By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — Barely three months after the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, accused him of unwittingly contributing to the undue delay in prosecution of high profile cases of corruption in the country, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, yesterday, fired back, blaming it on ineptitude of judges.
Whereas the CJN made her allegation on a day she administered oath on 25 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, at the Supreme Court, the AGF, in a speech he presented at the commencement of the 2012/ 2013 legal year of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, said the perceived delays in trial of cases should be blamed on the inability of judges to sit as and when due, as well as pervasive acrimony between the Bar and Bench.
Lamenting that the judicial landscape in Nigeria had been invaded by charlatans, the AGF, said: “We are witnesses to complaints about trial delays occasioned by judges not sitting as and when due, the inability of judicial officers to take control of their courts and the granting of frequent adjournments at the behest of counsel.
“While one is not condoning the activities of a few bad eggs in the judiciary, it is necessary to eschew these vices that have unfortunately crept into our profession in order to restore dignity to the profession and respect for our judges.”
It would be recalled that the CJN had in her speech, argued that “the administration of justice is not confined to the courts; it encompasses officers of the law and others whose duties are necessary to ensure that the courts function effectively.
“The constitution provides that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, as the chief law officer of the federation has the power to institute, undertake, take-over, continue or discontinue criminal proceedings before the courts of law in Nigeria in respect of offences created under any Act of the National Assembly.
“It, therefore, follows that the courts cannot on their own prosecute criminal cases, there must be the willingness of all prosecuting agencies to prosecute cases brought before our courts, especially high profile cases of corruption and all others.”
Courts lack essential office tools
Remarkably, the CJN had equally flagged-off the 2012/2013 legal year of the apex court on the day she made the assertion.
Meanwhile, utilising his right of reply yesterday, the AGF, stressed that the government was not oblivious of the “difficult and challenging conditions under which our judicial officers discharge their functions,” adding that, “given the technology driven and globalisation world that we live in today, there is the need for specialisation to enable our justices to develop key competence in the emerging fields of law.
“Despite the commendable improvements that have been made in the emoluments of our judicial officers, the reality is that overall, the judiciary has not reached where it ought to be.
“Our courts still lack essential office tools, accommodation, transport facilities and adequate security. Today, judges and their families face threats on accounts of their judicial functions. This situation has been made worse by the current security challenges in the country in form of terrorist attacks, kidnapping, assassinations and armed robbery.
“Let me assure you of government’s determination to address these challenges and stem the tide of growing insecurity in the country. Our objective is to ensure that our judicial officers are afforded the best facilities and the enabling environment to discharge their duties without fear or favour.
Bar contributes to negative image of judiciary
“My lords, permit me to use this auspicious occasion to air my views on the relationship between the Bar and the Bench in this country. I am constrained to observe that the Bar has over the years consciously or unconsciously contributed to the negative image the judiciary has suffered in recent times. It would appear that the sacred duty or responsibility of the Bar to protect the Bench from unwarranted attacks or assault from those with a score to settle has lost its significance. Consequently, the traditional reverence with which the Bar held the Bench in the past has diminished and is gradually dwindling to unacceptable levels.
“It is a matter of regret that ethics and discipline at the Bar, in terms of comportment and respect for the Bench, has taken a downturn. Members of our noble profession now routinely launch unwarranted attacks on the Bench in the print and electronic media. Judgments are criticized to the glee of the press even before the reasoning of the court is read and understood. In fact, it is safe to conclude that it has become fashionable for some lawyers to label any judge they disagree with as corrupt.
“Similarly, the disposition of our judicial officers to the Bar must also reflect the mutual respect existing between the Bar and Bench. Our judicial officers must resist the temptation of descending into the arena and conducting proceedings in an oppressive and intimidating manner. This is the only way to reclaim our profession from the charlatans that have invaded our space.”
Meantime, in his own speech, the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Lawal Gunmi, decried that armed robbers recently unleashed coordinated attacks on some of the Customary Court buildings in Abuja and carted nine 60KVA power generating sets, saying the attack was in addition to the outright vandalisation of other property like chairs, office tables, and air conditioners.
“In one instance, two of the four security guards on duty were brutally killed in cold blood while one has been rendered permanently incapacitated from gunshot injury. This callous and dastardly act was taken up at the highest executive and judicial levels and the police have made inroads with the arrest of about nine suspects who are still being interrogated.
“In view of this and other numerous security challenges bedeviling us, we crave your indulgence as you will witness a higher level of security alertness in and around the High Court within this legal year. But, we will try as much as possible to minimize contact between our security personnel and court users and to achieve this we have installed 30 camera CCTV system to cover the entire High Court premises. This is in addition to the Bomb film protection already installed alongside handheld explosive detector systems for use in our major courts.”