The Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of University of Lagos (UNILAG), Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), has commended the National Judicial Council (NJC) for its determination to sanitise the judiciary and ensure that judges are fairly treated.
To him, this will attract the best brains to the third arm of government and ensure orderliness in the judiciary for the benefit of the society.
Babalakin said this in Lagos on Wednesday while delivering a paper, titled: “Law and The Society”, as the Guest Lecturer at the Annual Reunion of Government College Ibadan Old Boys’ Association (GCIOBA).
According to him, the judiciary must be adequately funded to attract the best brains to the bench, like it was in the First Republic, and make it perform optimally.
Babalakin said: “However, the National Judicial Council’s budget is dictated by the executives. It can only spend what is made available to it. I have listened to all Chief Justices of Nigeria since Honorable Justice Aloma Mukhtar (GCON) complained about the poor funding of the Judiciary. I have been told that some states are unable to pay the full allowance to judicial officers. This is totally unacceptable and unconstitutional. We have to pay judicial officers appropriately and it is my submission that their salaries should be indexed to inflation. In Nigeria today, most people have lost 50 per cent of the value of their earnings to inflation, which implies that judges now earn less than half of their salaries in real value.”
Babalakin, who is an old boy of GCI, lamented the volume of work at the state High Courts, saying: “I believe that most of the jurisdiction being exercised by High Courts in the states can be handled at the magistracy. We need to enlarge the jurisdiction of the magistrate courts to take away some burden of the High Courts, so that the High Court can concentrate on issues that require great attention. We have to place serious emphasis on the hierarchy of courts. Appointment to the Bench must be based on merit. Law is essentially a profession that requires very serious intellectual capacity. The various levels of courts must look up to the courts higher than them in the hierarchy. ”
The lawyer also spoke on the federal structure of Nigeria and lamented that creation of wealth was not mentioned anywhere in the constitution, but rather, emphasis was placed on wealth sharing among the three tiers of government.
His words: “One aspect that seriously baffles me about the Nigerian Constitution is that although it is unusually detailed for a Federal Constitution, it appears to unduly place emphasis on sharing of revenue. From the beginning to the end of the constitution, I did not see any reference to creating revenue. We have to create revenue before we can share the said revenue. We have inadvertently, through improper constitutional making, created a community where the emphasis is on how to share government largesse. This culture has led to the poverty of the whole nation. Please, do not be deceived, Nigeria is not a rich country. A country of about 170 million people with a federal budget of N7.4 trillion, out of which N2.5 trillion is a debt, is a struggling country. In this year’s budget, all government earnings are to be spent on recurrent expenditure. All capital projects are to be funded by borrowing. This is how stretched the finance of Nigeria is today.”
While disagreeing with the suggestion in some quarters that bicameral legislature should be scrapped to reduce the cost of governance, the erudite lawyer, in fact, advocated for bicameral legislature at the state level.
He appealed to the intelligentsia to participate in politics and help bring orderliness to the society.
“In all successful societies, the intelligentsia have led from the front in organising the society. Nigeria also started well in the First Republic. The leading politicians were invariably very educated or exposed personalities within the context of the society. The military interregnum totally disrupted this position. After a tortuous journey between 1966 when military rule commenced and 1999 when power was eventually handed over to civilians, the intellectual fabric of the society was seriously changed, if not totally destroyed.
“By 1999, most of the leading lights in Nigeria were exhausted by years of military rule and unending transition. When General Abudusalami Abubakar announced that he was going to hand over power within a year, most people did not believe his statement and thus did not participate in the process. A large number of outstanding persons in the society did not participate. We are still paying for not responding to the call. The time has come when the intelligentsia should stop being armchair critics of government but must become serious participants in the process. They should seek elective offices and take control of policy making for the benefit of the society,” he said.
Babalakin commended the President of GCIOBA, Mr. Biodun Jolaoso, and other members for their efforts to restore the school’s lost glory.
The lecture was attended by many old boys of the college, GCI pupils and students from secondary schools in Lagos.