Nigeria @59: Judiciary still dependent on executive arm despite decolonisation
…Nigerian Lawyers lament
… FG’s defiance to court orders unfortunate…
Emmanuel Bagudu, Abuja
The Celebration of Nigeria’s 59th Independent Anniversary is rather in a low key amongst the members of the bench and bar, while their counterparts in the Executive and the Legislature are busy counting the gains of self-governance since the exit of British colonial rule on 1st October, 1960, some legal minds in the 3rd Arm of Government, decried their continuous dependence on the Executive which they say is a threat to the nation’s justice system.
They believe a fully Independent nation should have a fully independent Judiciary. If that is done, they will celebrate the nation’s independence with sounds of music. “….The gains of independence of the judiciary can fully be felt where the people can be sure that judges will give judgments that do substantial justice without pandering to the whims and caprices of politicians and public office holders.” Ugochinyere Imoh a Lawyer and human right activist stated in an interview with TNG.
“The battle to actually secure independence for the Nigerian judiciary is still an ongoing one. Although by the letters of the law, its independence has been guaranteed, in reality, the Nigerian judiciary is still very dependent on persons and authorities outside the judiciary for funding and other infrastructure ….” He added.
It could be recalled that colonial chief Justice of Nigeria Honourable Justice Stafford Sutton handed over leadership of the nation’s Judiciary to Justice Adetokumbo Ademola in 1958 after the notion of self-governance by Chief Anthony Enahoro gained prominence. The Ex-CJN Ademola led the Judiciary for 14 years (1958-1972) before handing over to the second Indigenous CJN Justice Taslim Elias. Since then Nigeria’s Judiciary has functioned under military and civillian administrations with the appointment of Judges and principal officers in the Judiciary as well as funding is at the mercy of the Government.
It’s 59 years today of independent Nigeria and the legal community seems desperate for Independence from internal colonialism. They are craving for a more liberal environment to adjudicate and interpret the nation’s constitution based on the principles of rule of law as well a that of the separation of powers. According to Augusta Yaakugh, an Abuja based legal practitioner Law courts are temple of Justice for all. She said …”courts should not be subject to improper influence from the other branches of government or from private or partisan interests….”
Over the years, past administrations especially that of the Military has exerted it’s powered on the Judiciary since the Judiciary is the epicentre of intergovernmental contestations and individual human rights claims. The military in some instances suspended the Constitution and in other cases passed decrees.
Although despite influence from government, some Judicial Injunctions have had direct relevance for policymaking and governance in Nigeria. But despite this fact there has been little focus on the nature of the judicial role in the process of political transition, social transformation, and democratization in the country.
Alleged defiance to court orders by Government and men of influence is another issue that has bedevilled the Nigerian Judiciary. At the moment, the Nigerian Government has allegedly refused to respect court Injunctions. This has led to several abuses of human rights and apparent distrust in the credibility of the Judiciary as the last hope of the common man. Infact Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari stated in the 2018 conference of the Nigerian Bar Association that “the rule of law is subject to the national interest”. Although the legal Community through its then NBA chairman Mahmood Balarabe didn’t accept the president’s position, the executive have so far seen to have been enjoying absolute power. The case of former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki and Former Presidential Candidate Omoloye Sowore to mention but a few who had secured bail conditions are still being incarcerated. These issues according to the legal minds forms reasons why the Independence day celebration seems incomplete
WAY FORWARD AT 59
It’s an intellectual conflict that may take decades to be resolved. Although both past and present administrations have so far tried to ensure Judicial independence in Nigeria. President Muhammadu has set the ball rolling by signing into law the Independence of State Judiciary making State High Courts free from Governor’s influence. This is a welcome development according to Lawyers who spoke to TNG. The Lawyers applauded the nation’s Judiciary and suggested ways to ensure its Independence. For Ugochinyere Imoh “At 59, and with 20 years uninterrupted democratic governance, Nigerian judiciary has made some giant strides and has helped keep the country United, strong and democratic while maintaining law and order.”
For his part, Pelumi Olajengbesi a human right lawyer said “The past few years have been challenging for the judiciary coming under executive boots and scrutiny like never before and in a manner that suggests an attempt to cower it. The budget of the judiciary remains intricately tied to the executive budget…. To take a path forward, the above concerns must be taken into account. There are brilliant minds and heads in the judiciary with the strength of purpose needed to move the judiciary forward and it is my hope that the reminisces of October 1st, Independent Day, would engender a discourse and reflection on ways to truly gain for ourselves a completely independent judiciary to bequeath to future generations. Barrister Augusta Yaakugh also gave her thoughts on the way out.
“We can deal with the idea of judicial independence through different means of judicial selection, or choosing judges. Also, we need to recommend and appoint credible, upstanding members of society who can decide cases and make rulings according to the rule of law and judicial discretion, even if those decisions are politically unpopular or opposed by powerful interests. She added that “The judiciary should have fearless judges who can mandate certain actions when they perceive that a branch of government is refusing to perform a constitutional duty or by declaring laws passed by the legislature unconstitutional”. The Nigerian judiciary also needs to expand the courts (lowest to the apex court) and appoint more judges to aid in speedier adjudication of cases.” “There is also the need to improve the remuneration package of judges”. Barrister Yaakugh said.