2011 All Nigeria judges CONFAB: Towards the sustenance of the judicial ethics in Nigeria
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Customary to the judiciary, it is incumbent on the Administrator of the National Judicial Institute, NJI, once in every two years, to converge both sitting and retired jurists in the country, to the round table, where issues militating against the justice sector are distilled and analyzed for enhanced performance in the future.
The purport of this all important Judges conference is to create a platform for judicial egg-heads to fertilize ideas with a view to not only appraising perceived grey areas in justice administration system in the country, but for the judiciary to take retrospective glance at its level of performance vis-a-vis the expectation of the citizenry.
This year’s conference was electrifying, considering that it felled within a period the judiciary is passing through one of its most trying periods since inception.
In no time has this arm of the government suffered much bashing in the public arena than it did in recent times, starting with the uncanny face-off that ensued between the ex-Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloysius Katsina-Alu and the suspended President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami.
Though the new CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher had in many fora, expressed his determination to restore dignity in the judiciary by reviewing every facet of justice administration in the country, however, there was need to secure the commitment of other key players in the sector, an opportunity that was created by this year’s event.
It was indeed a harvest of cognoscenti of judicial big-wits at the Andrews Otutu Obaseki Auditorium, where President Goodluck Jonathan on November 12, flagged-off the “2011 All Nigeria Judges Conference” at the NJI premises in Abuja,
The theme of the conference which lasted for a period of five days was “towards the sustenance of judicial ethics in Nigeria.”
Setting agenda for the participants, President Jonathan in his speech minced no words in expressing his displeasure over the perceived snail pace of justice administration in the country.
He specifically warned that “for the judiciary to retain the confidence of the populace, the wheel of justice must move more speedily and must be seen to be doing so, without any compromises.”
He further noted that, “Fairness, Impartiality,
Integrity and incorruptibility are values that the judiciary is expected to hold dear and individual judges must take seriously”, stressing that the theme of the conference, “tallies with our desire to effect the transformation of the entire polity.”
He however warned all the judges at the hall to be mindful of the fact that “at all times, whenever you decide cases, you are by that singular act putting yourselves on trial before the public.”
This position of the President no doubt, brings to the fore the burning issue of pervasive corruption in both the bar and the bench, a situation that has made legal institutions like the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to call for an urgent review of the justice administration system in the country.
In accentuating this reality, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, in a welcome address he presented at the event, emphasized that the theme of the conference was “very apt, relevant and germane to the most critical challenges we face today.
”It is a theme that points at the foundation of the problems affecting the quality and timeliness of justice delivery in Nigeria.”
According to the CJN, “the importance of a credible, efficient, independent, impartial, honest and virile judiciary in building a stable democratic nation cannot be over-emphasized; it is indeed a necessary ingredient towards building a peaceful and decent society.
”Though we have recorded some commendable successes in stabilizing this country on many occasions, our failures appear more visible in the eyes of the ordinary citizen. The importance of our constitutional responsibilities clearly indicates that the bar must be raised much higher.
”Like doctors in an emergency ward, our performance is mostly based on where we falter rather than where we succeed. Therefore, an average performance is clearly below the expectation of Nigerians”, he added.
Stressing need for total revamping of the judiciary, three former CJNs, Justice Lawal Uwais, Justice Legbo Kutigi and Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, called for the adoption of a national judicial policy that will ensure that judicial authority is exercised with utmost degree of propriety.
They argued that the most anticipated visible consequence of such national policy should be the re-awakening of hope in the judiciary with presence of more efficient courts where cases are speedily determined at very minimal cost, as well as, the possibility of all court users being attended to in a professional and well-assured manner.
Kutigi said: “a situation whereby judicial ethics and by extension code of conduct for judicial officers are often disregarded and or discarded in the conduct of affairs, would certainly portend danger for the institution and the society at large. Although the judicial arm of government had always done its best in the discharge of its constitutional functions, I feel it is honourable to admit that things are not as they ought to be.”
Calling for the adoption of six values enunciated by the Bangalore principles of judicial conduct in Nigeria, Justice Uwais said there was need for judicial independence, which he identified as a pre-requisite to the rule of law and fundamental guarantee for fair hearing.
Meanwhile, accentuating need for an urgent review of justice administration in the country, administrator of the NJI, Justice Umaru Eri, maintained that the “judiciary has a responsibility to do what it can to increase public and media understanding of the role of judges and the operation of the court system and in so doing, discharge the great burden placed on us by the constitution and by extension the society.
“If by our action or lack of it there is a perception that we have shirked our basic responsibilities, then the society resorts to self help and the consequences can only be best imagined”
Having therefore identified that all is not presently well with the judiciary, it is the expectation of Nigerians that these key players in the sector will go beyond the realm of rhetoric and match their words with corresponding actions.
That indeed is the only sure way to restore confidence of the citizenry in the customary description of the judiciary as the bastion of hope for the common man.