Stakeholders harp on effective judiciary, promotion of rule of law
Stakeholders in the justice and public interest sector have warned that unless concerted efforts are made to rescue the judiciary from several challenges that beset it, rule of law may remain elusive in the country.
They gave the warning at the yearly conference of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL) in Abuja.
The jurists urged stakeholders to do more to secure the independence of the nation’s judiciary and ensure that it does not remain the whipping boy among the three arms of government.
In his address, the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, noted that the electioneering season is about to set in, adding that it “is in a period like this that the executives or those seeking and aspiring for political positions will not tread on the path of the rule of law, the Electoral Act and the Constitution of Nigeria, but will rather act on their whims and fancies to hold on to power.”
Represented by Supreme Court Justice, Uwani Abba Aji, Justice Ariwoola accused politicians and the executive arm of undermining the rule of law, adding that past and present regimes in Nigeria have not ceased to intervene and interfere in the premises of the judiciary and have almost diluted its supposed sanctity, whittled down its powers and authority and tampered with its independence and autonomy through various ways and means.
“I conclude that the underminers of judicial authority must understand that since the three arms of government, though separated, but fitly fused, are joined together to bring out the best in any government or democracy, undermining one arm or the other is to spell doom and anarchy for that government,” he said.
Justice John Inyang Okoro, also of the Supreme Court, while delivering the keynote address on the theme, ‘The Undermining of Judicial Authority in Democracy’ warned that nobody, whether government or citizen, is allowed to undermine an order of court or judgment.
He suggested that disobedience to court orders should be criminalised. In his address, NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata, said: “As the NBA has repeatedly advocated under my administration, the imperative of an effective judiciary in Nigeria entail the appointment/selection of suitably qualified judges, as well as discipline of the few erring judges.
“Others are judicial autonomy/independence of the judiciary, which has a direct bearing on the welfare of our judicial officers; and the need to enhance efficiency and efficacy of the justice delivery system, to reduce the chronic delays and congestion of cases in Nigeria.”
According to him, if addressed, will significantly cushion “the challenges that currently undermine the authority of our judiciary.”
In his welcome address, the NBA-SPIDEL Chairman, Dr. Monday Ubani, noted that the judiciary “has not been well-treated by the other arms” of government, adding that “the judiciary has remained a poor cousin, a weeping and aggrieved sibling in a relationship of three brothers of equal age and status.”
Goodwill messages were delivered by special guests from ROLAC, UNICEF, the Executive Secretary of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), and the diplomatic corps from Australia and Switzerland.
Among the topics dissected at the conference were “disobedience to court order and the slide to state of anarchy;” “Strengthening judicial authority in a democracy through effective and sustainable strategies;” ‘The impediments to seamless execution of court orders in Nigeria- Any way out?’ ‘Independent Investigative Panel (IIP) on human rights investigation by defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other specialized units: The process, enforcement of the panels’ decisions/rulings – Challenges, achievements and lessons learnt,’ and ‘A disruptive approach to public safety and access to justice using technology.’
The speakers included foremost human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN); Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN); NBA President-elect, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau (SAN); pioneer NBA-SPIDEL Chairman, Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama (SAN); former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN), and Executive Secretary of NHRC, Mr. Tony Ojukwu (SAN).
Others are the Chief Executive Officer of NFIU, Mr. Modibbo Tukur; Lagos State Attorney General & Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN); his Abia State counterpart, Mr. Uche Ihediwa (SAN); two-time Lagos State Commissioner, Dr. Muiz Banire (SAN), and former All Progressives Congress National Legal Adviser, Mr. Babatunde Ogala (SAN).
Among the speakers were the President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Benedict Kanyip; Justice Mabel Taiye Bello of Federal High Court, Owerri Division; Associate Professor & Dean of Faculty of Law, Ave Maria University, Dr. Sam Amadi; Deputy Vice Chancellor of Afe Babalola University and United Nations Independent Expert on Business and Human Rights, Prof. Damilola Olawuyi (SAN), and immediate past NBA-SPIDEL Chairman, Prof. Paul Ananaba (SAN).
Others were former Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Prof. Adedeji Adekunle (SAN)); former Senior Special Assistant on Justice Sector Reform & General Counsel to Lagos State Governor, Mrs. Oyinkan Badejo-Okusanya; former NBA General Secretary, Mazi Afam Osigwe (SAN); pioneer United Nations Special Rapporteur on Summary, Arbitrary and Extrajudicial Executions in Nigeria, Prof. Valerie Azinge (SAN), and Secretary of the Independent Investigative Panel (IIP) on Human Rights Violation by Defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and Other Specialized Units, Mr. Hilary Ogbonna.
Also in attendance were the NBA 1st Vice President and IIP Member, Mr. John Aikpokpo-Martins; Executive Director of PRAWA and Co-Chair of the NBA-SPIDEL Development Law Group, Dr. Uju Agomoh as well as the Chief Executive of Law Pavilion, Mr. Ope Olugasa.