Judges should guard their independence jealously

The crisis of credibility afflicting the judiciary has taken a serious toll on the institution whose image in the eyes of many Nigerians is now battered. It is more unfortunate that those bringing shame to the bench are the same custodians charged with maintaining its integrity and prestige. Restoring this credibility becomes difficult when judges give verdicts that neither resolve contending issues nor provide any clarity. That is the current situation regarding last week’s judgment of the federal high court on the emirate tussle in Kano that has dragged on for weeks. While the court declared the appointment of a new emir by Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf as “null and void”, it also stated that the ruling does not affect the validity of the Kano Emirates Council (Repeal) Bill 2024, which removed the former emir.

When senior legal practitioners consider the judgment of a court “confusing” as Mr Femi Falana, SAN, has described it or “strange and doesn’t speak well of the judge” in the estimation of Professor Auwalu Yadudu, there is a problem. “How can you say the actions taken in pursuant of a law are set aside, and then say you are not delving into the validity of the said law?” Yadudu queried. But Falana is more concerned that the federal high court nullified two supreme court judgments that limit its powers on the affairs of traditional institutions. It is more disturbing that the National Judicial Commission (NJC) recently intervened on this same matter.

As we have repeatedly stated on this page, the function of law as an instrument of social engineering can only be made difficult when judges compromise their oath by acts of omission or commission. And to the extent that nothing destroys public confidence in the system than the bad behavior of judges, the judiciary must guard its impartiality jealously. No matter the temptation, this critical arm of government must not be unduly politicised.

Apparently concerned by the crisis of credibility that has for long dogged the judicial arm of government in Nigeria and the damage it inflicts on national psyche, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) last year hosted an important Justice Sector Summit which brought together critical stakeholders. The broad consensus was the need to rise above the interests that are holding back fair and equitable justice administration in Nigeria by working to restore integrity to the bar and bench. For that to happen, Judges must, like Caesar’s wife, stay above suspicion.  

 While it is standard expectation in the United States from where we borrowed the presidential system of government that Judges be either conservative or liberal, they cannot be Republican or Democrat in their votes on judicial decisions. The former is ideological, part of the right to hold beliefs. The latter is a matter of political partisanship, an area that is below the independence and impartiality of the judiciary as everyone’s last bastion of hope for justice and fairness in a democratic republic. In the absence of such deep-rooted ideological differences in Nigeria, our judges have an even narrower room. As citizens they may have their private partisan preferences, but such biases are not expected to reflect in their dispensation of Justice or indeed in their social conduct and public utterances.  

From delays in the administration of justice which are most often deliberate acts to the culture of tardiness and corruption which robs the institution of its impartiality and fairness, there is an urgent need to restore integrity to the bar and the bench in Nigeria. We hope the NJC will be decisive in dealing with the Kano emirate imbroglio before it destroys whatever remains of judicial integrity in Nigeria.

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