The Oleh branch of the Nigeria Bar Association in its annual law week held recently at Oleh, headquarters of Isoko South Local Government Area of Delta state brought together elite members of the bar and bench in Delta state and beyond. The Oleh NBA during the occasion canvassed for “judicial autonomy as basis for effective justice administration and social order” which was the theme of the branch’s Law week activities.
Prosper A. Ezo, the chairman of the branch, in his welcome address noted that it was with deep sense of responsibility and commitment to the noble ideals of the association that his branch had chosen to address issues concerning the theme.
According to him, there is generally an acceptance of the Judiciary as an arm of government co-existing in that respect with other arms of Government, such as the Executive and the Legislature. Much as the Executive and the Legislature enjoy their financial independence, both at the Federal and State level, such cannot be rightfully said about the judiciary. Why then is this so? What are the attendant implications of this to the overall development of justice sector and to the country?
“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in its chapter 2 provides as to social objectives to be attained by the state as contained in section 17(1) of the Constitution expressly provides that the state social order is founded on ideals of freedom, equality and justice.
While section 17(2) of the Constitution therefore provides that every citizen shall have equality of right, obligations and opportunities before the law. The sanctity of human person shall be recognized and human dignity shall be maintained and enhanced. Government actions shall be humane. Human or natural resources in any form whatsoever for reason other than the good of the community shall be prevented, and the independence and impartiality of courts of law and easy accessibility thereto shall be secured and maintained.
“Today’s event is to stimulate a robust discourse on how well Nigeria as a nation state has carried on in the aspect of attaining the social objectives enshrined in the Constitution. Can the Judiciary, truly be appreciated and allowed to take its pride of place as an arm of government efficiently lend a hand in the attainment of these lofty provisions on social order?
“Now with the spate of Kidnapping, Armed Robbery, menace of herdsmen; and the recent and
incessant clamour for restructuring; no doubt a discourse on a theme of this nature is apt and worthwhile to us a people not for anything but to enthrone an egalitarian society.
“In our view to leave unarticulated issues pertaining to the theme of today’s event is to
invite anarchy and chaos in the Nigeria polity, such that may lead to civil strife and a possible disintegration of the Nigerian state. Additionally, the judiciary, which generally has been accepted as an arm of government, will continue to be marginalized leaving our noble Lords in the precipice of despair, agony and frustration over that rightly could be perceived as a right guaranteed under the
Constitution. It is our resolve to leave the profession and indeed our dear country better than we met it
hence the theme of today’s event. In the words of late Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams (1885 – 1915) the first indigenous Nigerian lawyer:
“The legal practitioner lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country” he recalled. Ezo also pointed out that the demand for judicial autonomy has been long,, averring that it will be pretentious of his branch to consider the theme and event of the day as a novel point or one being brought to the front burner for the first time, Eminent Nigerians, Legal Practitioners, Jurist as well as the media; at various times and places had raised point especially on the need to have the judiciary take its pride of place as an arm of government, adding, “I crave my Lord’s indulgence to recount just but a few of the position put forward by these eminent citizens of Nigeria:
According to him, in his acceptance speech in the year 2001, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee appointed 12 legal practitioners as members of the Inner Bar. Prominent amongst them are Chief Gani Fawehinmi, now of blessed memory. Chief Albert A. Akpomudje, who is here with us today as the Key Note Address Speaker; A. B. Mahmoud, incumbent President of our Association; Akintola M.l Adeniyi of the Ibadan Bar and Mrs. O. A. Adekoya of theLagos Bar.Chief Gani Fawehinmi at the swearing in ceremony by the Chief Justice of Nigeria on Monday 10th September 2001 made a speech entitled: “The way the law should go”, on behalf of all the awardees. The speech is a 40 page pictorial narration of the sordid and sorry state of the Nigeria judiciary – the dilapidated state of most of the courtrooms, judges low remuneration and poor working environment and the abysmal budgeting allocation to the judiciary. Indeed of the dearth in the human and infrastructural development of the judiciary.
The learned Senior Advocate and civil society activist (as he then was) has it well expressed at page 3 of the speech as follows:
“Our judiciary which is constitutionally charged with the responsibility of dispensing justice is in a pitiable state of gross regret. The irony of it all is that it is the judiciary that has been the most stable before and after independence, amongst all the arms of government since Nigeria had its first dose of military coup on the 15th day of January 1966 with repetitions in July 1966, July 1975, December 1983, August 1985, August 1993, November 1993 and June 1998. It is only the judiciary that has never been dissolved or sacked, hence the consistent stability of the mechanism for dispensing justice in the polity.
Though it is appreciated by both the Executive and Legislative arms of the government that the judiciary which is the instrument for resolving dispute in the polity engenders peace more than other institutions, a
study or analysis of the funding of the Judiciary since 1960 to date a period of 42 years depicts a total lack of regard for the indispensability of the judiciary in the country”.
Chief Gani Fawehinmi also had it well expressed at page 6 of the Speech as follows: “In many states of the federation court buildings are collapsing. The ceiling of many is caving in while one can sit in some courts and be drenched by rain. In some courts snakes and other dangerous reptiles predominate. Many of the court in the rural areas in many of the states can best be described as pigsty.The environment in many court rooms in most part of Nigeria , north, east, south and west, is hot and stuffy. There are no fans or air-conditioners in many cases. The few cases where they are available there is no power. Few of them that have generating sets cannot afford the cost of servicing or fueling them” he declared.
The Oleh branch NBA Chairman also recalled the position of the honourable justice Z. A. Smith of Delta State on the issue, adding that His lordship at the Special Court held on Wednesday 18th September 2013 at High Court Asaba to mark the commencement of the 2013/2014 Legal year presented an address and in the Address, his lordship had it well expressed as follows:
“Permit me to start by saying a transparent and accountable government together with freedom
of expression encourages the full participation of its citizens in a healthy democratic process. Judges are therefore accountable to the Constitution and to the Law which they must apply honestly, independently and with integrity. For it is on these principles public confidence is anchored in any judicial system. The importance of the judiciary is one of the 3 pillars upon which a responsible democratic government relies. Public confidence in our Courts will defiantly reduce incidences of resort to self help or people taking laws into their hands”, he further declared.
Ezo therefore pleaded for sufficient and sustainable funding to enable the Judiciary to perform its functions to the highest standards. In his keynote address, titled “Improvement Of The System Of Justice, its Procedures And Arrangement Of Court Business And Regular Law Reporting”
Chief Albert Akpomudje, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN noted that in view of the fact that the justice system serves as the hope for the common man, it is very important that members of the community are confident that the justice system will efficiently handle cases and give decisions promptly.
According to Akpomudje, “One of the ways that the confidence can be installed and maintained in members of the community is by hearing and deciding cases promptly. The current practice of cases taking between 5 –10 years and sometimes longer to get to conclusion should be discouraged. The likely effect of this is the fact that members of the community will have no confidence in the system and would seek other ways to resolve disputes as against referring cases to court. This undoubtedly is not
good for the reputation of the judiciary and the legal profession and has an adverse effect on legal practitioners as it can lead to the unavailability of clients”.