By Isiaka Wakili & Clement A Oloyede
President Muhammadu Buhari has listed a few areas of reforms the judiciary needs to undertake in order to improve its integrity and gain public confidence.
The public expects fairness, impartiality and speed in the administration of justice, he said at the opening of judges’ conference in Abuja yesterday.
The conference titled “Strengthening Judicial Integrity and the Rule of Law” is holding at National Judicial Institute.
The president noted that court cases drag on for years and sometimes decades without resolution especially at the Appellate levels. “Reform of the judiciary should start at eliminating these seemingly endless delays,” he added.
Buhari also pointed out that superior courts “give contradictory decisions on the same subject matter in cases where facts are substantially the same without a clear attempt in subsequent cases to distinguish the earlier cases.”
He said this leads to serious confusion at the lower courts adding, “Litigants expect that higher courts should endeavour to harmonise their rulings,” so as to avoid loss of confidence in the judicial system and over-crowding of prisons.
Buhari said objectives of his administration are to combat graft and other forms of corruption so endemic in our public life and that these require the close cooperation of other arms of government to succeed.
He stated that recent investigation of judges was not a prelude to usurping the powers of the National Judicial Council or aimed at intimidating the Judiciary as wrongly portrayed in some sections of the media.
He pointed out that executive and legislative officials were also investigated. He said the “majority of judicial officers are learned and incorruptible and day in day out acting in the best spirit of their oath of office.”
The president said he was aware of the problems confronting the Judiciary including under-funding, inadequate personnel and absence of modern technological aids.
He said that was why his government increased allocation to the Judiciary from N70 billion to N100 billion in the 2017 Budget and also retained the same figure in next year’s budget.
The president commended the Chief Justice for obtaining a comprehensive list of all corruption and financial crimes cases from the lower courts in order to designate special courts to handle them. “I support your action and the public is awaiting the results of this initiative,” he said.
Corrupt judges a disaster to nation – CJN
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Nkanu Onnoghen in his speech said a corrupt judge is not only a disgrace to the Bench and the noble profession, but also a disaster to the course of justice and the nation.
Onnoghen said the definition of corruption is not limited to bribe-taking, but includes the giving of judgments or orders based on any consideration other than legal merit.
He said the National Judicial Council (NJC) is already tackling this cankerworm head-on through the setting up of the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) “to serve as a check on the excesses of some bad eggs amongst us.”
“I am confident that in due course of time; our efforts to rid the Judiciary of questionable persons shall yield results. We all owe a duty to join hands together not merely to disgrace these misfits out of this exalted office, but also to ensure their prosecution and conviction.
“The designation of courts to handle corruption cases is also a step in the right direction as lingering corruption cases will be expeditiously dispensed with. It should no longer be business as usual. I believe the stream of justice must be kept pure and free at all times from poisonous contamination,” he said.
The CJN added that the judiciary in Nigeria is not totally corrupt or inefficient but only few judges are found wanting.
He said the NJC will “continually ensure, through rigorous screening and painstaking appointment procedures, that the best materials, in terms of learning and character, get appointed to the Bench.
“As we are all aware, the Judiciary has been in the eye of the storm in recent times, due largely to the activities of a few bad eggs in our midst. The public today has a very wrong perception of the Judiciary, and this is rather unfortunate. We have a duty to change the wrong perception and narratives.”
He said a good place to start this change is the lower Courts – the Magistracy and Customary Courts. “These Courts are the first contact most citizens have with the Judiciary, and most times, the only contact they would have,” he said while urging all heads of courts to pay close attention to the activities of the lower courts within their jurisdictions.
The CJN also revealed that the Chief Judge of Yobe State was recently kidnapped on his way to Abuja to join members of a panel to screen aspirants to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
He called for the provision of adequate security for judges for effective and speedy delivery of justice.
He said it has been recommended that in future, constitutional amendment proposals which concern the judiciary pass through the NJC for its input.
“It is my hope that this desirable reform will be funded to fruition. I am therefore using this opportunity to solicit your support and cooperation for the envisaged reform which will impact positively on our justice delivery system,” he said.