*Insists government must obey orders of courts
By Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, on Monday assured Nigerians that the Supreme Court under his watch will never be subservient to any person in Nigeria, no matter how highly placed.
Justice Muhammad also insisted that it was high time government and their agencies in the country began to observe the rule of law and obey judgments delivered by courts in the country.
The CJN’s declaration may not be unconnected with insinuations making the rounds that the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, may have been cowed by the executive arm of government.
But Muhammad, in a speech on the state of the judiciary delivered during the special session of the Supreme Court marking the 2019/2020 legal year, said although he may have assumed office as CJN, “after the unfortunate events that shook the Nigerian judiciary to its foundation”, he was nevertheless determined to leave behind a justice system that would be the pride of all.
Speaking on the independence of the judiciary, Muhammad said: “The Nigerian judiciary, to a large extent, is independent in conducting its affairs and taking decisions on matters before it without any extraneous influence.
“At the Supreme Court, like I have always said, we are totally independent in the way we conduct our affairs, especially judgments. We don’t pander to anybody’s whims and caprices. If there is any deity to be feared, it is the Almighty God.
“We will never be subservient to anybody, no matter his position in the society.”
He however admitted that the judiciary cannot enjoy or know true independence if it has to go cap in hand, asking for funds to run its office, as the current situation portrays.
“It is like saying a cow is free to graze about in the meadow but at the same time, tying it firmly to a tree. Where is the freedom?” He queried.
The CJN therefore appealed to governments at all levels to “free the judiciary from the financial bondage it has been subjected to over the years”.
“Let it not just be said to be independent but should, in words and actions, be seen to be truly independent. We would not like to negotiate our financial independence under any guise,” he said.
The CJN also used the occasion to stress the need for all to adhere to the tenets of the rule of law at all times, to avoid a situation of anarchy and also preserve the nation’s democracy.
He noted: “The rule of law, which is the bastion of democracy across the world, will be strictly observed in our dealings and we must impress it on governments at all levels to actively toe that path. The right of every citizen against any form of oppression and impunity must be jealously guarded and protected with the legal tools at our disposal.
“All binding court orders must be obeyed; nobody, irrespective of his or her position, will be allowed to toy with court judgments. We must collectively show the desired commitment to the full enthronement of the rule of law in the land.
“As we all know, flagrant disobedience of court orders or non compliance with judicial orders is a direct invitation to anarchy in the society.”
While stressing that such acts were completely antithetical to the rule of law in a democratic environment, Muhammad said the Supreme Court under his watch would however not tolerate it.
In a similar vein, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro (SAN), has decried the poor remuneration of judicial officers, noting: “We betray our vaunted fight against corruption in the judiciary and public sector when we don’t remunerate our judicial and public officers most inadequately as we currently do.”
He appealed to relevant stakeholders to holistically review upward the compensation packages of judicial officers at all levels, which is sufficient to objectively eliminate any incentive for corruption in the judiciary.
Usoro similarly tasked the judiciary not to relent in its efforts at ridding itself of any corrupt elements.
He however suggested that in doing so, the judiciary must deploy the self-regulating processes within the National Judicial Council (NJC) and in line with constitutional provisions.
He condemned the process that culminated in the retirement of former CJN, Walter Onnoghen.
According to the NBA president, the process “showed a brazen external intrusion and interference in the disciplinary processes of the judiciary in a manner that undermined its independence and by extension, the rule of law.
“The process was not only contrary to the provisions of our law but also degraded and desecrated the hallowed dignity that is attached to the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria”.
Also speaking, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), called on justices of the Supreme Court not to bow to the pressures of different political actors, irrespective of any irregularity that might have occurred in the course of dispensing justice by different election tribunals.
“It is important that this court, as a final arbiter remains just and resolute in resolving all issues presented before it,” he said.
According to him, in the last legal year, the administration of justice received a boost in the areas of anti-corruption policy drive, which he said, successfully introduced zero tolerance for corrupt practices and entrenched integrity and ethical conducts in the task of governance.
The highlight of the event was the inauguration of 38 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), amongst whom are the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata; wife of a justice of the apex court Justice, Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour, and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, among others.