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Akiri: Fight corruption, set code of conduct for all legal officers

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Chris Akiri

Chris Akiri, prominent lawyer wants the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, to rid the sector of corruption and put in place rules to guide all law officers. He spoke to GODWIN DUNIA.

How do you want the CJN should reform the judicial sector?
The new CJN was appointed at the time the judiciary has acquired a very bad image, and at a time many problems are bedeviling the sector. I think none of these problems is beyond what a hardworking person can surmount. To me, Onnoghen should be able to resolve these issues and move the judiciary forward. Be that as it may, the most important way to reform the sector, is by waging war against corruption. What he needs to contend with is corruption, and I can assure you that after that, all others will shape up.

In the past, people used to refer to judges as people that were disciplined and sober, but I don’t think that is obtainable today going by the effect of corruption. There is no sobriety in the profession again. He should use his position as the Chairman of the Federal Judicial Commission (FJC) and the regulatory authority called National Judicial Council (NJC) to ensure that judges are called to order, and sanctions imposed against erring judges, most especially when it has to do with cases of corruption.

He should also carry out thorough investigation on all judges who are facing allegation of corruption and eliminate all the bad eggs in the sector. The new CJN should also set up a code of conduct for all judges and other law officers that will guide them in the cause of their professional practice. This is very important, if there is any will to rid the sector of corruption. A situation whereby we hear that a political bigwig invited a judge must henceforth be a thing of the past.

In line with Section 294 of the constitution, judges must be able to deliver their judgment after taking necessary evidences, within the period of 90 days. And criminal cases should not be adjourned anyhow. Cases must continue consistently until they are concluded. There should be no delay tactics under the guise of frivolous excuses. The CJN must enforce rules guiding injunctions to further help the acceleration of justice in the country. The system of continuous adjournment always affects the essence of evidence.

Judges must not receive gift and be seen attending parties or unnecessary association. I have no doubt he will succeed. Onnoghen is a man that has come a long way. It was no easy journey for him to have come this far. He is remarkable for his honesty, hard work and excellence. You need to read some of his judgment. Onnoghen is a scholar and very brilliant and I have the confidence that he is up to the task.

What is your view on appointment of judges from the bar?
I am not in support of appointing judge from the bar. This is not the practice and there is need to follow the tradition and what the law says. For instance, a lawyer like me, for whatever reasons, I am not expected to know or understand the rules of adjudication of any case more than the judge to whom I appeared. A lawyer who appeared before a judge cannot assume to know more than the judge. It is a training and experience for a judge who rose from high court to Court of Appeal, and then to the apex court. Such experience should not be jettisoned in appointing judges into the Supreme Court. The idea of jumping from the bar to the bench is to me, not good for our justice system. Those days of Justice Elias, when they were picked straight from the academia to the Supreme Court are gone. Those were exceptional cases that could be overlooked for certain reasons and those days were the days of military administrations, where anything can be done. But for now, we must realise we are in democracy. So, the right thing in a democracy is what is contained in the constitution.

Also, section 131 sub-sections 4 says if there is any vacancy in the Supreme Court, the next person to be appointed must be the most senior judge in the Supreme Court not a professor or lawyer, so we must follow the constitution.


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