The House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary has called for reforms in the judiciary.
According to the committee chairman, Onofiok Luke, who stated this during the inaugural meeting of the committee, the slow pace of justice delivery and the backlog of cases, is a cause for concern which could be solved by carrying out major reforms.
“There are a lot of reforms to be carried out in the judiciary, the committee in the in collaboration with the relevant bodies and stakeholders like the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Ministry of Justice and the judiciary itself, civil society organizations promises to invigorate the judiciary for effective performance in quick and efficient justice delivery to the common man.
“The slow pace of justice delivery and backlog of matters in Nigeria is a cause for concern.
“We will have re-consider our laws so that we will not overburden our Supreme Court, hence slowing down the will of justice.
“We need to continual advocate and protect the independence of our judiciary so that our judges will be bold and firm to depense justice withour fear or favour.
“By our laws, our judges are not allowed to speak freely, we hold our judiciary and by extension the people a duty to speak up on the welfare of the judiciary”.
The chairman stated further that the lawmakers will continually advocate and protect the independence and welfare of the judiciary.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has decried what he described as an attack on the judiciary and absence of press freedom in the country.
In a statement on Monday, he said Nigeria’s founding fathers could never have fathomed that the nation would face such situation 59 years after gaining independence.
Atiku believes there must be press freedom and the judiciary must be independent while youths and activists who should ordinarily be the future of Nigeria should not be intimidated when they speak out about the state of the nation.
“All is not well when judges are persecuted for enforcing the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights of Nigerian citizens,” he said in his Independence Day message.
He added, “All is not well when Nigeria is now officially the world headquarters for extreme poverty and out of school children, yet the cost of maintaining those in government continues to grow, while the needs of the governed are not being met.
“And certainly, all is not well when the media cannot freely express itself without the fear that those who wield the big stick would use it on them for saying things as they are.”
Time To Take Concrete Steps
The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) explained that he could go with the flow and say all was well with the country or called for prayers like other leaders.
He stated that he could also call on Nigerians to show more understanding, but was mindful of the fact that “the time for rhetoric has long since passed.”
Atiku said, “Now is the time for all lovers of Nigeria to take concrete steps to aid Nigeria’s progress by not just praying and showing understanding, but also to take democratic action to ensure that the ideals of our founding fathers – Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress – are not set aside on the altar of tyranny.”
Rather than just call for prayers, he asked Nigerians to believe in and work for the nation’s betterment.
He also urged them to always insist that no one in the country, no matter how highly placed must be bigger than the laws of the land.
The former vice president, however, noted that there was much hope after listening to a recent remark by the Emir of Kano, Muhammed Sanusi II.
According to him, the traditional ruler spoke about why more attention must be paid to the issue of girl-child education.
“It is an age-long truism that women are the teachers of a nation. I make bold to say that the greatness of our country, Nigeria has much to do with how well we educate how children, especially the girl-child,” said the PDP presidential candidate.
He commended Zamfara State Governor, Mr Bello Matawalle, for leading the way by massively investing in public education.
Atiku also commended the Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Mr Allen Onyema, and the airline for their role in the repatriation of hundreds of Nigerians who were victims of the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
He, therefore, stressed the need to put Nigeria first, saying it would help to revive the nation’s dream, as well as the ideals that its founding fathers had in mind when they came together for the country’s independence from the British colony.
“Nigeria belongs to all of us and we all have a role to play in making our nation great. Nigeria should be the beacon of hope, democracy, and freedom, to not only the African continent but to the black diaspora the world over.
“And to ensure that this becomes the case, we all have a duty to support and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” the former vice president said.
Mr Babalola explained that judges were well respected and celebrated in the country decades ago as they were seen as small gods.
He added that this was because they were earning about the equivalent of what their counterparts in developed countries were being paid, but that was no longer the case now.
The university proprietor said 10 years after he started practicing, he got an invitation to join the bench but had to reject the offer, although he admitted that it was the dream of every good lawyer to get such an opportunity.
The then Chief Judge of the Western Region, according to Babalola, was removed two years later via a telephone order by the military regime at that time.
He also highlighted the roles of the Department of State Services (DSS) as a security agency, as provided by the Constitution.
The veteran lawyer said, “The time when the military tried to deal with our judges the way they did in those days, that day they did the irreversible damage to law and judiciary.
“So, I am not surprised that the Buhari government did the same thing and people were at night arrested … the DSS who has no power of arrest; DSS’ duty in law is merely to gather information and give to the President and others.”
He insisted that the security outfit has no power to arrest anyone, adding that the nation has started to witness a reoccurrence of what happened back in the ’80s.
“If a judge knows that if he rules against government, they will look for him tomorrow, he will be very careful and yet the oath of office is that you give your judgement without fear or favour; where lies that now?” he questioned.
He added, “There are rules, there are ways of dealing with judges if they commit offence; that has not been followed.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigerian (SAN), Festus Keyamo, has said that Nigeria’s Supreme Court is the busiest in the world and as such requires unbundling.
“Our Supreme Court is the busiest in the world and it is not just acceptable,” Festus Keyamo said while responding to a question by Senator Omo Agege during a ministerial screening exercise which held in Abuja on Friday.
Senator Omo Agege had asked Keyamo what reforms he would like to see in the justice sector if the President gives him the position of Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
Responding to the Deputy Senate President’s question, Keyamo said if he is AGF, his first duty will be to unbundle the Supreme Court, as well as bring new reforms to the judicial system.
“If I am AGF, I have the idea I call the three ‘Ds’ that would be at the heart of judicial reforms.
“The first D is the decongestion of the Supreme Court, the Second will be the decongestion of the prisons and the third one will be the decongestion of court lists,” Keyamo said.
The rights activist said he will not be the AGF without unbundling the Supreme Court, arguing that the kind of cases that are brought before the Apex Court are “scandalous, interlocutory appeals”.
Keyamo further stressed that the Supreme Court is burdened with appeals dealing with frivolous matters.
He also opined that Nigeria has become big enough to have six regional Supreme Courts where appeals from the regions can be handled appropriately.
The Senior Advocate said: “Land matters, contract matters, marriage and all of that” will end there.
Keyamo stated that these ‘frivolous’ matters in the Supreme Court are the reasons why many cases are still pending for years at the Apex Court, adding that ‘Justice Delayed is Justice Denied’.
Speaking further on unbundling the Supreme Court, Keyamo said if he is made the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), he will ensure that the courts in Abuja will only tend to constitutional issues, political matters, and election disputes that have to do with the interpretation of the constitution because, at that point, the nation will need the guidance of a central Supreme Court.
A former Second Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Monday Ubani, has asked the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, to justify the honour bestowed on him.
Ubani, who was a guest on Channels Television’s Lunchtime Politics on Wednesday, noted that the CJN was the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, following Justice Walter Onnoghen’s exit.
He said, “He (CJN) is imminently qualified to be the CJN. If you look at his curriculum vitae, he has been the most senior of them all, in the issue of character and experience that is key. And I think he has all that in clear abundance.
“So he has to justify this particular honour that has been given to him before the Senate today because the law requires that particular input from the Senate, he has to be the one to confirm.”
“The President has sent his name recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC). This is clearly in compliance with Section 231 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). So what is going on now is a process and that process has to be completed,” the lawyer added.
Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammed has called for collaboration between the three tiers of government to reposition the judiciary.
Justice Tanko who spoke at the red Chambers on Wednesday while addressing Senators on his confirmation as substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria said that the judiciary will not go begging the executives for anything.
“The Nigerian judiciary is only one arm of government, we cannot on our own, except when we put heads together with the legislature and the executive, that we may be able to project Nigerian judiciary to the limelight.
“With due respect, that is not the true position of what is obtained in the society, we rely on what is made as a provision for us, we never go hand in cap begging or asking for anything, because if I ask tomorrow, I will be asked, and I wouldn’t like it. Therefore, we are very careful and we remain contempt with the provision made for us.”
The acting CJN stated that a lot of amendments need to be done to many laws so that the operations of the Judiciary can be instrumental; particularly a review of the criminal laws of the country to make stiffer penalties that will deter criminals.
“Where we have the opportunity like the one the Senate has provided today if I am permitted to bring all sorts of problems that are becoming stumbling blocks to the progress of the Nigerian judiciary, or particularly, the federal level.
“We hope by the time we go back, we make attempts to bring our proposal for the amendments of many of our laws, when we get them amended, certainly, the operations will be better.
“I intend, God’s willing to project if I have the cooperation of the executive and the legislature.”
He urged lawmakers to look into the financial autonomy of the judiciary, as this would close the ends that could encourage corruption in the judiciary.
A survey conducted by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has revealed that the Nigeria Police and the Power Sector are the most corrupt public institutions in Nigeria.
The survey which was launched by Professor Akin Oyebode on Tuesday in Lagos said the exercise captured responses of Nigerians and 70 percent placed the Judiciary, Education and Health ministries next, to complete a top five list.
Oyebode noted that; “Nigeria is looked upon as a giant of Africa. Yet Nigeria could not conduct free, fair and credible elections. It is a smear on the image of Nigeria. If we do away with selective enforcement and condonation of corruption, we will build and live in a better society. Corruption is a refined form of stealing. The politicians are stealing our common patrimony. Development of the people is almost inversely proportional to the level of corruption.”
However, the survey highlighted that the high levels of corruption in public institutions in Nigeria had not changed in the last five years.
According to the survey, “a bribe is paid in 54% of interactions with the police. In fact, there is a 63% probability that an average Nigerian would be asked to pay a bribe each time he or she interacted with the police. That is almost two out of three.”
“Corruption remains a significant impediment to law enforcement, access to justice and basic public services such as affordable healthcare, education, and electricity supply. Several Nigerians have to pay a bribe to access police, judiciary, power, education and health services. Corruption is still a key concern in the country with 70% of Nigerians describing the level of corruption as high and in the same measure, stating that corruption levels either increased or remained the same in the last five years.”
“The police were the most adversely ranked on this indicator. For every 100 police interactions reported by the respondents, there was a bribe paid in 54 interactions. The prevalence levels stood at 37% in the power sector and 18% in education, 17.7% in the judiciary and 14% in the health sector.”
The survey urged the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, The Chief Justice of Nigeria and the National Judicial Council should investigate complaints of bribery and corruption against police officers and review all outstanding cases of judicial corruption.
“The Inspector General of Police should receive and investigate complaints of bribery and corruption against police officers filed by members of the public. The police should liaise with community leaders and civil society organisations in regard to incidents of police bribery and corruption within the community.”
“The Chief Justice of Nigeria and the National Judicial Council should identify and review all outstanding cases of judicial corruption and refer such cases to appropriate anti-corruption agencies. They should apply the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers in a consistent and transparent manner, with full respect for the fundamental guarantees of fair trial and due process.”
According to SERAP, the survey targeted a total of 2,655 respondents selected from seven states spread across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria and the capital city of Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari has inaugurated the Presidential Implementation Committee on Autonomy of the State Legislature and State Judiciary in accordance with the 4th alteration on the 1999 Constitution.
During the ceremony at the council chamber of the Aso Villa, the president charged members to be diligent in discharging their duties.
He believes autonomy of the state legislature and judiciary is a necessary precondition for Nigeria’s democracy to endure.
The 16-member committee is headed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, while the president’s National Assembly liaison, Ita Enang, is to serve as secretary.
The implementation committee has three months from the day of the inauguration to complete its assignment.
President Muhammadu Buhari has constituted a Presidential Implementation Committee on Autonomy of State Legislature and State Judiciary.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, explained in a statement on Sunday that the committee was set up in accordance with the ‘4th Alteration to the 1999 Constitution’.
The committee is chaired by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, with the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, as its secretary.
Adesina said the purpose of the committee was to drive the actualisation of the autonomy granted to the legislature and judiciary at the state level.
Representatives of state judiciary in the committee include the chief judges of Kogi and Bayelsa states – Justice N Ajanah and Justice K Abiri.
Others are Grand Khadi of Gombe State Sharia Court of Appeal, Kadi Abdullahi Usman, and the acting President of the FCT Customary Court of Appeal, Justice Abbazih Sadeeq.
State legislatures are to be represented by the Chairman of Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria and Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, as well as Speaker of Taraba State House of Assembly, Abel Riah.
The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) is to be represented by Marwan Adamu; Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria, Bala Hadi; Body of Chairmen of Houses of Assembly Service Commissions, Musa Agwai.
The committee also has as members Senate Committee Chairman on Judiciary, Human Rights, and Legal Matters, Senator David Umaru; and House of Representatives Committee Chairman on Federal Judiciary, Aminu Shagari; as well as the Accountant General of the Federation, and the Secretary of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Others members are DG of the Nigerian Governors Forum or such other representative as the forum may wish to nominate; Chairman of the Forum of Finance Commissioners in Nigeria; President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Paul Usoro; and Chike Adibuah who is to represent Civil Society Organisations.
Adesina disclosed that the terms of reference of the committee include to assess and review the level of compliance by all the 36 States of the Federation with Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
He added that the committee would monitor, ensure and cause the implementation of financial autonomy across the judiciary and legislature of the 36 states, as well as consult and relate with the appropriate federal and state MDAs.
The presidential aide explained that the committee would ensure and where necessary enforce the implementation of the constitutional provision, and come up with appropriate modality or model to be adopted by all the states of the Federation for implementation and/ or compliance with Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
He said President Buhari would formally inaugurate the committee in due course.
The House of Representatives has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, to release to the National Judicial Council all outstanding funds from the 2018 Appropriation Act due to the Federal Judiciary.
The lawmakers made the call during Tuesday’s plenary at the National Assembly in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
They took the resolution while considering a motion sponsored by the Chairman of the House Committee on Federal Judiciary, Aminu Shagari.
The House was worried that not releasing the funds may disrupt the efficiency of the judicial arm of government in the country.
Earlier, Mr Shagari informed his colleagues that the action of the Federal Ministry of Finance in withholding the funds was against the Constitution.
He noted that Section 81(3) of the Constitution stated that the judiciary council would be on first line charge.
The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has challenged the judiciary to defend its independence especially as the 2019 general elections approach.
At the opening of the 2018/2019 legal year for the state judiciary in Port Harcourt, the capital on Saturday, the governor stressed the need for the judiciary to discharge its duties without external influence.
He said, “I will continue to support the judiciary to be effective in any way that we can. This is borne out of a belief that the justice and the legal system is not a sole responsibility of the judiciary alone and the courts need the support of all stakeholders.
“However, it is left for the judiciary to accept itself, defend its existence and independence and ensure that its discharges its constitutional functions without hinderance and interference within itself or from external influences”.
On her part, the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Adama Iyayi-Laminkara, highlighted the issue of insecurity of judges.
She called on security agencies to fish out and prosecute those behind the invasion and shooting at the High Court premises on May 11, as well as attacks on other courts in the state.
President Muhammadu Buhari has called on lawyers across the country to sustain the integrity of Nigeria’s judicial system.
The President made the call on Sunday while declaring open the 58th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
“In the context of opinions and narratives about our past and present political and socio-economic experience, you cannot afford to jettison rational and proper analysis of issues in a manner which builds, rather than destroys the nation,” he said.
“I also urge you to work to uphold and improve the sanctity and integrity of our judicial and electoral institutions which play a fundamental role in the sustenance and growth of our democracy.”
President Buhari urged the legal practitioners to ensure they work for the peaceful coexistence of the citizens, especially as the nation prepares for the 2019 general elections.
He also asked them to join forces with the government in tackling the security challenges facing the nation, stressing that those practicing the law can only enjoy doing so when the country is at peace.
The President said, “As we gradually move into another season of intense political activities preparatory to the 2019 general elections, I enjoin you to remember that by reason of your profession, you all have a responsibility to work for national cohesion and unity through your speeches and public positions and most importantly in your advocacy in court.”
“However, let me remind you all, my dear compatriots, that the law can only be optimally practiced in a Nigeria that is safe, secure and prosperous. As you go into this Annual Conference, let me assure you of the resolve of this administration to promote measures that will achieve a vibrant economy under which the practice of law will thrive,” he added.
President Buhari disclosed that the first challenge of his administration was to transform Nigeria speedily into a society where impunity in the management of national resources would be replaced with a culture of accountability and transparency.
According to him, the government had to deploy its resources to address the common needs of the people rather than the greed of a callous few.
In order to achieve this, the President said his administration had to disrupt the “age-old assumptions and unsettle ancient norms in the management of national patrimony.”
He congratulated the incoming NBA leadership led by Mr Paul Usoro (SAN) and wished them a successful tenure in the task of advancing legal practice in the country.
President Buhari also thanked the lawyers for the invitation to declare the conference open and congratulated them on the attendance of over 10,000 participants at the event, saying it represented one of the largest single gathering of lawyers anywhere in the world.