The Bar and the Bench:
A review of 2018 – Anti-Corruption, Administration of Justice and Community Impact.
Bayo Akinlade Esq.
It has been a very busy year for the Judiciary and the Nigerian Bar Association, most especially because of the activities of the EFCC going after lawyers and judges for corrupt practices with what most people within the legal profession have condemned to be political moves by the government in power.
It has also been very defining for the NBA because it was a year for its national and branch elections; many twists and turns; allegations of corruption and violence in the process; one wonders why there is no distinction between general politics and what goes on within the NBA….it is rather an unfortunate situation we find ourselves in. In all; it has largely been a disappointing year (in my view) especially where activities of the NBA are concerned.
Below is merely a brief summary and general overview of what I consider the major soundbites of the year in review
The Judiciary (THE BENCH)
The Judiciary has been very proactive in 2018. It is done well in attempting to reduce the incidence of corrupt practices within its ranks and at the same time developing mechanisms to ensure its effectiveness in the speedy dispensation of Justice. Some of the highlights of the achievements of the Judiciary include:
- The Promotion and implementation of the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act
- The hard stance of the Chief Justice of Nigeria against corrupt and lazy judges
- The confirmation of the financial Independence of the Judiciary by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
- The appointment of more Federal Judges and the expansion of the National Industrial Courts….and much more
In Lagos State, under the leadership of the Chief Judge; Hon. Justice Opeyemi Oke; the Judiciary has:
- Promoted “A Judiciary the ordinary citizens can trust and rely on”
- Ensured Prompt and effective Service delivery
- Activated positive reforms within all its departments
- Facilitated the removal of Corrupt Registrars, Sherriff Corps and other negative vices from its ranks
- Employed about 45 new Sheriff Corps members that are well trained and that will provide better services
- Employed lawyers as Judicial Registrars in Court to provide professional services
- Activated provisions of the ACJA that protects the rights of citizens
- Revision of the Civil Procedure Rules to ensure speedy dispensation of Justice….and many more
The Judiciary; especially in Lagos State has achieved quite a lot in 2018 despite its many challenges which include but are not limited to:
- Inadequacy of Judges and Magistrates: Lagos needs more Judges and Magistrates
- Lack of basic court infrastructures; such as Court Buildings, Tech Support for conducting cases and for the day to day court business within the registries
- Inadequate welfare provisions for Magistrates; especially with regards to provision of new cars for the older Magistrates in Lagos and generally, Magistrates nationwide have no adequate office infrastructure to do their jobs effectively
- Lack of professionalism and expertise in the art of adjudication
- Financial dependency on the Executive arm of government…etc
Most of the challenges faced within the judiciary are responsible for the high level of corruption that we experience on a daily basis when we go to court. However; let us be clear that this should not be an excuse for any judicial officer or Judiciary Staff to be corrupt. Training and retraining of all within the Judiciary is vital in ensuring that both the Judges (including magistrates) and Judiciary staff are well equipped to tackle these challenges.
By and large; considering the importance of the Judiciary in the fight against corruption; it must be a priority for stakeholders to ensure that the Judiciary is well equipped, funded and managed. We should focus on how Judges and Magistrates are appointed; we should review the laws that provide for how members of the National Judicial Council and State Judicial Service Commissions are constituted. We need to go back to the root of our application and nomination procedures for Judges and Magistrates so that we appoint the best and most talented and we should insist on full financial autonomy for the Judiciary.
The Nigerian Bar Association (THE NBA)
Unfortunately, the NBA has not recorded any major national impact in 2018. At the Branch level on the other hand; many Branches have shown great strides in the protection of Human Rights; Rule of Law and Capacity building.
The relationship between the Bar and other organisations has also not been very encouraging as members of the Bar have been accused for a few publicly known professional misconducts; ranging from misuse of clients’ monies to money laundering and promoting illegalities of varying degrees.
In the run off to the NBA elections this year; there were many accusations of corrupt practices and rigging; derogatory name calling, incidence of thugs being used to intimidate each other and other unprofessional behaviours. Various whatsApp platforms were used to spread lies, insults and fake news for the sole purpose of deceiving colleagues, ethics was thrown out and the profession was subject to ridicule by all.
Unfortunately; the NBA leadership were largely silent. The NBA trustees, the Body of Benchers, the General Council of the Bar and the NBA-NEC where not up to the task of maintaining decorum within the BAR.
Corruption within the Bar is sadly monumental. It is this corruption that sustains the prevalence of corruption in the BENCH and feeds the corruption in the polity in general. Our lawyers have taken great interest in politics; contesting for political offices or/and using their expertise to pollute the political terrain ensuring that all manner of illegalities go on unchecked.
It is clear from my above analysis/opinion of the BAR that I am completely disappointed and feel ashamed as a lawyer in 2018. Although there are a few lawyers who have tried in their little way to promote a BAR that stands for Justice and the Rule of Law, sadly; they are in the minority to the extent that their impact is hardly felt.
The BAR needs to re-embrace some old practices of Ethics, pupillage and traditions that has distinguished this profession from other professions. We need to care more about the community we live in, protect the Rule of Law, see to the proper training of lawyers (some of whom will become judges) and ensure that the profession is not run over by touts.
The NBA’s relationship with the BENCH leaves much to be desired. It is my opinion that more is expected from the BAR than from the BENCH in promoting a good relationship; especially noting that every Judge is first and always will be a member of the BAR.
The BAR in 2018 has been subject to ridicule; especially during the aftermath of its elections; the many court cases pending on different issues, of the outcomes of elections since 2016 and recently with the financial reports showing gross mismanagement and possible embezzlement of funds. It is very disheartening that a noble profession such as ours is being overrun by self-serving elements that seek to destroy the very noble fabric of the profession.
HOPES FOR 2019
There is a movement amongst Lawyers, judges, law lecturers, Bar leaders and law students who seek to restore the image of our noble profession. A great wave is coming, a push back, an idea to reinvent and repurpose the legal profession. This revolution to reclaim our integrity will come at some cost but it’s a cost we are willing to pay.
Fight Against Corruption in the Judiciary (FIACIJ) has recently extended its intervention to the BAR, we will tackle corruption amongst lawyers, expose it and ensure that it is eradicated. We are not happy with the way things are going, we will not blame anyone, we will not witch-hunt but dispassionately and with respect; educate, encourage, enable and equip our profession with the tools to eradicate all forms of malpractices amongst us.
In 2019, we will build a BAR that is community focused, a Judiciary that is the last HOPE of the common man and a nation that respects the RULE OF LAW.
FIACIJ is a national watchdog group set up within the Social Media Community to Resist, Record and Report all acts of Corruption within the Judiciary and the BAR. Its aim is also to proffer policy recommendations that will reduce the scourge of corruption within the most revered arm of Government and the Legal Profession.