President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday told the Nigerian judges that the raid of homes of some judicial officers in Abuja and other parts of the country early in the year was not intended to intimidate the judiciary but purely in pursuit of his administration’s anti-graft war.
The president who made the clarification while delivering a keynote address at the opening of 2017 All Nigeria Judges’ Biennial Conference of the Superior Court themed: ‘Strengthening Judicial Integrity and the Rule of Law,’ however admitted that the nation’s democracy would survive or prosper without the strict adherence to rule of law.
Men of the department of State service (DSS) had invaded the homes of some judicial officers in a manner many stakeholders offends the principle of rule of law.
Some of the judges are presently on trial while some who were placed on suspension have been recalled.
President Buhari who said his administration had no intention of intimidating the judiciary said that on the contrary, it is to support the judiciary to perform well.
He noted that his administration, for instance, increased allocation to the Judiciary from N70 billion to N100 billion in the 2017 Budget and that a similar figure has been proposed for 2018.
The bi-annual conference which has over 700 judges in attendance.
According to the President, “the conference organizers have chosen a very important and apt subject for this year’s conference namely; “Strengthening Judicial Integrity and the Rule of Law”. A democratic system such as ours can not survive or prosper without strict adherence to the Rule of Law.
The President added that the prime purpose of any government is to regulate social relations within its territorial jurisdiction and that without the rule of law the government will degenerate into dictatorship or anarchy.
According to him, “the theme you have chosen this year keys in with our Administration’s resolve to strengthen the three arms of government to effectively fulfill their constitutional obligations.
“For the judiciary, the public expects fairness, impartiality and speed in the administration of justice. 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”.
President Buhari noted that there are huge backlogs of cases waiting to be dispensed especially at the Appellate levels.
He however stressed that reform of the judiciary should start at eliminating the seemingly endless delays in settling what to the layman are apparently simple cases.
“Again, litigants expect that higher courts should endeavour to harmonize their rulings. 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. This lack of clarity leads to serious confusion to the lower courts.
“The knock-on efforts of these delays and dis-continuities 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.
“My lords, as all of us are aware one of the objectives of this Administration is to combat graft and other forms of corruption so endemic in our public life. The executive can not achieve these objectives alone. We require the close cooperation of other arms of government.
“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”, the President stated
In his own address, the CJN had charged the Executive to always obey judgement of court as such will boost the confidence reposed in the judiciary
The CJN however noted 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. It is gratifying to note however, that the National Judicial Council is already tackling this cankerworm head-on.
“In light of the foregoing, the National Judicial Council under my watch has constituted the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) which has just been inaugurated under the chairmanship of Hon. Justice Suleiman Galadima, CFR, JSC (Rtd), to serve as a check on the excesses of some bad eggs amongst us. I am confident that in due course of time; 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.
I must state categorically however, lest I am accused of the fallacy of hasty generalisation, that the Judiciary in Nigeria is not totally corrupt or inefficient. No. Only few Judges are found wanting. It is an established fact that the Judiciary in Nigeria is as good as the best anywhere in the world” he stated.
Justice Onnoghen further called on Heads of various Courts to pay close attention to the activities of the lower Courts within their jurisdiction, adding that proper supervision and feedback mechanisms are imperative if the judiciary must succeed.
“It is quite often said that the litmus test to find out how free and democratic any nation is to take a cursory look at its Judiciary to find out what powers the nation is prepared to concede to this vital partner in governance. The complete and real independence of the Judiciary is thus a reflection of the nation and of freedom. The independence of the Judiciary can only be sustained and guaranteed when there is no interference by the other arms of Government in the discharge of its duties.
“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 to the fight against corruption and the entrenchment of the Rule of Law in our country” , he stated.
Earlier in her welcome speech, the Administrator of the Institute, Justice Rosaline Bozimo noted that the conference is for stock taking for Justices and Judges of Superior Court of Record from all over the country, to converge and reflect upon the activities of the Judiciary with the benefit of hindsight and reflect on achievement and challenges of the judiciary.
“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”, she stated.