Judiciary Redemption Task for CJN

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Having assumed office as the 18th Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola should do everything within his capacity to return the country’s judiciary to the path of integrity and honour. All eyes are on him in this regard.

The crisis of integrity afflicting the country’s judiciary in the last seven and half years is quite embarrassing and regretful. In Nigeria, the power of the judiciary to dispense justice has been whittled down by executive lawlessness. Nothing destroys the confidence of the public in the judiciary more than this kind of abuse.

Therefore the judiciary should be restored to its rightful place in the scheme of things. The judiciary is not just any institution: it is that indispensable arm of government charged with the dispensation of justice. Fiat Justicia ruat coelum (Let justice be done though the heavens fail). Remove Justice, said St. Augustine, and all you have are great robberies.

According to Justice Chukwudifu Oputa (rtd): ”Injustice breeds intolerance, violence and social disorder in the same way justice bring along with it the blessings of peace and mutual understanding. Justice is that vital thread that knits human society together. Without justice, it will be impossible to promote societal aims. Justice is also one of the cardinal virtues. Small wonder Cicero praises justice to the high heavens by stating that “the brightest of virtues shines above all in justice”.

The much-touted Nigerian question revolves around the failure to do justice. There will be no peace in a society in which justice is denied or defeated. Where it is wrong, it is only justice that can right the wrong and thus restores the balance. If every Nigerian is given his or her due, there would probably be less social discontent and social strife in Nigeria.

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Justice Ariwoola needs the cooperation of all Nigerians to restore the judiciary to its place of pride. To this effect, the new CJN should ensure that the Judiciary guards its independence and impartiality by ensuring that the judiciary enjoys the much-vaunted financial autonomy.

The judiciary should be insulated from partisan politics. Political officeholders should desist from interfering in the work of the judiciary. The executive and government agencies should obey court orders. Our democratization experiment will be aborted if the State which is supposed to be exemplary in obeying the law is willfully disobeying the law. Besides, disobedience to court orders is the gateway to the reign of anarchy and disorder in any society.

Judgeship must not be used for rewarding political party loyalists or family friends. A single error in appointing unworthy persons to the Bench could ruin the whole administration of justice. A judge must not allow his political leaning to cloud over his sense of justice.

A judge should season his speech, especially his public speech with the salt of mortification. Disciplinary action against judges should be routinely carried out to salvage the Bench from moral degeneracy.

Only incorruptible and irreproachable judges can steer the judiciary out of the present muddy water. Therefore the Bench should be reserved for the best and the brightest in character and learning, not for dead woods or lazy bones.

Appointment and elevation of judges should be based on merit not family connection or political patronage or what Prof. Joseph Richard has dubbed as prebendalism.

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The views of practising lawyers, who probably know the candidates better than the National Judicial Council (NJC), headed by the Chief Justice, should be sought before and even after short-listing the candidates.

Apart from judges, judicial personnel- court bailiffs, court clerks and registrars, court messengers, court typist etc- who equally play very important roles in the dispensation of justice should also be motivated to live above board.

Court personnel should stop ruining a litigant’s case even before it eventually gets to the judge. Oftentimes, some court bailiffs refuse to effect a court process simply because they were unable to extort money from a litigant or his counsel. There are many missing case files in the courts today.

Many litigants get to court only to discover to their chagrin that their case files have either been misplaced or are completely lost. These are administrative injustices that beget legal injustice or even social injustice. Therefore the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) should as well focus its searchlight on corrupt court personnel.

Court registrars and other judicial personnel indirectly extorting money from litigants and lawyers should be exposed and brought to justice. Lawyers should stop bribing court personnel or acceding to their extortionist bids.

Considering the lingering controversies trailing the award of the rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) over the years, the guidelines for the conferment of SANship should be reviewed. The SANship award should be strictly based on meritorious legal scholarship, not on cronyism, God-fatherism and favouritism.

The new CJN should muster the political will to revamp the country’s criminal justice delivery system. It is unacceptable that most of the awaiting trial inmates (ATM) languishing in the various correctional centres had spent more than the number of years they would have spent if, from the outset, they had been charged to court, tried, convicted and sentenced.

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There should be a massive decongestion of various correctional centres in order to alleviate the untold inhuman suffering of prisoners in the centres. Government should stop procrastinating and launch itself to implement the various recommendations tabled before it over the years on reform of correctional centres.

The new CJN should initiate the process for a complete overhaul of the judiciary to enhance judicial efficacy and efficiency and to bolster public confidence in the judiciary. He should return the Supreme Court to its golden era when Supreme Court Justices such as Justices Anthony Aniagolu, Kayode Eso, Mohammed Bello, Chukwudifu Akunne Oputa, Andrews Otutu Obaseki, Augustine Nnamani, Adolphus Karibi-Whyte and others brought their intellectual versatility, lucidity of their philosophical minds to bear in their respective judgments in order to enthrone substantial justice.

Guardian Editorial

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