From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) has called on the judiciary to protect its independence by not allowing external enemies to invade its sacred sanctuary.
Speaking at the posthumous valedictory court session in honour of the late Chief Judge ofbthe Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati, the body lamented that in recent times, there have been systematic efforts to erode the independence of the judiciary by the ruling class by way of intimidation, coercion, arm-twisting, divide-and-rule tactics and outright harassment.
Speaking on behalf of the body of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), recalled the way and manner a sitting Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen was removed from office with a questionable ex-parte order by a Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal and how
“we all stood and watched, forgetting that it was not about Onnoghen but about the judiciary, about the legal profession, about the constitution the judiciary itself had sworn to defend, and indeed about the country.
“My Lord, occasions like this, as sober and sombre as they are, yet provide us with opportunities to reflect on the lot of the Bench and the Bar, particularly in challenging times such as we are in. There is no doubt that the independence of the judiciary is the cornerstone of a democratic society and safeguard for the freedom and rights of the citizens under the Rule of Law. We are all familiar with those well-known impediments to the independence of the Judiciary, such as financial dependence, appointment and removal of judges, disobedience of court orders etc. These are factors one may refer to as external enemies.
Today, we may want to reflect on whether the Judiciary itself, and indeed the legal profession, is doing what it ought to do to defend and protect its own independence, or has it in any way been complicit, either by action or inaction, in allowing external enemies to invade the sacred sanctuary. There is no gainsaying the fact in recent times (more than at any other time in the life of this Nation), there have been systematic efforts to erode the independence of the Judiciary by the ruling class by way of intimidation, coercion, arm-twisting, divide-and-rule tactics, and outright harassment. As the journey to 2023 has begun, it is more likely to intensify, if experience is anything to go by.
It started with the raid on the homes of Judges in October 2016, followed up with a media blitz to hamstrung and demystify the Judiciary. Some of us screamed, while some of us justified it, not realising the ultimate impact on the entire body of justice. As sacrilegious as it were, both the Bench and the Bar did not rise to the occasion to nip this ugly trend in the bud. Having got away successfully with that, they were emboldened to attempt the unthinkable, and that is what is known today as the Onnoghen saga.
The head of the Judiciary, the symbol of the Judiciary, a sitting Chief Justice of Nigeria was removed from office with a questionable ex parte order by a Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, and we all stood by and watched, forgetting that it was not about Onnoghen but about the Judiciary, about the legal profession, about the Constitution the Judiciary itself had sworn to defend, and indeed about the Country. The Judiciary was traumatised, and the Bar was polarised. The Court of Appeal we recall refused to deliver its ruling in the matter for over three months! The Judiciary became a victim of its silence.
Now again, on Friday, October 29, 2021, we witnessed another invasion, this time the residence of Justice Mary Odili, JSC, second most senior Justice of the Supreme Court. With the benefit of hindsight, lawyers mobilised themselves, intervened timely and responded promptly, raising a national hue and cry that led to the forces beating a retreat, followed with strings of denials.
The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Abuja swung into action, proceeding to the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, and the Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory to register our displeasure and objection. The following day, the Supreme Court issued a press release condemning the invasion, which was a good development.
This dispensation has witnessed arrest and prosecution of judges in Nigeria without subjecting them to extant rules made by NJC on discipline of judges, and subtle arm-twisting tactics such as dishing out demands for filing of declaration of assets forms on questionable occasions etc.
I must salute the courage of the Judges of this Court in the matter of Hon. Justice Rita Ajumogobia after years of trauma of prosecution. I also salute the Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, who had the courage to dismiss the case brought against the Federal High Court Judge in the circumstances. No one is supporting corruption or contending that Judges are above scrutiny, but when such arrests are orchestrated for reasons that are certainly not altruistic, the Judiciary must unite to defend itself. The Judiciary must be self-assertive on such issues when the law is on
their side. Our people have a saying that you must first chase away the invading hawk before you blame the little chick for wandering off. Judges must be their brothers’ keepers.
In many EFCC trials, very few Judges are bold enough to decide according to the law because of media propaganda, and the entitlement mentality of the prosecuting agencies and their penchant to petition and vilify Judges who do not decide cases in line with their expectation, rather than quietly proceeding on appeal.
As we approach 2023, the temptation to interfere in electoral matters before your Courts, be they primary or post elections, will intensify. The temptation towards use of selective prosecution of corruption cases against political opponents will step up. The Judiciary must guard its independence.
The true independence the Nigerian Judiciary needs at this crucial time in the life of our nation is not only financial independence or infrastructural independence, but decisional independence to fulfil its constitutional oath and mandate to dispense justice to all manner of people without fear or favour. The Judiciary must assert itself, and indeed liberate itself, through the protection of its decisional independence. We need a Judiciary that will protect the independence of the Judiciary by itself and the freedom of the people it serves.
The body described the late jurist as was a very calm and courteous Judge, and had a reputation for patiently and quietly listening to all Counsel canvass arguments, and will never interject, nor interfere nor bully Counsel. You can even see his forbearance under seeming provocation.
It was only in his rulings and judgments that you will see the courage, wisdom and experience of the late Jurist. His rulings and judgments were notable for his clarity of thought and simplicity of
Earlier in his tribute, the sitting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho He was a revered gentleman, a great family man; very humane, articulate, peaceful nd quiet by nature.
“He was humility personified, but courageous and stood firm, as circumstances demanded.
Justice Tsoho noted with regret that while humility is a great virtue that is respected by those who value it, our society often considers humility as a sign of stupidity, foolishness and weakness. That is why such a person like the late jurist will not earn much applause as deserved. This notwithstanding, humility should be encouraged, otherwise, the society will be worse for it, if everyone elects the path of haughtiness.”
Others who spoke at the ceremony were the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), the acting Chief Judge of Gombe State, Justice Mu’azu Abdulkadir Pindiga, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association and the NBA Chairman, Gombe state branch, Ahmed Tukur Sa’ad.