judicial Institute pursuant to its mandate of continuing education for all categories of judicial officers and their support staff.
It held between November 21 and 26 at the NJI office located in Jabi, Abuja.
The purpose of the conference, according to the Institute’s Administrator, Hon. Justice R.P.I Bozimo (OFR) was to create an avenue for the participants to share experiences, update their skills and knowledge of law in order to improve their competence and performance in the discharge of their judicial duties.
Another reason for organising the programme, according to her, was to expose the participants to recent developments in Law, Practice and Procedure in courts as well as contemporary legal issues, all to promote efficient justice delivery.
The conference was in six sessions with best brains in the legal profession saddled with the responsibility of presenting papers relevant to the theme while participants enjoyed the privilege of drinking directly from the fountain of knowledge of egg heads in the judiciary which ordinarily they would not have had access to except their opinions on legal issues rendered in judgments.
The first paper on day one was presented by a Federal high court judge in Asaba, Justice A. Faji titled: Accountability and transparency in the judicial process: Understanding judicial ethics and code of conduct for judicial officers in Nigeria.
The session was presided over by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
The paper which ran into 67 pages discussed important ethical issues among judges ranging from what a judicial officer should do when those in the executive branch of government approach them with gifts during festive periods; whether or not judges should be on social media; whether visits to public places like brothels or red light districts by judges is allowed ; when and how to invoke their powers of contempt; what should be done when they are unable to deliver judgments in cases before them three months after final addresses; mode of dressing and assets declaration, among others.
The discussion of the paper was robust as participants from various parts of the country bombarded the CJN with a lot of questions using their personal experiences to frame same.
Justice Onnoghen, a highly cerebral jurist who turned the occasion to a classroom, did justice to all questions posed to him with the Andrews Otutu Obaseki Hall used for the conference erupting into loud applause at intervals.
The Acting CJN was not only free with the participants, he was also very realistic with them.
Many of the participants were interested to hear the opinion of the Acting CJN on the issue of whether they could collect gifts from the executive at a time when men of the Department of State Service have started raiding houses of serving judges. Justice Onnoghen did not disappoint them as he guided them accordingly.
In fact, a judge who said he could not deliver a judgment in a case which he claimed was almost caught up by the statutory three months after address was advised to attend court the following day to deliver the judgment before coming to the conference.
The second day of the conference was not different. It was the Chief Judge of Delta State, Justice Marshal Umukoro that spoke. His paper, a 26-page work, was titled: Access to justice in the lower courts: Re-examining the civil and criminal jurisdiction of the magistrate courts in Nigeria.
The session was to be chaired by the second-in-command to the acting CJN and justice of the Supreme Court, Dr Justice Tanko Mohammad.
In the paper, Justice Umukoro looked at both the criminal and civil jurisdictions of the magistrate courts according to their grades to speak to some of the common mistakes made by the participants in exercising jurisdiction over matters they cannot handle, challenges in the magistracy, solutions and recommendations.
The paper also provoked very interesting discussion as participants struggled to be recognised to clear their doubts and take considered advice about some of the stubborn issues they have been romancing with in their various jurisdictions.
However, the conference refused to answer publicly a participant who laid bare the facts of a case before him in court simply because he was yet to deliver judgment in the case.
One paper at the conference which participants discussed for long even as they dispersed to their various jurisdictions was the one delivered by Edo State Chief Judge, Justice Cromwell Idahosa.
The paper, a 19-page work, which was titled: The doctrine of stare decisis and judicial precedents: the need for lower courts to be bound by decisions of the Superior Courts of Records, was delivered at its third session (third day of the conference).
A justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi chaired the session.
The paper which was well researched and which spoke to a common issue in the judiciary discussed in a very lucid language what the concept: stare decisis, is all about, its etymology, historical perspective, application of the doctrine, instances when courts can deviate from the doctrine, among others.
The participants took advantage of the conference to actually unwind and left the session better honed.
Other papers scheduled for presentation at the conference were a 60-page document titled: Recording evidence, judgment writing, conviction and sentencing in the lower courts by a scholar cum jurist, Dr Justice Hussein Mukhtar, a justice of the Court of Court of Appeal with Justice Olukaypde Ariwoola, a justice of the Supreme Court as moderator and enhancing speedy dispensation of justice: practical hints on case flow management by the Chief Judge of Kaduna State high court, Justice Tanimu Zailani.
The conference at its 6th session treated the participants to health lectures ably handled by two speakers: Chief Medical Director of Tolbert Specialist Hospital, Abuja, Prof B. E Ogunbiyi and Dr Olusesan Adetola of the Foundation Preventive Clinics, Lagos.
Prof Ogunbiyi used Power Point to take the participants through his lecture titled: Is age a number or a reality?
In his 13-page slide, Prof Ogunbiyi lectured the judges on increasing age and associated health conditions; consequences of aging on all organs of the body and most common cancers in Nigeria while Dr Adetola spoke extempore on prevention of hypertension, heart related diseases and musculo-skeletal disorders.
The Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Onnoghen, again, chaired the sixth and closing session where he advised judges to take good care of their health, stressing that the future of the judiciary rests squarely on them.
Onnoghen who gave his own layman perspective on how to maintain their health also joined others to benefit from the lecture.