20 Nov 2014

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The successor should continue with her major legacy – battling corruption in the judiciary

Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar will today bow out as the 14th Chief Justice of Nigeria, having attained the mandatory retirement age of 70 for Supreme Court Justices. She is expected to hand over to Justice Mahmud Mohammed whose nomination has already been sent to the Senate by President Goodluck Jonathan for confirmation. Aloma Mukhtar can leave office with pride as she will be remembered not only as the first and to date the only woman to have occupied the position of CJN but also for her hard work and efforts at overhauling the judiciary to bolster public confidence.

On assuming office some 28 months ago, Justice Mukhtar declared a zero tolerance for corruption as she began to cleanse the Bench of its rot. In the process, some judges lost their jobs while not a few others were suspended for varying periods of time. It was a tightrope to walk for the CJN, given the fact that many justices expressed the fear that the inherent right to exercise their discretion was being questioned and curtailed, as many aggrieved litigants, who had lost their cases for valid reasons, were unjustifiably petitioned against, at the NJC. But she stood her grounds. She also took her reform efforts to judicial personnel--court bailiffs, court clerks and registrars, court messengers, court typists, etc--who equally play very important roles in the dispensation of justice.

In what turned out to be her last public engagement, Justice Mukhtar challenged court personnel, many of whom are no better than touts and pimps, to stop engaging in corrupt practices for which judges are held responsible. Therefore, without attempting to reinvent the wheel the incoming Chief Justice should imbibe Justice Mukhtar’s attributes and sustain her legacies. Erring judiciary personnel such as court bailiffs, court clerks, court messengers, etc., should be punished or disciplined regularly to serve as a deterrent to others. To achieve that goal, the incoming CJN should seek more collaboration with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the public, in order to purge the Nigerian judiciary of its many challenges.

We recall that from the mid-eighties through the nineties, the military was singled out as a major enemy emasculating the judiciary with ouster clauses and draconian decrees. But today those bringing shame upon the institution are the same custodians charged with maintaining its integrity and prestige, aided by members of the NBA and the general public. Restoring this credibility has therefore become the task of all the relevant stakeholders, and particularly the responsibility of the incoming CJN. The current process of appointment and removal of judges in Nigeria is overdue for a review. Also, the process leading to the appointment of judges should be more transparent. It should not be shrouded in secrecy.

As we have repeatedly re-echoed in our previous editorials, the judiciary is not just any institution: it is an important arm of government that knits human society together. Yet the function of law as instrument of social engineering is made difficult in Nigeria by the corruption of judges. Therefore like Caesar’s wife, our judges should learn to live above board. They should desist from anything which robs the institution of its impartiality, fairness and independence.

Finally, the newly-appointed CJN, Justice Mohammed, must be well aware that he is saddled with a gargantuan task. We therefore urge him to do everything within his capacity to return the judiciary to the path of integrity and honour. Coming only a few weeks to the 2015 general election, the timing of Justice Mohammed’s elevation could not have been more auspicious. We wish him all the best in his new assignment.

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