*Commends National Industrial Court For Making Judgements Readily Available
*AGF, Malami Lauds Court For Saving Nigeria Of Undue Labour Crises Through Decisions

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), yesterday, called for the sanctioning of judges found clogging the wheels of justice in the country.

President of the NBA, Mr Yakubu Maikyau, SAN, made the call against the backdrop that justice could only be achieved when it is “dispensed transparently, with integrity, speed, and circumspection.”

Speaking at a special court sitting in commemoration of the 2022/23 Legal Year, which held in Abuja, he said, “My Lords, a situation where parties and their counsel struggle to obtain records of proceedings or copies of the judgment, weeks or even months after a judgment is delivered, either to enforce or appeal the same, is a negation of the duty of the court to convince the public that justice was indeed accomplished upon delivery of the judgment.

“Allegations of tampering with judgments after delivery, spurious as they may be, can gain some attention, when copies thereof are not made available at least to the parties immediately after delivery as prescribed by the constitution.

“This is not the experience in this Court and members of the Bar, who practice in this Court can attest to this”, he said, calling on other judges, who had not appreciated the importance of making judgments readily available to begin to emulate the culture of the Industrial Court.

Continuing, he said, “On the other hand, erring judges must be seen and treated as those working against effective justice delivery and should be liable to sanctions by the National Judicial Council (NJC).

ADDRESS OF PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION – MR.YAKUBU CHONOKO MAIKYAU, SAN – ON THE OCCASION OF THENATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT 2022/2023 LEGAL YEAR CEREMONY,AT THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT OF NIGERIA HEADQUARTERS,GARKI, ABUJA, THIS 5TH DAY OF OCTOBER 2022 PROTOCOLS

1. I thank My Lord, the Honourable, the President of the National Industrial Court, Honourable Justice B. B. Kanyip, Ph.D. for the invitation extended to me to be part of this ceremony. I am delighted at the opportunity to address this august court session; the first of a well-thought out 3-day line-up of activities to mark the commencement of the 2022/2023 legal year of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN). I consider it an honour and a privilege, for which I am grateful to My Lord and to God Almighty.

2. The new legal year ceremony is a practice in many common law jurisdictions all over the world. It dates back to about 1897 England, when judges, in the new year celebrations, would adorn their ceremonial attire and take a two-mile walk from Temple Bar to Westminster Abbey for a solemn assembly to seek divine guidance and strength for the new year. This is quite instructive – Judges are representatives of God on earth and need to be constantly reminded of this fact. This ceremony serves the additional purpose of bringing the judges closer to laymen and afford both the opportunity to observe each other in a semi-formal setting.

3. The ceremony is also a time for stock-taking; today we listen to the President of this honourable court apprise the Bar, as well as the public, of the activities of the court in the previous legal year; the challenges, achievements, and the agenda for the new legal year. The Bar is particularly interested in these because, it provides the necessary enlightenment that will foster understanding in our interactions with the Court in the coming year and beyond.

4. May I, respectfully, on behalf of the Nigerian Bar Association, most warmly welcome Your Lordships back from a well-deserved rest and vacation. On the same note, I commend the Vacation Judges who dutifully held the fort; hearing and determining cases that required urgent judicial intervention and ensured that the wheels of justice were not halted nor slowed down while the Court was on vacation.

5. The National Industrial Court of Nigeria, established in 1976 by the Trade Dispute Act, has in the last two decades, made laudable progress. From the days of being located only in Lagos to having widespread presence across the country with 25 divisions, and from 3 judges to 32 judges, in addition to the President. Under the leadership of My Lord, the Hon Justice B. B. Kanyip, Ph.D., the court has maintained and continued to make giant strides with a lot of advancements in capacity building, infrastructural development, and justice delivery. The Practice Direction and Guidelines for Court Sitting 2020 issued by the President of the Court on the 18th of May 2020 to inter alia “…govern filing and hearing of matters during and after the coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic” was one of such forward looking steps by my Lord, the President. I salute your Lordships’
courage and collective will, which is the catalyst for the excellent output we see and enjoy. NICN and Speedy Disposal of Cases

6. Delayed proceedings are perhaps chief among the complaints of counsel, litigants, and the public. This has created a poor perception of the courts and eroded the public’s confidence in our justice delivery system. In every election cycle, electoral matters are known to flood the State and Federal High Courts, the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court. At such times, the lamentations are not just that civil matters, commercial disputes, and even criminal cases are delayed, but that they are almost neglected. Such matters remain in court for years, sometimes decades, while election matters, which are known to be time-bound, are treated with dispatch. Pre- and post-election disputes are now almost the only instance where speedy disposal of cases is seen and experienced in Nigeria.

7. This Court is not one of those courts where pre-election disputes are submitted for adjudication, and there are no time limits for the determination of the matters over which it is empowered to adjudicate unlike the prescriptions under Section 285 of the Constitution. Notwithstanding, speedy disposal of cases is fast becoming one of the major attributes of this Court. I am aware that cases are determined in this Court within a period of six months to one year from their dates of filing.

8. The case of Oluwasegun Awojinrin v. Guaranty Trust Bank Plc (Suit No. NICN/LA/105/2020) was one of such cases determined by this Court in record time in spite of the worst of situations foisted on the world by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Complaint was filed on 10th March 2020, and notwithstanding the lockdown; the attendant restrictions and the ravaging impact of the pandemic, judgement was delivered by Honourable Justice Ikechi Gerald Nweneka, after full trial, on 25th January 2021. This is highly commendable and is critical in building public confidence in our justice delivery system. The reason for this expeditious disposal of cases may not be unconnected to the fact that this court is a specialized court. I have always held the view, and indeed recently expressed the same during a Roundtable for Heads of Court at the National Judicial Institute, that one way to achieve speed and improved efficiency in the administration of justice is by embracing specialization of courts. Our experience at the National Industrial Court lends credence to this view. Availability and Accessibility of Judgements

9. Not only does this Court determine matters expeditiously, the Judgments of the Court are also readily available to parties and the public on the official website of the Court. This is another vital element which sustains the confidence of the public in the justice system, and it is already a known feature of the Court.

10. Lord Neuberger, a former Chief Justice of the UK Supreme Court, delivering the first Bailii Lecture1 in 1992 identified judgment–dissemination, as an essential ingredient of access to justice. For justice to be seen to have been done, judgments given in open court must be accessible in two senses: they must be clearly written so that a reasonably well-informed member of the public can understand what is being decided, then they must be available to the public. In the latter sense, accessibility depends on the judgement being reported. In this instance, the Court leverages technology for speedy, efficient, and
affordable reporting of its own judgements.

11. By publishing its judgements on the Court’s website soon after they are delivered, lawyers and members of the public are able to keep up with current decisions of the court and are properly advised on the extant posture of the court on any given issue. This is very important because, as Oliver Wendell Holmes posited, the Law is “the prophecies of what the court will do in fact and nothing more pretentious”. Thus, availability of the judgements of this court at the click of the button, helps lawyers and litigants to know and be properly advised at any given point regarding what “the law” is on labour and employment matters. This helps a great deal in the development of the law and precedent.

Functional Justice Delivery

12. I have deliberately dwelt on this point because of the importance of justice delivery in a functional sense to the realisation of the country of our dream. No nation is built without justice, and members of the legal profession, whether functioning on the Bench or at the Bar, must ensure that Justice is dispensed transparently, with integrity, speed, and circumspection. That is why the attributes which I have identified with this Court must be replicated in all our Courts to the degree of our experience in this Court and more.

13. The former Chief Judge of the United States District of Columbia in her address to the Bar Association of St. Louis titled Law and the Layman, said: “There should be two cardinal objectives of Courts in a democracy. One is obvious: Courts must accomplish justice. The second [which is] often neglected is: Courts must convince those whom they serve that justice is being accomplished.” (Underlined for emphasis only)

14. My Lords, a situation where parties and their Counsel struggle to obtain records of proceedings or copies of the judgment, weeks or even months after a judgment is delivered, either to enforce or appeal the same, is a negation of the duty of the Court to convince the public that justice was indeed accomplished upon delivery of the Judgment. Allegations of tampering with judgments after delivery, spurious as they may be, can gain some attention when copies thereof are not made available at least to the parties immediately after delivery as prescribed by the Constitution. I am aware of situations where records of appeal could not be compiled several months after judgments were delivered, because copies of the judgments delivered were not made available to the appeal registry by the judges.

This is not the experience in this Court and members of the Bar who practice in this Court can attest to this.

15. Therefore, as I commend the Court for this very significant effort towards justice delivery, I call on other judges who have not appreciated the importance of making judgments readily available to begin to emulate the culture of this Court. On the other hand, erring judges must be seen and treated as those working against effective justice delivery and should be liable to sanctions by the National Judicial Council (NJC).

16. Further to the above, this Court has continued to play key role in the development of the law. The bold and courageous decisions that have emanated and continue to emanate from this court, many times weaving through a web of complexities and interstices to ensure that justice is done, has in addition to enriching our jurisprudence on industrial law and labour practices, gone a long way in bringing relief to countless Nigerians. We commend Your Lordships, the Justices of this court for the industry, resilience, and well-articulated sense of purpose with which Your Lordships have risen to the occasion in response to the demands of these specialised functions to confront the challenges in the system.

17. The Jurisdiction of this Court under Section 254(C) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, no doubt sets this Court apart. By sub-section 2 thereof, this Honourable Court, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the Constitution was conferred with jurisdiction and power “to deal with any matter connected with or pertaining to the application of any international convention, treaty or protocol of which Nigeria has ratified relating to Labour, employment, workplace, industrial relations or matters connected therewith”. Similarly, Subsection 1 (f) and (h) of the same Section empowered this Court to deal with matters connected to international best practices in labour, employment, and industrial relations, and to apply international labour standards.

18. These constitutional provisions on the jurisdiction of this court, in my view, place a greater demand on the Court in terms of the scope of the resources which the Court must consider in the discharge of its adjudicatory functions and the quality of its determinations. It puts the determinations by this Court on the global stage and I am pleased to note that the decisions of this Court have already began to gain due recognition in labour matters. In New Nigeria Development Company Limited v. Daniel Ugbabe Ugbabe – Appeal No. SC. 591/2017, delivered 20th December 2021, the Supreme Court in a matter commenced before the 3rd Alteration to the Constitution came into effect, cited, and relied on the decision of this Court. The apex court, per Helen Morenkeji Ogunwumiju, JSC, said at page 24 of the Judgement thus:

“However, it is a principle of labour law that any ambiguity regarding the payment of any entitlement to an employee must be resolved in favour of the employee – in this case, the retiree. I cite with approval Chiroma v. Forte Oil Plc, Suit No. NICN/ABJ/165/2018 delivered on 2/5/2019 by Justice B. B. Kanyip, PhD, Owulade v. Nigeria Agip – NICN/LA/41/2012 delivered on 12/7/2016 by Hon. Justice B. B. Kanyip, PhD. Thus, the rule of the retiree getting his full pension and gratuity from his last place of employment and the last place to get reimbursed by previous employers is borne out of the fact that the method most practicable and most humane to the employee must prevail.” I should simply say that the Bar is proud of this Court, but your Lordships must not rest on our laurels. We acknowledge your Lordships’ efforts which have brought us such a long way from where we were, but are not where we ought to be, just yet. Bench and Bar

19. My Lords, I have from my experience in court for over 3 decades now, come to the understanding that the legal profession has not fared well in providing the desired leadership in Nigeria because of what I have noted as an artificial demarcation between the Bench and Bar. Our perceived differences, for they are not real, have literarily and to a great extent, pitched the Bar against the Bench and vice versa. It appeared and still does, as though the Bar and Bench are in competition with each other; with each one trying to outwit the other. This has militated against the proper functioning of the legal profession and has shifted our focus from our primary call as organs of the person of Justice. In my address at the Valedictory Court session in honour of Hon. Justice Aboki, JSC, I observed thus: “Both the Bench and Bar originate from JUSTICE, and it is in the person of JUSTICE, that we find the Bench and the Bar performing their functions. In the discharge of our functions as members of this body, whatever appears adverse to the interest of JUSTICE should be fought jointly by the Bench and the Bar, who properly understood must as a natural tendency, have symphony, harmony. They are concerted against any external force or influence which contends with the thresholds set by JUSTICE and they always resolve disputes to meet the demand of JUSTICE. An understanding of this relationship will see members of the Bar conduct themselves with decorum, respect and candour, while performing their roles before the members of the Bench. The Bar will not abuse the Bench; it will not collude with “strangers” to harass and disparage the Bench and will not rejoice over any ordeal that befalls the Bench. Rather, the Bar will be protective of the Bench and will not conspire with aliens to wreak havoc on the Institution of JUSTICE. While we must not and should not condone the practice of corruption in any form or guise, an understanding of our identity, will see us approach matters differently. It is not unusual that the few challenges that we already identified would rear their heads sometimes. When they do, we must use established channels to settle the issues without smearing the image of the hardworking members of the Nigerian Judiciary who toil to dispense justice in very difficult conditions. I will continue as President of the Nigerian Bar Association to champion the need for this harmony between the Bar and the Bench.”

20. Let me be the first to admit that we have had testimonies of respect for the Bar by the Bench of this Court. I will cite an instance that involved a lawyer from my office. My colleague had reported the incident to me thus: “Our matter had been fixed for hearing in His Lordship’s court. At about 9:00am, the Court Registrar walked in to inform us that His Lordship was unable to arrive on time due to heavy traffic on his way. The Registrar subsequently gave us updates at about 30 minutes interval, till His Lordship came into court at about 11:30. We rose when His Lordship walked into Court and whilst on his feet, he asked us all to be seated. He apologised on his feet after making us sit and enquired if we got updates on his traffic situation. Many of us felt embarrassed and jumped to our feet, but he insisted we remained seated and only sat to commence the business of the day after the apology and confirmation that we got updates on his traffic situation.” My Lords, this was Honourable Justice Ikechi Gerald Nweneka. This is the expectation of the Bar from the Bench; to be treated with respect and due regard. The members of the Bar are committed to reciprocating the same.

21. On 3 June 2022, four staff of the National Industrial Court, Owerri Division, were attacked and whisked away by the anti-kidnap squad of the Nigerian Police, while performing their lawful duty, to wit: the execution the Garnishee Order Absolute made by the court in Suit No. NICN/OW/19M/2021 between Prince Eze Madumere v. Governor of Imo State, Attorney General of Imo State, Imo State Government and Zenith Bank Plc, on 27 May 2022. Subsequent to the orders of this Court aforestated, the Attorney General of Imo State on 3 June 2022, approached the Imo State High Court and obtained an order ex parte against Zenith Bank and others, which restrained the Respondents therein (including Zenith Bank which already under an order of the National Industrial Court to pay money to Prince Eze Madumere) from complying with the Garnishee Order of this Court. With the said ex parte order of the High Court of Imo State, the execution of the judgement of the National Industrial Court was frustrated. The security details of the presiding Judge were withdrawn, and a demonstration held in front of His Lordship’s premises. This led the honourable, the President of the Court to direct, and justifiably so, the immediate closure of that Division.

22. The NBA condemned and still condemns in the strongest terms, such display of executive recklessness by the Government of Imo State aided by the Nigerian Police Force. It is sad to note that our colleagues who ought to know better were complicit in the shameless attempt at undermining the authority of the Court. We must always remember that the rule of law is essential in the maintenance of a free, fair, and democratic society, and so there is need to respect and uphold the same. We must all guard it jealously, as a way of securing our democracy so that our society will not drift into anarchy or tyranny. A society governed by law, as opposed to the whims and caprices of individual is in the best interest of every one of us, great or small. In the words of Honourable Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, JSC (of blessed memory), the rule of law is a shield and a fortress against tyranny and oppression. It is the defender and custodian of individual rights and the liberties of the citizen. It is an asylum and comfort to the oppressed and a guarantee of hope for the innocent. The rule of law is also a chilling terror to the oppressor, the vile, and the malignant.2

23. In the case of Military Governor of Lagos State v. Ojukwu (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt18) 621 at 647, His Lordship (Oputa, JSC) had earlier asserted that “The Rule of Law presupposes that the state is subject to the law, that
the judiciary is a necessary agency of the Rule of Law, that the Government should respect the right of the individual citizen under the Rule of Law and that to the Judiciary is assigned both by the Rule of
Law and by our constitution the determination of all actions and proceedings relating to matters in disputes between persons, governments or authority.” It is the honest display of respect for the rule of law that sustains the faith of the society in the courts as the citadel of justice. The executive and legislature must always cooperate with the Courts to sustain public confidence in the justice system, otherwise the society will be plunged into anarchy. May that day never come.

24. To my colleagues at the Bar, I wish to repeat my warning to us, that there will be consequences for our actions and inactions that threaten to ridicule our profession. We must be wary of sharp practices and remember always, as we discharge our duties to clients, that our primary duty is to the court and to justice; that is why we are called Ministers in the Temple of Justice. The desire for justice and the enthronement of the rule of law must, therefore, always be our primary motivation. I reiterate my administration’s commitment to respect for the rule of law and zero tolerance for professional misconduct, either at the Bar or on the Bench. We shall also continue to stand with the courts and do everything possible to protect the integrity of the Bench against any form of intimidation by any person or group of persons, or the political class.

Welfare of Judges/Justices
25. I will be remiss if I stand before your Lordships without talking about the remuneration of Judges and Justices, which has remained the same since 2008, not the least because of the suit which had to be filed before this Court on the subject – NIC/ABJ/142/2022: Chief Sebastine Hon, SAN v. National Assembly & Ors. Judgement was delivered in the said suit on 15 July 2022, granting the reliefs sought by the Claimant for upward review of the salaries and allowances of

judicial officers.
26. At the official commissioning of the Body of Benchers Complex held on the 29 September 2022, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, President, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, referred to the efforts being made by the Body of Benchers on the welfare of judicial officers in the country. His Excellency, the President then said: May I restate my commitment towards this ideal. In similar vein, I have been intimated of the engagement of Consultants by the Body, through its Judiciary Advisory Committee, to amongst other things, come up with a peer review of the conditions of service of Judicial Officers in Nigeria with other countries and jurisdictions, within and outside Africa. I earnestly look forward to the completion of this peer review and the submission of recommendations, as this will assist us in review of the welfare packages.” The above statement coming from no other than His Excellency, the President himself is very comforting.

27. I have listened to the Honourable Attorney of the Federation and Minister for Justice, in at least two different fora, make the call on the Judiciary to open its books for accounting purposes as, according to the Honourable AGF, it is the only way the executive will know exactly what the Judiciary does with its present budgetary provisions and ascertain the claim that the funding of the Judiciary is scanty or insufficient. Apparently, this call is being made to assist the executive in its acclaimed efforts to come up with better welfare package for judicial officers.

28. Let me say that the insistence by the Honourable Attorney General that, the Judiciary should open its books, as stated above should not be ignored. Even though all federal courts have auditors from the office of the Auditor General of the Federation who are officers of the Executive, and if despite this, the books of the Judiciary are said not to be open for scrutiny, the Bar under my leadership supports the call for the Judiciary to open its books. In addition to assisting the Executive in working out the desired upward review, this is one way we can engender public confidence in the discharge of our responsibilities to the cause of justice. I will, in addition to the efforts being made by all the relevant stakeholders, engage the Attorney General of the Federation with the view to expediting any or all actions required to come up with a befitting welfare package for all judicial officers in Nigeria.

29. I will in this process also commend to my Learned Brother Silk, the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation, the 2018 Report of the Committee on Review of Judicial Remuneration and Conditions of Service, which made extensive recommendations for improving the welfare of judicial officers. Of course, like I said previously, the review done in 2018 can only serve as a guide as the figures therein will not meet the justice of the current economic realities.

30. I wish to thank your Lordships for the steadfast devotion to duty through these years despite the poor working condition My Lords have had to endure. It is testimony to the fact that Your Lordships understand the revered office to which Your Lordships have been called and the sacred duty thereof, which is primarily to justice. The Bar appreciates Your Lordships and prays for perseverance, even as we await a positive change in no distant time.

31. Before I conclude, I must applaud the inclusion of the Bar and Bench Forum as part of the activities for this new legal year ceremony. It is indeed an opportunity for the Bar and the Bench to interact in a familial setting and speak the truth to one another in an atmosphere of mutual respect while fashioning out strategies for improvement. This is another trailblazing programme by this Court, and I wish your Lordships and my colleagues at the Bar fruitful deliberations.

32. This is an opportunity, while still within the seven-day period since my Lord, the President’s birthday, to on behalf of Nigerian Bar Association wish your Lordship a graceful birthday. May the good Lord continue to keep, preserve and provide for Your Lordship according to the integrity of His Heart, the treasury of His Glory, through Christ Jesus our Lord.

33. Finally, as Your Lordships prepare for the challenges of the new legal year, we pray for sound health, divine strength, wisdom from God and the necessary wherewithal with which to carry out the task of justice delivery, effectively and efficiently. And may the good Lord continue to bless Your Lordships.

34. I thank everyone present for listening and I wish you all the very best of the new legal year.

35. May My Lords be pleased.

Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau (SAN)
President, Nigerian Bar Association

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