Declare State of Emergency in Judiciary, CSOs Tell CJN Ariwoola

Declare State of Emergency in Judiciary, CSOs Tell CJN Ariwoola

.Demand complete overhaul of Nigerian judiciary 

Wale Igbintade

Seven civil society organisations(CSOs) and campaigners have raised the alarm over the state of the Nigerian judiciary under the leadership of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, and called for a declaration of a state of emergency in the judiciary to pave way for needed reforms.

The groups lamented “the increasing damage which the continuing missteps, alleged misuse of authority and a general failure to undertake effective reform is doing to the judiciary.”

In a joint letter dated March 28, 2024, addressed to the CJN, the CSOs said that against the background of the decline the judiciary suffered prior to the CJN’s appointment, it was expected that the CJN would upon his appointment be “acutely conscious of the extreme urgency of reforming the judiciary and its administration, arresting its downward spiral in public trust, and reinforcing its capacity to promote and protect the rule of law.” The letter was jointly signed by the Convener, Access to Justice, Joseph Otteh; the Chairman, Human and Constitutional Rights Committee, Sonnie Ekwowusi; Convener, Fight Against Corruption in the Judiciary, Bayo Akinlade; the Director, FundELG Africa, Dominic E. Obozuwa; the Convener, Open Justice Alliance, Prof. Chidi Anslem Odinkalu; the Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability, Okechukwu Nwanguma, and the Executive Director, Sterling Law Centre, Adedeji Ajare.

The CSOs argued that the CJN must take urgent actions to pull the judiciary from the brink of total perdition, overhaul the entire judicial system, and ensure that judicial selection decisions are transparently and verifiably merit-based.

They stated that: “The judiciary remains unreconstructed and its public perception has not improved since then.”

 On the contrary, they said: “We are very concerned that it (the judiciary) has steadily grown worse since Your Lordship assumed its leadership.”

 Furthermore, the group lamented that the CJN’s “personal actions-quite apart from the dysfunctionalities of the justice system – are harming the already fragile and enfeebled judiciary, and whatever is left of its credibility.”

The CSOs noted some areas where the CJN’s leadership had worsened the situation and caused the judiciary more reputational harm, which include the reabsorption of /compulsorily retired Judges, allegations of nepotism/ illicit influence peddling, and alleged manipulating timing of appointments.

The groups stated that notwithstanding the damning nature of public assessments and characterisations of the judiciary, the leadership of Nigeria’s judiciary appeared unruffled by them.

They argued that the reputational harm “is affecting and stigmatising many conscientious Judges/Justices who serve honourably, and do not deserve the unfair tarring of the entire institution by the same brush.

“No respectable judiciary should afford to remain indifferent to the forms of public malignment and ridicule against it as we have witnessed in Nigeria”.

The groups remark that the CJN’s “actions have, plunged the judiciary’s image further down the barrel.” The office of CJN is a public trust, as the groups argued that the CJN must not abuse that trust by privileging the interests of his family members over the interests of the judicial institution.”

The CSOs argued that the CJN must take urgent actions to pull the judiciary from the brink of total perdition, adding that overhaul of the entire judicial system, and declaring a state of emergency in the judiciary would be a good start.

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