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How judiciary can protect democracy, by experts

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For Nigeria’s democracy to continue to flourish, the judiciary must not only be seen as active but must deliver justice without fear or favour. Nigerian on the other hand should support the activities of the judiciary by providing it with the needed tools as well as abide by its decisions.

These were the views of eminent lawyers, jurists, and politicians who gathered in Enugu on penultimate Friday at a one-day memorial lecture and book presentation in honour of the late Enugu State Chief Judge, Justice Innocent Azubuike Umezulike.

Umezulike, who died last year at the age of 64, was the longest-serving Chief Judge in the southeast.  He served as Chief Judge for 13 years and had 23 books, especially on land and property laws, to his credit.

Speaking on the theme ‘The Overriding role of the Judiciary in Contemporary Democracy’; a Professor of law and former Dean of Law, University of Benin, Prof. Emeka Chianu, observed that the court was one of the chief objects in modern democracies to ensure that principles and philosophies that underlie governance are upheld.

He said that in the 59 years of the country’s independence, the people were currently enjoying 20 straight years of uninterrupted democracy, stressing that the judiciary had continued to support the move in line with laid down rules.

Citing various case laws, he demonstrated how Nigerian courts have grappled with the call for the gains of democracy to percolate beyond the sphere of public law to the private transactional level. 

He also examined the application of rights to dissociate, to practice one’s religion without undue interference, to own and enjoy real property and fair hearing, adding that any rule that tends to adjudicate the child was not aimed at achieving democracy.

Explaining that there was a need for mutuality between the bench and the bar, he said that democracy would thrive well when good adv
ice was given, adding that Nigerian courts deserved plaudits.

Although he agreed that much was expected of Nigerian judges, he stated that Nigerians should learn to respect court judgments to “ensure the fledgling democracy does not decline into pseudo-democracy”.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu, while contributing to the subject matter, explained that subduing justice on the guise of technicalities by the courts cannot advance democracy.

He stated that the country’s democracy had suffered various forms of abuse, adding that it was more disheartening when judges were subjected to arrests and prosecution as well as being hounded to write statements on issues they knew nothing about.

“It is not democracy when the home of judges is invaded in the night by security forces. It is not democracy when judges write judgments under duress. It is not democracy when judges are being monitored as if they are criminals.  These and more are the many excesses that the judiciary has been subjected to. If the judiciary must protect democracy, it must also be protected against executive recklessness” he said.

A former Dean of Law, River State University, Port Harcourt, Prof Uche Jack Osimiri, emphasised the need for tolerance among the various religions, stressing that his findings and experience had shown that they worshipped the same God.

Stressing that one major challenge the country had faced since the inception of its democracy was religious intolerance, he advocated the inclusion of comparative religion in the school curricular, saying it would go a long way in diffusing tension among the various religious beliefs in the country.

Director of the Nigerian Law School, Enugu campus, Dr. Francis Ojeih, suggested a synergy among the judges, saying, “if united, they can handle any attempt by any arm of government to undermine their constitutional role.”

A Federal High Court Judge in Delta State, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, said the judiciary must continue as a defender of democracy, saying it must not succumb in the fight against autocracy.

Former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, who was chairman on the occasion, praised the judiciary for holding the country together. Describing the nation’s judiciary as one of the best in the world, he said the judges have resisted attempts that ordinarily could have derailed democracy, even at the threat of their jobs.

Obi stated that if a percentage of the judiciary was in the nation’s politics, the situation of the country would have been better, adding however that democracy had trotted because “politicians are trying to infect the judiciary with their characters.  But I will urge members of the judiciary to resist them and stand for that which will keep the country united”

Obi who related his experiences while in courts in an attempt to recover his electoral mandate stated that he never gave a kobo to any judge to write judgment in his favour nor visited any at home.

He described Umezulike as one of the finest judges the country had produced, calling him a man of ideas and great intelligence.  He said his contributions to the bench would remain evergreen.

Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed said Umezulike showed panache for not strictly adhering to precedent and ensured that his inclusive judgments foreshadowed the move towards molding the law to suit changing times and circumstances.

He said the book;  “a chronicle of leading judgment” was a three-part volume offering “in-depth analysis of the landmark judgments of an intellectual giant and one of Africa’s most prolific writers on land and property law”.

Anglican Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province, Most Rev Emmanuel Chukwuma asked the federal government to obey judgments of the courts in the interest of the judiciary and country at large.

Chukwuma said Umezulike was “incorruptible”, despite the glitter of lucre and bobby traps on his way, stressing that he bestrode the legal world like a colossus and that his cerebral prowess was evident in his many leading literary works and incisive judgments.


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