Outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed on Monday said he would soon pull out of the Supreme Court bench but that his joy was that he was leaving the apex court in a better shape than he met it.
Mahmoud who spoke at the special session of the Supreme Court to mark the beginning of 2016/2017 legal year and the swearing in of 22 senior lawyers recently conferred with the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) reeled out hard facts and statistics to justify his claim.
He however said that the Supreme Court was arguably the most overworked in the entire world but that the justices of the court had continually displayed patriotism and had never buckled in spite various challenges facing the court.
He also used the opportunity of the special session which he said would be the last in his career on the bench to warn lawyers to clear the air on the succession controversy at the Supreme Court.
He said the tradition had been to allow the most senior justice of the court to take over from the retiring judge and that the court was still in support of the tradition.
He also enjoined lawyers to cease writing petitions against judicial officers directly to President Muhammadu Buhari, saying such conduct had the capacity of politicising the judiciary.
He advised lawyers to address their petition to the NJC and promised that the council would act on it without delay.
Mohammed, who is proceeding on retirement in November 2016, charged the new SANs to imbibe the highest tenets of integrity and humility befitting their status even as he spoke on other topical issues.
His words: “it is with immense pride and a great sense of achievement that we are gathered here today to be part of this occasion. This year’s ceremony is all the more poignant as it marks the commencement of my final legal year in the service of my nation.
“Nevertheless, Im proud to say that by the will of the Almighty, I am leaving the Supreme ourt in a better shape than I met it.
“Indeed, we must appreciate and commend the efforts made by our Justices, and all Judicial Officers and Staff of the various strata of our Judiciary towards enhancing the administration of justice, despite the various attacks and challenges to our independence, none more so than those directed at this Court.
“At the beginning of every Legal Year, it is expected that we count our good deeds and the accomplishments of the Supreme Court will be reduced to mere numbers that is the number of appeals determined as against the number of cases filed as a way to establish the success of the Court.
“However, I believe the true test of our success is whether this apex court has dispensed justice in a way that our people can say that justice has indeed been done and seen to be done.
“Without sounding like a Judge in my own case, I strongly believe that the Supreme Court has achieved this objective. The impact of the decisions of the Supreme Court, has not only been just but that the judgments served the cause of Justice.
“I daresay that in the 2015-2016 Legal Year, our Court confirmed its status as arguably the most overworked Supreme Court anywhere in the World.
“This was characterized by the near herculean hearing of 1,489 matters, consisting of 908 motions and 581 substantive appeals, delivering 268 judgments in that period.
“Indeed, during this period we received about ten new appeals per week, most of which were interlocutory in nature.
“Consequently, we have taken the historic step towards the expansion of the single track of justice delivery in the Court by allowing for appeals to be mediated where the parties and issues permit.
“The last legal year witnessed a transition in the ranks of the Justices of the Supreme Court with the appointment of one new Justice to join the ranks of the Court in the person of Hon. Justice Amiru Sanusi,” he said.
In his speech, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), expressed concern over conflicting judgments from various courts in the land.
Malami, who was represented by the Solicitor General of the Federation, Mr. Taiwo Abidogun, called on the leadership of the judiciary to move fast in order to prevent the continuation of such occurrence.
He also charged the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee to come up with a policy that would further ensure that those who were admitted into the inner bar were qualified both in practice and character.
He charged the new SANs to remain shining lights in the practice of law.
Speaking on behalf of the body of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Onomigbo Okpoko noted that the judiciary in the nation had in recent time witnessed the show of shame brought about by courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction assuming jurisdiction to hear the same dispute, between the same parties and delivering verdicts that were totally in conflict with one another.
He called on the CJN and the NJC to step in immediately to control the damage already done in order to save the justice system from further ridicule.
The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Abubakar Mahmud (SAN), in his address reiterated the need for the bar to guard the reputation of the judiciary jealously.
“On our part, we shall continue to be strong advocates of the greater independence of the judiciary. But that means we will fight even those within who seek to undermine its reputation,” he said.
Speaking on the state of the nation, Mahmud admitted that the country was facing daunting challenges.
He said: “Getting out of our present situation demands concerted efforts of all citizens and all institutions. The expectation of the legal profession is enormous. We must demonstrate patriotism and leadership as well as knowledge and skills.
“We must work to enhance confidence in the legal system, promote the rule of law, guarantee protection of citizens as well as promote the sanctity of contractual obligations thereby improving the business environment.”
Speaking on behalf of the new SANs, the Director General of the Nigerian Law School, Mr. Olanrewaju Onadeko, who is the most senior, called for an effective pupillage system for new entrants into the legal profession, adding that such would avail them of a period of hands-on apprenticeship in law establishments, for a total comprehension of law practice.