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AWAKENING HOPE IN THE NIGERIA PROJECT: “THE ROLE OF THE JUDICIARY IN THE NIGERIA PROJECT”

DELIVERED BY

HON. JUSTICE JIDE OLATAWURA
[RETIRED JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA]

ON TUESDAY 12TH SEPTEMBER 2006

AT THE INAUGURATION OF MUSTAPHA AKANBI FOUNDATION

HELD AT THE BANQUET HALL, KWARA HOTEL, ILORIN.

When I received the invitation from the Chairman, Board of Trustees of Mustapha Akanbi Foundation to deliver a lecture at the inauguration of the Foundation, one thing crossed my mind: Hon. Justice Akanbi has again made a first. He has been endowed with wisdom and foresight by the Almighty God to know when to leave the stage more so when the applause is loudest. I must also not fail to mention that Honourable Justice Akanbi is so fond of talking about the hard work and honesty of his late father in all spheres of life. Hon. Justice Akanbi cherishes these rare qualities of life in his father that he would uphold these virtues and tread the path of honour of his father. He has nurtured his own personal ambition over the years to build a structure on the solid foundation laid by his father. My Lord, I praise you for your courage, sense of direction and the love for your father. I pray your own children will follow your shining example. May the Lord bless them Ameen.

I said earlier on that he has made another first again. Hon. Justice Akanbi was the first to give notice of retirement before the statutory age of retirement for judicial officers. He was invited again to head the INDEPENDENT CORRUPT PRACTICES AND OTHER RELATED OFFENCES COMMISSION. He gave notice of leaving that high office notwithstanding the fact that his appointment would have been renewed by Mr. President. He is the first again within his community to found a Foundation of this nature realizing the necessity and the importance to build a strong Nation as a worthy legacy for the coming generations. What we all wish him is a long and healthy life. May Allah grant our prayers.

NIGERIA PROJECT

The theme of this lecture shows an in-depth analysis of the past and a renewed hope for the future. What is the Nigeria Project? I consulted my chamber Dictionary where one of the meanings is:
“a scheme of something to be done; a proposal for an undertaking; an undertaking”.

 The Oxford Addvanced Learner’s Dictionary defined it as:
“a piece of work etc that is organized carefully and designed to achieve a particular aim, a plan; a research project”

To awaken the hope we have, we must strengthen our weak responses to the responsibilities we have for the Nation.

THE ROLE OF THE JUDICIARY

This brings me to the topic of this paper “The Role of the Judiciary in the Nigerian Project”. Judiciary is the third arm of Government. The Nation believes that with a very strong Judiciary the mistakes of the other two arms of Government i.e. the Legislature and the Executive can be spotlighted and corrected. Judiciary cannot afford to make a slip more so where the liberty of the subject is at stake. There is that strong belief that the Nigeria Judiciary will curb the excesses of the other two arms of Government. Judiciary should not allow the people’s trust to be misplaced. Once a Nation has an independent Judiciary there is the hope that any wrongdoing will be corrected. My first visit to this ancient city of Ilorin was in 1954 when I was a Court Clerk in the Court of Sir Adetokunbo Ademola the first indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria. That was shortly before the creation of the Regions: North, West and East. Ibadan Judicial Division then covered Ilorin, Ikeja, Oyo, Ile-Ife, Ilesha, Ijebu-Ode, Abeokuta etc. It was under one Administrative Judge. Judges did their best to reduce the congestion of cases in the Courts. The general complaint from litigants was the delay in the trial of cases. That justice delayed is justice denied is as old as the creation or establishment of the Courts.

President Shehu Shagari met members of the Press, the Nigeria Bar Association and the Judiciary so soon after his inauguration as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He met the Judiciary on November 12, 1979. His Excellency the President, in his address to members of the Judiciary represented by the Honourable the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Justices of the Supreme Court said:

“And the Judiciary, in particular, being the watch dog of
peoples rights and liberty, should not hesitate to call to
order anybody, institution or groups of people, however
influential that threaten to destroy, disfigure or otherwise
undermine the corporate existence of this great nation.

The faith of the people in our judicial system must remain
unshaken. For my part, I will do everything possible within
my power to honour and protect the acknowledged
independence of the Nigerian Judiciary  thereby enhancing
the dignity and impartiality of the judges and helping to
 maintain the high esteem in which the generality of the
Nigeria Judges are held by all our people. The path of
an impartial and honest duty may be strewn with thorns
 but I have no doubt that you have the courage, the
 probity, the learning and tradition to face all odds and
continue to hold the banner of justice aloft and above all stains”

While His Excellency said in a nutshell is now part of the Judicial Oath in the Seventh Schedule of the 1999 Constitution.

The implicit confidence of Nigerians in Judiciary must not be misplaced. The Judiciary is still battling with the Executives and other agencies of Government about the disobedience of the Orders of Court. A flagrant disobedience of the Order of court is giving cause for concern.

The Judges who knowingly ignore the judgments of superior courts are to say the least courting disciplinary action, which may lead to dismissal. I have said it many times that no judge should antagonize the Government, but the unholy alliance between some judges and the Executives give room for suspicion. The warnings, directives and circulars of the National Judicial Council must be enforced. The General Elections of 2007 are near. The dates have been announced. The Judiciary must not compromise its rights and powers under the Constitution for personal gains. Those who disobey the rules under the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers should be shown the way out. The shame of dismissal or forced retirement appears to me enough warning to those who seek favours at the expense of other party before the Court.

We must avoid a situation where the Judiciary is treated as a branch of the Executive. The separation of power provided by the Constitution appears to me useless and a mere camouflage if the powers of the three arms of Government within our Constitution are willed or influenced by the Executive. A legislature that is dictated to by the Executive or is subject to the control of the Executive sacrifices its authority for whatever reason and is impelled to prostrate before the Executive thereby diminishing its own authority. No arm of Government should be a stumbling block in the execution of the power provided in the Constitution for to do so is to sacrifice the interest of the entire country. The supremacy of the party over its members is acknowledged, but we must not forget that the Legislature consists of the party in power and the opposition. Similarly, a judiciary that is subservient to the Executive and the Legislature loses its potent power of independence.

During the 1978 of All Nigeria Judges Conference, the Imo State Judiciary presented a paper titled ‘The Role of the Judiciary within a Presidential System of Government in Nigeria’. You will find the “words on the marble” by Imo State Judiciary:

“The Independence of the Judiciary postulates not only that Judicial Officers are in the actual process of decision taking free from external direction by political and administrative functionaries of government, but also that the actual working of the machinery for the administration of justice is also free from and independent of those functionaries. It is a calamity to have Judiciary that is subservient to Executive or Political pressures and influences, a judiciary that yields and defers to the sirens of power or that unjustly accommodates the demands of the rich and the privileged. The Rule of Law presupposes an independent, honest, courageous and competent Bench as well as an able, fearless and responsible Bar. The stability and, in fact, the very measure of a democratic constitution (that is to say how democratic it is) can easily be determined by the degree of importance it attaches to its Judiciary and the powers it gives to its Judiciary”.

With the benefit of hindsight, one cannot but praise the farmers of the 1999 Constitution for including Eso Reports recommendation- the creation of the National Judicial Council. We should take another look at S. 292(1) (a) (ii) of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that:
            A judicial officer should not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances (a) in the case of (ii) Chief Judge of a State, Grand Kadis of a Sharia Court Appeal or President of a Customary Court of Appeal of a State, by the Governor action on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the House of Assembly of the State; Praying that he be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the code of conduct.

Some State Executive ignore the provisions and functions of the State Judicial Service Commission established under S. 197 of the 1999 Constitution wherein the State Judicial Service Commission under paragraph 6 (b) provides:
(b) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution to recommend to the National Judicial Council the removal from office of the judicial officers specified in sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph.
Unless this sub-section 292 (1) (a) (ii) is amended, the judiciary will continue to be ridiculed, taunted and abused by an overbearing State Executive.
Judges who have been found wanting in the performance of their judicial functions or duties have been shown the way out by the National Judicial Council.

Now that the dates of the 2007 Elections have been announced, elections should be fought and won honorably, but it will be a big surprise if there are no Election petitions coming before Election Tribunals. The performance of some judges during the last Election tribunals gives cause for an early warning. Judiciary should not be blamed for the excess of some politicians who will be hell-bent to win at all costs. The overall interest of the Nation should come first. We cannot afford to tarnish the image of the Judiciary. Resist every temptation and stick to your oath of office.

Tremendous progress has been recorded by way of Judiciary Education undertaken by the National Judicial Institute. Both Judicial Officers and members of their staff have continued to benefit from the regular workshops arranged by the National Judicial Institute.                       

APPOINTMENT OF JUDGES

 Unless we guard jealously the provisions of the Constitution dealing with the appointment of judges of the High Courts, Sharia Courts and Customary Courts, we may be tempted to rely on the qualification of the number years provided for these judicial officers. We must place emphasis on CHARACTER AND LEARNING. The National Judicial Council by its composition comprises men and women of proven integrity and ability.

Appointment of judges should not be one of the amenities provided for Local Government. While we must respect section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution on Federal Character we should bear in mind that only men and women of proven ability, learning and character should be appointed to the Bench. An irascible lawyer who appointed a judge will be a liability. We must not in order to satisfy or comply with this provision appoint a person who after call to Bar appears in Court only to argue motions or by virtue of his place of work as a lawyer he has not the opportunity to appear in our Court as a Counsel. The National Judicial Council must not in any way be deterred from following their guidelines for appointment. We cannot rule out the pressure from politicians but we can resist their pressure. There should be no nomination based on party loyalty.

DISPENSATION OF JUSTICE

There must be noticeable improvement in the trial of cases so that those who prefer trial of cases in our courts as against violence or self-help will not in any way be discouraged or encouraged to sidetrack our cherished method of adjudication. This is one of the main reasons why there is the provision in the Code of Conduct – for Judicial Officers to dispense justice quickly. To emphasis the importance the hope and in fact, the belief in the dispensation of justice, paragraph 6 of Rule 2 on ADJUDICATIVE DUTIES provides:
 A judicial Officer should promptly dispose of the business of    Court. In order to achieve this, the Judicial Officer is required to devote adequate time to his duties, to be punctual in attending Court and expeditious in bringing to a conclusion and determining matters under submission. Unless ill or unable, for good reasons, to come to court, a judicial officer must appear regularly for work, avoid tardiness and maintain official hours of the Court.

If this rule is followed strictly and there is the cooperation of members of the Bar in respect of all the cases pending in our Courts, I believed the cases pending in the Courts will be determined quickly and fairly. It is for these reasons, among others, that the National Judicial Council issues their guidelines on the monthly returns. I am always on the side of quality of judgment and not on the quantity of wishy-washy judgments. Nigerian Judiciary has a good reputation for good academic performance all over the world. We must maintain our high stand.

When we adhere strictly to the rules on appointments we will safeguard Judicial independence against the control by the Executive.

I will again refer to the removal of judges as pointed out by me under S. 292 (1) (a) (ii) of the 1999 Constitution. If the State Judicial Service Commission appointed under S. 197 (1) (c) of the 1999 Constitution has the power under paragraph 6 (a) in the Third Schedule, being one of the States’ Executive Bodies, to
“advise the National Judicial Council on suitable persons for nomination”
to the office stated the therein some of which are the Chief Judge of the State, the Judges of the High Court of the State, it is respectfully submitted, that the same body should recommend to the Governor before the Governor can act under S. 292 (1) (a) (ii) of the Constitution. What is misconduct in the interpretation of the Governor may not necessarily be misconduct in so far as the State Judicial Service Commission who recommends the appointments under paragraph 6 (a) in the Third Schedule to the Constitution should not be sidelined in the removal of Judges.

There should be uniformity in the removal of Judges through out the Federation. In case of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, the power of the Commission as stated in paragraph 13 is:

“The Commission shall have power to (b) recommend
  to the National Judicial Council, the removal from
 office the judicial officers specified in sub-paragraph
 (a) of this paragraph”.
The officers in sub- paragraph 13 are

  1. the Chief Justice of Nigeria
  2. a Justice of the Supreme Court
  3. the President of the Court of Appeal
  4. a Justice of the Court of Appeal
  5. the Chief Judges of the Federal High Court, and
  6. the Chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

It is my opinion that if the appointments of the Judicial officers of the States are approved by the National Judicial Council, their removal should follow the procedure for removal of the Federal Judicial Officers. In other words, the State Judicial Service Commission should recommend the removal to the National Judicial Council before the State Assembly give final approval on an address to be presented to the Governor.

ISSUE OF CORRUPTION

The security of tenure of office of Judicial Officers is important. Question of Corruption in the Judiciary came into fore during the last General Elections in the Country. In the Special Edition of the Newswatch of October 6, 1997 devoted to “Nigeria in search of Democracy”, the Magazine on the Judiciary in a title “The Lady has soiled Fingers” quoted from the Editorial of the Daily Times in 1995 wherein the paper said:

the tragedy of a sick judiciary does not even end with the
shattered expectation of citizens. A morbid bench
from the outset finds itself incapacitated in the discharge
of its sacred duty as the legal watchdog of the nation.
It cannot uphold the rule of law, neither can it administer
justice without fear or favour nor prevent citizens’ right
from being imperiled by overbearing government functionaries.

Mr. Yemi Adebowale who wrote the article in the Magazine did not mince words on corruption by the Judiciary of the Nation. He said:

“Corruption within the judiciary has made it impossible for it
 to play a neutral and fair role when political disputes arise.
Controversial judgments and frivolous injunctions have cost
 the judiciary the people’s confidence, and subsequently
 affected the democratic ethos in Nigeria.
The Nigerian judiciary had never before been so ridiculed as
 it was during the aborted Third Republic. Judicial decisions
were given political coloration. There were many conflicting
judgments before, during and after the crisis that engulfed
June 12, 1993 elections. Some of the judgements were
clearly against judicial practice.
This state of judicial ding-dong that government, on June 23,
annulled the election. Government said it was compelled to do
so in order to rescue the judiciary from intra-wrangling and to
protect our legal system from being ridiculed and politicized.

I have quoted the opinion of the general public to bring home to our judges as early as possible that the tricks and overtures of politicians should be a warning because of the forthcoming general elections. Hon. Justice Mohammed Bello, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria did not spare the judges either. His Lordship had an opportunity to castigate the earring judges at the Judges’ Conference in Port Harcourt in 1995. His Lordship said:

 “It is regrettable that at the beginning of the presidential
  elections, some judges caused their courts to be intimidated
  and subjected to manipulations of the political process
  and vested interest”.   

It is not the duty of judiciary to twist the truth or fabricate evidence; the stole duty of judiciary is to interpret the law, base its judgments on the acceptable and admissible evidence of facts, rejects the manipulative evidence before it and come to a just decision. The moment a judge thinks about the personalities and not the facts, he had abdicated the responsibility of a judge to decide according to law and facts before him.

I believe with the improvement in the funding of the judiciary, our role should be strictly in accordance with the Oath of Office of Judicial Officers.

CONCLUSION

I have attempted to trace the history of the judiciary from the Colonial days to the time of independence; the difficulties faced by those who laid the foundation of the modern postcolonial judiciary. We have been blessed with men and women of honour on the Bench, but few have soiled the reputation of the Nigerian Judiciary mainly because of greed and not want of learning but insatiable appetite of a corrupt judge. Decisions on Election petitions should be different from other cases. The misbehavior and refusal of few judges to maintain the high standard have tainted and smeared the good names of Judicial Officers. The Project in mind carefully planned, must be executed in the best tradition of the role of good judges in our history. I believe we have in the Judiciary of this Nation men and women of integrity. A judge in Canada- Mr. Justice Middleton was described by Mr. Armup K.C as “a living example of all that a Judge should be combining great knowledge with practical experience, firmness with unfailing courtesy, the sternness of the common law with a broad humanity, meting out the king’s justice with dignity, but always as a God fearing gentleman”. This should also apply to our Judges.

Hon. Justice M.M.A. Akanbi, the Chairman of this Foundation is a visionary leader. The Foundation must go from strength to strength, and those entrusted with the administration and running of this Foundation owe it a duty not only to the Founder but in cherished memory of his illustrious father Bello Akanbi – Oniyo. All that is necessary to enhance the reputation of the Academy are contained in the curriculum. The Foundation’s flyer has shown in vivid detail the great plan for the future. I believe those who will pass out of this Academy will emulate the Founder and remember the great name, good work, exemplary manner and hard of the Founder whose motto is “Striving for a Better Society” through their hard work, training and knowledge gained from this Academy. Make this project an everlasting and enviable treasure.

My Lord, or in my usual way of addressing you-Ore mi, today’s lecture is the end result of the discipline and training you received from your father. My brothers and sisters, I can also call you my children, please listen, and follow the advice and instructions of your dear father. The baton of leadership is being passed on to you. How lucky you are! You have a caring, faithful and trustworthy mother who is a strong pillar in your father’s achievements and success.

  I thank you for your attention.

Hon. Justice Olajide Olatawura

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