The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, declared on Monday that the future of the Nigerian judiciary under his watch is bright.
He said since being appointed, his focus had been on reinventing the processes of the judiciary, to ensure speedy justice dispensation and to rid the institution of corruption.
Muhammad spoke in Lagos at the opening ceremony of the 2019 edition of the Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Conference holding at Eko Hotel, Victoria Island.
While describing the theme of the conference, “Facing the Future,” as apt, the CJN said though some, out of pessimism or timidity, might describe the future as bleak, “for the judiciary, under our watch, I can assure you that, by the grace of God, the future looks bright.”
He said, “Since my appointment as the Chief Justice, my focus has been on reinventing our processes, providing speedy and quality administration of justice, strengthening our structures from the Supreme Court to other courts of records and stamping out corruption from the system.”
Muhammad said the judiciary under him was embracing technology to fast-track its processes, adding that Supreme Court and Court of Appeal Justices had forgone their annual vacation this year to clear the backlog of “time-sensitive cases.”
He admonished lawyers to desist from the practice of filing needless appeals at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, warning that the apex court would be unsparing in punishing “blatant abusers of the court processes.”
Muhammad added that the judiciary, under his leadership, would not lose “its firm grip on the mantle of honesty, transparency and integrity.”
The CJN, who said those three virtues formed the nucleus of his administration, said the judges do not look at anybody’s face or feelings in deciding cases.
He said, “By the grace of Almighty God, I will tenaciously hold onto that even until that very moment of my last breath on earth.
“Let me assure this assembly, we don’t look at anybody’s face or feelings before making our decisions.
“If there is any deity to be feared, that deity is the Almighty God. We will never be subservient to anybody, no matter how highly placed,” he said.
He, however, admitted that the judiciary was not truly independent, especially at the state level, since the executive was still in control of its funding.
He said, “Please, all that are concerned, let us enjoy our independence. If you say that I am independent, but in a way whether I like it or not, I have to go and bend down, asking (for funds) I have lost my independence.”
But the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, who declared the conference open on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, said the Buhari administration had ensured the independence of the judiciary.
Malami said to demonstrate that the Federal Government was not dictating to the judiciary, it accepted adverse court judgments without questions.
Malami said the Buhari government was committed to strengthening institutions in the country.
He said, “We have had to disrupt the age-long wrong assumptions and historical narratives of the presumed immunity of sacred cows in our society, simply to demonstrate that henceforth the law will be used as a potent instrument to regulate the activities of all persons and institutions in our country in a fair and transparent manner.”
Malami reiterated the Federal Government resolve to probe the circumstances surrounding the failed power project leading to $9bn arbitration award against Nigeria in favour of British firm, P&ID.
He said all culpable individuals and corporate bodies would be punished.
Malami said, “It is a sad testimony with potential for national economic disaster when legal issues are handled ether in a compromised, ignorant or incompetent manner.
“Let me inform that without prejudice to our right to challenge this award, Mr President has already directed the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to take steps to ensure that all issues related to negotiation, signing, formation and obvious frustration of the purported contract are duly investigated and all persons and institutions, whether in the private or public sector, who acted in ways that have now made our dear nation face potential economic adversity and widespread opprobrium are made to face the law and prosecution in the law court.”