The trial of Nigeria’s judiciary
Indeed, the negligible condition of the wig and gown cannot be well illustrated by none other than the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed who the other day at a special session held to mark the commencement of the 2019/2020 legal year of the Supreme Court said the judiciary has become a beggarly institution. The statement is not only shocking but agrees with the old saying that he who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. No wonder the judiciary known for its uprightness and firm decision in delivering the judgment of late has been woven with controversial judgments.
In the eye of the public court, the court is on trial. The judiciary is an institution regarded as the last hope of the common man and one that has no respect for anybody except the law. It is regrettable to note that the judiciary’s current financial state seems to make the sacred institution vulnerable. The wig and gown are now known for its rampant adjourning of cases especially high profile ones to an extent that witnesses will become tired to appear in court and the public lose interest in following the proceedings.
It is indeed disheartening to hear Chief Justice Tanko lament that the judiciary is not free because it begs for the fund. His words, “If you say that I am independent, but in a way, whether I like it or not, I have to go cap in hand asking for funds to run my office, then I have completely lost my independence. It is like saying a cow is free to graze about in the meadow but at the same time, tying it firmly to a tree. Where is freedom”?
The beggarly nature of the judiciary is embarrassing to the nation as it may lead the judiciary into the temptation to be biased. Indeed, the judiciary is in a difficult position to be neutral if cases involve persons or government that stand between its financial strength, therefore, the judiciary risks undermining its respect for a pot of portage. The CJN is right to be wary about how the legal institution is drifting towards losing its independence. Hence he noted that “The court should not be seen to bow to the pressure of different political actors, being the last hope of every litigant, irrespective of any irregularity…it is important that the courts as a final arbiter remain just and resolute in resolving all issues presented before it”.
The judiciary’s predicament is a reminder that the nation is at a crossroads with history and everyone should be worried especially the fact that in the 21st Century, court proceedings in Nigeria are yet to be computerised. The need for a novel reform in institutions of governance is inevitable so as to achieve a wealthy and peaceful nation. To accomplish judicial freedom or financial autonomy is not going to be easy because governments all over the world enjoy the grip on an institution like the judiciary and law enforcement agencies which they curiously use against opposition parties and critics. However, the CJN is hopeful that the government will sooner than later get the judiciary out of its pitiable financial condition. Justice Tanko warned that: “Let it not just be said to be independent but, should in words and actions, be seen to be truly independent. There should not be any strings attached. We would not like to negotiate our financial independence under any guise… a stitch in time saves nine. Let the judiciary take its destiny in its hands”.
Indeed, one cannot agree more with the CJN’s call for the judiciary to stand up for itself because governments past and present always create an avenue where it tries to stymie the judiciary’s efforts to be free. One ugly outcome from the beggarly nature of the judiciary is the government’s continued flagrant refusal to obey court orders. Ironically, the same government will use the court to punish persons alleged to be corrupt or those whose views are contrary to the governments’ position.
A case in point is the charge of treason and money laundering against the convener of Coalition for RevolutionNow Omoyele Sowole as well as others like Dasuki and El-Zahzacky in continued detention even after the court has ordered their release. In this sense, judicial independence is a testament to prove Buhari’s government extraordinary claim to be committed to the rule of law as well as honour for the spirit and letters of the Nigerian Constitution.
In more ways than one, the judiciary is not blameless for its political infirmity and financial afflictions. The judiciary is likened to the case of pastor Niemoeller (victim of the Nazis’ holocaust) who said: “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the communists and I did not out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me”.
Over the years the judiciary has played displayed lack of independence because of its financial dependence and as the old saying goes, ‘he who pays the piper always dictates the tune’. So, Nigeria’s judiciary has no one but itself to speak and rescue itself out.
The earlier the judiciary finds its ‘financial’ feet the better because the judiciary is the eye with which the world sees the country. And if true that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man why then does government continue its flagrant disregard of court orders? It is not an overstatement to say that, governments’ disregard for court orders will encourage a state of anarchy in the society as people will take laws into their hands rather than rely on the judicial system. Also, foreign investors will shy away from a country whose government does not obey court orders. Because if for instance an investor has a legal dispute with the government and wins, chances are that the government will frown at it and disobey the court ruling.
President Buhari should be wary of political obituarists quote of Enoch Powell’s melancholy observations that “…all political careers …end in failure”. Buhari should waste no time to strengthen the judiciary and other institutions and desist from surrounding himself with so many old people like government officials. This is because his greatest strength comes from the youth. Those who will help Buhari reposition the nation’s economy and other institutions are not among his old chums either in the military or political associates because they are dim bulbs with low energy and lacks brightness. Buhari’s greatest gift is the young men and women of this generation and he must not fail to tap them.
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