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I can’t be cowed to undermine judiciary’s independence – CJN

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The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, has expressed his readiness to ensure that the nation’s judiciary is independent of other arms of government.

He vowed not to be cowed to undermine judiciary’s independence.

The CJN made the assertion while speaking at the on-going annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Lagos, yesterday.

Justice Muhammad assured that the judiciary under him will continue to dispense justice without fear or favour.

While describing the theme of the conference: “Facing the Future,” as apt, the CJN noted that 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.”

His words: “Since my appointment as 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.

“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.

“One of the fundamental issues affecting the independence of the judiciary is funding, particularly at the state level. I therefore appeal to stakeholders in the country to allow the judiciary enjoy its independence by adequately funding it.

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“Budgeted allocations to the judiciary must be deducted from the first line charge so that heads of courts would not have to go cap in hand to beg for fund from the executive,” he added.

Addressing the gathering, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), said the Buhari administration will continue to sustain the independence of the judiciary.

The AGF, while declaring the conference open on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, maintained that the Federal Government has demonstrated its respect for the judiciary by “not dictating to the judiciary and accepting adverse court judgements without questions.”

He added that government was also committed to strengthening institutions in the country.

“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,” he said.

The AGF also revealed that his office has been mandated by the president to launch an enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the arbitration award of $9.5 billion in favour of a British firm, P&ID, over failed power project.

On this, he 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,” Malami said.

In his speech at the event, Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, lauded the conference’s theme, saying it seek to address today’s realities and impact on the future of the country.

The deputy governor who stood in for Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, expressed government’s resolve to obey the rule of law and substance of democracy by collaborating with the judiciary.

He noted that with the new trend of having robots playing the role of lawyers in some climes, lawyers need to step up in their knowledge of adopting the gains of technology in the delivery of their services to the nation and the people.

On his part, the President of NBA, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), tasked government at all levels on protection and preservation of the rule of law.

He opined that obedience to the rule of law is needed for the sustenance of peace and justice in Nigeria.

The NBA president assured that the conference will not only set agenda for the legal profession and the country, but will also provide opportunity for lawyers to discuss contemporary issues affecting the country.

In his address, the President of the International Bar Association (IBA), Horacio Bernardes Neto, noted that the legal profession is going through a period of innovation and that challenges that did not exist in the past are now common place.

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