…Lawyers advocate media/Judiciary synergy to strengthen democracy

The Federal Government is opened to criticisms, particularly those targeted at providing solution to existing societal challenges, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami has said.

Malami said: “I must say clearly that this government is not against criticism from the citizenry and stakeholders.

“The government is indeed; open to constructive and objective criticisms where appropriate solutions are proffered. This, we consider as an integral part of good governance.”

He spoke in Abuja on Thursday at the annual conference of the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents (NAJUC), with the theme: “the role of the Judiciary in achieving good democratic governance.”

NAJUC (Abuja) Chairman, Kayode Lawal said the annual conference provides platform for members to review their performances for the previous year and strategise for a better outing in the New Year.

Lawal advocated for enhanced funding of the judiciary to ensure its effectiveness.

Malami and other speakers at the event, including Michael Ikechukwu Nduchebe, Ajibola Afolabi and Shamsuddeen Abdulrahman (all legal scholars at the National Judicial Institute – NJI), advocate an enhanced collaboration between to media and Judiciary to strengthen the nation’s democracy.

The AGF, represented by his spokesman, Umar Gwandu, noted that the Muhammadu Buhari government has contributed to media freedom in the country, which accounted for why Nigeria was classified as the only country that has exited the list of countries with impunity for crimes against journalists as reflected in the 2020 report of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“The media, having done so much to ensure the enthronement of democracy, successes recorded in the whistle-blower policy, the fight against corruption and good governance generally, must take some steps forward in giving adequate protection to democracy through objectivity and deep sense of patriotism.

“The media and indeed, the entire Nigerians should therefore put in their best to continue to give maximum support and understanding to the government in the quest to make life more meaningful to all.

Nduchebe, a Senior Studies Fellow at the NJI, draw attention to the negative impact of low funding on the activities of the Judiciary in his paper, titled: “Independence of the Judiciary and challenges of financial autonomy: The way forward.”

Arguing that the Judiciary should seek ways to be better heard on its challenges, Nduchebe suggested that the third arm of government works with the media to ensure the full implementation of the Executive Order 10, particularly at the state level, before the expiration of the Buhari administration.

“If the Judiciary wants to be independent, it has to stand up for its institutional and vocational autonomy. The implementation of this Order (Executive Order 10) must be vigorously pursued by all stakeholders in the justice sector,” he added.

Nduchebe noted that another way the Judiciary could assert its independence is to ensure that it determines, within its own capacity, when the need for the appointment of additional judicial officer is required, not placing reliance of the availability of funds as dictated by the Executive.

Afolabi, also a Senior Studies Fellow at the NJI, in his paper: “Appraising the Administration of Criminal Justice Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015,” dwelt on the many positive provisions of the ACJA, but regretted that the law that came into effect in 2015 is not being fully applied by relevant agencies of government.

He suggested urgent amendment to some sections of the law that have been adjudged inadequate, particularly the aspect that allows a Magistrate to grant remand event without possessing jurisdiction over the subject matter.

He also called on relevant agencies to amend the portion of the ACJA which the Supreme Court rejected in the case of Orji Kalu and others, in which the apex court faulted the fiat issued by the President of the Court of Appeal.

In his paper titled: “The role of the Judiciary in achieving good democratic governance,” Abdulrahman, also a Senior Studies Fellow at the NJI, recalled the many instances where judicial interventions have aided to protect the nation’s democracy.

He drew a parallel between the judicial independence and press freedom, and advocated that both work together for safeguard

“The degree, to which we can rely on the Judiciary to perform its functions, ultimately depends, not on the words of the constitution, because words, after all, are only words, but on the authority the Judiciary derives from the respect and the support of the people it serves.

“This support is nourished by information flow about an understanding of the role of courts in a democracy, which is often scrutinised and rightly so by the press.

“When the freedom of journalists is challenged, they run to the warm embrace of the Judiciary. And whenever the Judiciary is under siege by the other arms or branches of government it in turn reliant on the press to communicate ifs plight to the citizens.

“Thus once a free press is not allowed to operate, the independence of the Judiciary will surely be at stake.”

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