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Judiciary @ 50: Lawyers react

Mr Mohammed Adoke, SAN, Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, Chief Justice of Nigeria

By Innocent Anaba and Wahab Abdullah
Nigeria turned 50, today. Naturally, a man or woman who has attained the age of
50 cannot by any account be regarded to be a kid.

But in the case of Nigeria, despite her 50 years of nationhood, not much can be said about the country, with more than enough human and material resources.

Interestingly, the problems in the other sectors of the country, have not spared the judiciary, irrespective of the very important role it is expected to play in the un-bias resolution of disputes between citizens, organisations and the state.

In this edition, we bring to you, views of Nigerian lawyers on their assessment of the judiciary, 50 years after independence.

Among those who spoke are Mallam Yusuf Ali, SAN, Chief Robert Clarke, SAN, Emeka Umeagbalasi, Chairman, International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, John Oziegbe and Senior Partner, Partnership for Justice and Chris Agbiti, an Abuja based legal practitioner.
Excerpt:

Mallam Yusuf Ali, SAN:
Without any iota of doubt or fear of contradictions, Nigerian judiciary has been the most credible, patriotic, productive, sensitive, transparent and most reliable among the three arms of government in Nigeria since 1960.

Examples of these are abound everywhere. It is very clear that the judiciary is the only arm of government that was able to sanction its members through its strong and credible internal cleansing mechanism.

The Nigeria judiciary has helped the nation’s polity to stabilize at every point in time. It has contributed in no mean measure to our national development and stability. It has stood its ground in the face of military tyranny and oppression. It has demonstrated its courage in face of the civilian’s rascality.

It has shown that Nigerians, (Judges) from all indices can rub shoulders with any other members, (Judges) in any part of the world.

Nigeria judiciary is so strong that we have been exporting our Judges, where necessary and needed. It was from the same Nigerian judiciary that we produced Judges,  who served in different part of the Africa sub-region.

It was the same Nigerian Judiciary that produced the likes of Justice Teslim Elias, Prince Bola Ajibola of this world, who become Judge in Hague,  one of  the strongest arms of the United Nations.

The story of the Nigerian judiciary is from glory to glory. When we were under the military in 1970-71, it was the same judiciary that called the military government into order, in the case of Lakanmi vs the AGF.

In 1979, it was the judgment of the court that sent the military junta away. Also, when the Ibrahim Babangida regime embarked on its contraptions, it was the judiciary that save the situation and resolved knotty issues. Though, eventually, the government came back to the Abacha junta, even at that, the court did not keep silent in the face of Abacha’s tyranny.

When the civilians came into power again, it was the court that checkmated the excesses of the political office holders. This was seen in Ladoja’s case,  where the court reversed the illegality carried out by the legislative arms of government in Oyo State.

Giving all these and comparing the judiciary with the other two arms of governments, one would not but hail the nation’s judiciary for its courage and steadfastness. Even, in the fight against corruption in Nigeria, the judiciary has performed its best in the fight against corrupt practices and  reduce the scourge of corruption.  So, to every rightful thinking person, Nigerian judiciary, no doubt has done well.

Chief Robert Clarke, SAN
We thank God that we are 50 years old as a country. The Judiciary as one of the three arms of government has not done badly in Nigeria. Though, as a nation, there have been challenges faced by the judiciary, like other arms of Government.

It must, however, be on record that out of the three arms of government, the Nigerian judiciary has been up and doing, for the roles it had played and still playing in our modern society. However, like what is happening to other arms of government and other facets of the Nigeria society, the judiciary in some years back has some grey areas requiring improvements.

To me, however, if you examine the judiciary in whole, it has not done badly, but if you take the Court of Appeal in isolation, they are not performing very well, in view of cases before the Courts, where the same court of concurrent jurisdiction gave different judgments almost on same issues at different divisions of the court.

The decisions of the courts, especially at the Supreme Court and sometimes at the trial courts have not been too bad.

Unfortunately, the tempo is coming down. Indeed, the Nigeria Judiciary had encountered numerous challenges, which in some areas make them strong, while in some areas, they need an improvement. While the conducts of the Supreme Court and some States/Federal High Courts have appreciated, those of the Appeal Court and the Magistrate/Customary/Area Courts have depreciated.

Speaking on the political development and law process, for any nation in the world, to develop it must have a very strong legal system. So, this means that any nation that has no very strong legal system, that could guarantee due process and the rule of law, can never be developed.

So Nigeria was so lucky that what we inherited from the British colonial masters has helped us a lot. Based on this, Nigeria was able to have a very long and strong legal and court system, which has helped a lot in the socio-political development of the country.

So, in the area of legal practice we are not doing badly. However, we need to buckle up to meet the contemporary issues and ensure that the nation lives up to expectation.

You cannot assess the judiciary without the Lawyers, who are the minister in the temple of justice. Lawyers  in the country have been doing their best in the development of the nation and its court system. However, there is skepticism that lawyers are aiding the politicians in creating clog in the wheel of court system, vis a vis the political development of the nation.

Part of the arguments was that Lawyers use the court to support some politicians in filing frivoulous cases before the court.  You find a governor sometimes, who used dubious method to win election, he must have spent all his money to win by all means, he would want to recoup what he spent from public cover.

He would get money to pay lawyers who would ensure that cases are not determined timely.

Emeka Umeagbalasi:
Traditionally, the Nigerian Judiciary should be congratulated for turning 50 years of age. But a critical look at how she had fared in the past 50 years would show that it has been 50years of tortuous existence. No doubt, she got her parenthood from the Great Britain and her Common Law.

The Nigerian Judiciary has served her “slave master” known as the Validity Act of 1865, who freed her in 1960 after a turbulent slavery that lasted for 95 years. In 1958, she was asked to prepare herself for “independence” and in 1960, she was freed. Nigeria, her mother, also began her journey to free herself in 1957.

Unfortunately, Nigerian Judiciary had to be brutally colonized and suppressed again by the Military totalitarianism, which lasted for almost 30 years. The Nigerian Judiciary bounced back in 1999, during the return to civil polity.

The Judiciary operated with corporate conservatism until the arrival of the Honourable Justice Alpha Belgore headship of same, who replicated some elements of the world’s greatest “expansioner” of the law scope, the late Lord Denning. At this point, the Judiciary became loved, endeared and cherished. The next was the arrival of the Justice Idris Legbu Kutigi, who followed his predecessor’s precedence to a reasonable extent.

Unfortunately, the tempo is dimming again. We now have Billionaire Election Tribunal Judges and all what not. Indeed, the Nigeria Judiciary had encountered numerous challenges and more challenges are still mounting. Cost of justice and access to justice has remained elusive. While the conducts of the Supreme Court and some States/Federal High Courts have appreciated, those of the Appeal Court and the Magistrate/Customary/Area Courts have depreciated.

Prosecutions of civil and criminal cases still linger for so long a time. Except in Lagos State, other States still hold criminal suspects via committal proceedings longer than necessary. Our laws have also remained substantially static.

Our task to the Nigerian Judiciary is to ensure that our scope of law is steadily expanded. There should also be the decentralization of the Supreme Court, creation of more divisions of the Court of Appeal and appointment of more Justices to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.

John Oziegbe:
The Nigerian judiciary has come of age. In the last fifty years, decisions have been churned out that have helped shaped the country on the right path.  The cases are too numerous to mention but a few will suffice. I laud the judiciary for its giant steps in cases that have brought about electoral reforms in Nigeria

The Supreme Court decision that enlarged the political space for more political parties is a locus classicus which will ever remain in the annals of our judicial history (thanks to Chief Gani Fawehinmi of blessed memory). This case led to the amendment of the then Electoral Act and liberalization of the procedure for registering parties.

The same goes for court decisions touching on human rights of individuals. We have seen the judiciary taken the bold steps to correct the mentality that most Nigerian inherited from the military era.

The case brought by Miss Okere Uzoma and Addullahi Abdulazeez against Naval ratings in which a substantial sum was awarded against the Naval Officers for brutalization and assault reiterates the courts’ stand to enthrone a more humane society governed by civilized people. Justice Opeyemi Oke summed it up succinctly:

“It is highly shameful and unimaginable that such could happen in this 21st Century in a civilized society and democratic one. It should therefore be condemned in very strong language” Also the Federal High Court case that reaffirmed the rights of prisoners infected with HIV/AIDs to freedom from


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