Jurists chart path to judicial independence at NBA Lagos law week
The ongoing face-off between the Judiciary and the Federal Government over arrests of high-ranking judicial officers has again brought to the fore the festering debate on judicial independence in a democracy.
Instructively, the raids on the homes of the judges took place barely hours after a high-profile panel of jurists had concluded deliberations on a related subject at the recently concluded Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lagos Branch Law Week. The near-prophetic theme of the two-day conference was “Judicial Independence and the Democratic Process.”
Among the panelists at the conference, which held at the MUSON Centre, Lagos were former Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Hon. Justice George Oguntade (CFR) who chaired the occasion; Hon. Justice Kazeem Alogba who stood in for the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade; keynote speaker and former NBA President, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN); NBA presidential candidate, Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama (SAN); Mr. Kemi Balogun (SAN), Mr. Norrison Quakers (SAN), and erstwhile NBA Lagos Branch Chairman, Mr. Chijioke Okoli (SAN).
Others who also interrogated the subject include Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN) and Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN).
President Muhammadu Buhari had described the judiciary as his “main headache” in the fight against corruption while speaking at a town hall meeting with Nigerians living in Ethiopia.
But Oguntade painted a gloomy picture of the travails of the average judicial officer when he narrated his predicament while on the Bench. He stated that judges who had the courage to pronounce against the Executive arm of government were often targets of the government and its agencies either through outright harassment or via denial of perquisites of office. He, however, urged such judges not to relent, adding that one of the noble virtues of a judge is courage.
Agbakoba noted that the judiciary has been under siege from the Executive arm. He was particularly irked that the official courtesies being extended to the Executive by the Judiciary has not been reciprocated.
Instead, it has earned the Judiciary even more humiliation in the hands of the Executive. He wondered why the Judiciary persists in such indulgence of the Executive even when it is increasingly obvious that the Executive has not shown any willingness towards a paradigm shift in its relations with the Judiciary. He cited the instance of the gross under-funding of the judiciary as yet another sign that the Executive arm is paying lip-service to its commitment to reform the justice sector.
Agbakoba had initiated legal action to assert funding autonomy for the judiciary and compel the Federal Government to hands-off financial matters as it concerns the judiciary. Though his position was upheld by the court, implementation has received mixed results.
On his part, Gadzama said that while judicial autonomy could not be divorced from adequate remuneration for judicial officers, the NBA must rise to the challenge of fighting especially for judicial independence and the entire judiciary. He decried poor funding of the judiciary, adding that while judges cannot speak for themselves, the NBA must fill this gap by spearheading the fight for juridical independence.
Ngige decried the poor state of judge’s remuneration. He stated that only a few judges could boast of a roof over their heads after retirement, adding that the time has come to declare an emergency on the gross under-funding of the judiciary.
Other jurists and speakers at the event were Hon. Justice E. Adeniyi-Adeogo Adebajo, Hon. Justice Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), Mr. Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), Mr. Osaro Eghobamien (SAN), Mr. Jelili Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN), Ms. Funke Aboyade (SAN), Dr. Dapo Olanipekun (SAN), Mrs. Funke Agbor (SAN), Chief Tony Okoroji and former NBA Lagos Branch Chairman, Mr. Alex Muoka among others.