BY IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA – Ahead of the 2015 general elections, President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, said there was need for increased vigilance on the part of the judiciary especially as it relates to the resolution of electoral disputes.
Flagging-off the 2013 All Nigeria Judges’ Conference which commenced at the National Judicial Institute, NJI, in Abuja yesterday, President Jonathan, whose speech was read by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, warned that Judges must “resist the temptation of dancing to the whims and caprices of political gladiators that destroy the political landscape”.
Rating the Nigerian judiciary as one of the best in Africa, Jonathan, noted that our judicial officers have performed credibly well in the face of daunting challenges.
Meantime, he used the opportunity and begged the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to call-off its strike that has kept Nigerian students at home for the past five months.
“While views may differ on the utility of industrial action as a means of advancing the collective interest of workers in the polity, it is an unassailable fact that labour and industrial harmony is sine qua none to the socio-economic development of any nation, Nigeria inclusive
“This administration recognizes and respects the right of workers including the right to embark on industrial action to press home their demand and have taken concrete steps to address the grievances of ASUU. I therefore use this occasion to call on ASUU to call off its strike.
“With this, Nigeria’s quest to become one of the world’s twenty largest economies by the year 2020 cannot be achieved in an atmosphere of industrial disharmony.
“It is expected that the conference will focus on factors that promote efficiency in the discharge of judicial function, the balancing of the demand for judicial accountability and independence to ensure outcome that advance the yearning of the people; all institution of government to be accountable to the people without sacrificing the integrity and independence of our judges.
“To achieve the needed labour and industrial harmony in the judiciary, government is of the firm view that the national judicial council must heed to the respective call of duty of ensuring that judicial officer are not solely given tools necessary for the effective discharge of their duty but also the enabling environment that enhances the dignity of judges and their independence.
“This is important in view of the allegation of undue trial delay, abuse in granting of ex parte and interim injunction, inconsistency in judicial reasoning, and politicization of the judiciary, infrastructure inadequacy and corruption among other.
“It is instructive to note that this perception do raise doubts among investors both local and foreign and the business community in general about the conduciveness of our environment for doing business with attendant negative consequence on government effort to attract foreign direct investment needed for development.
“It is gratifying to note that the judiciary is making concerted effort to tackle this institutional challenge. Most prominent of the measures being implemented include the review of rules of practice and procedure, and the introduction of new practice direction to eliminate bias, performance evaluation based on key performance indicators to enhance efficiency, rigorous enforcement of code of conduct for judicial officers to address ethical standard and enforce discipline on erring judges,” he added.
In her speech, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mariam Aloma Muhktar, describing the theme of the conference, “Towards Labour and Industrial Harmony in the Judiciary” as apt and relevant, stressed that the centrality of labour and industrial relation to the buoyancy and sustenance of the nation’s economy can hardly be overstressed.
“When therefore there is labour and industrial dispute, a resort is made to the Judiciary for intervention, resolution and pronouncement on the rights of parties on each side of the divide. This, the Judiciary of this Country has been doing faithfully, consistently and creditably.
“Even the Judiciary is not immune from labour disputes. There have been situations in the recent past where Courts have been locked up by Union Leaders in the Judiciary. The resultant effect in such unfortunate occasions was that the Court could not discharge its constitutional duties of adjudication with attendant negative consequences.
“A situation where courts are hindered from discharging their duties no doubt spells doom not just for the Judiciary as an arm of Government but the economy of the Nation. A breakdown of law and order becomes imminent. Jungle justice and a reinvention of Thomas Hobbes’ State of Nature may become inevitable.
Besides, the CJN lamented the dwindling budgetary allocations to the judiciary, saying “A situation where the Head of a State Judiciary continues to go cap in hand to beg for funds to run and maintain the Courts leaves much to be desired.
“The experience of the Judiciary under the 2013 Budget is perhaps the worst ever. The constitutional mandate of the Judiciary is such that there is no aspect of it that can be jettisoned. Unfortunately, while Judicial Officers cannot embark on industrial action to press their demands, support staff of the Judiciary has never hesitated to lock up Courts to demand what they consider is their due.
On behalf of the Judiciary of this Country, I strongly appeal to Your Excellency and the distinguished members of the national Assembly to please come to the aid of the Judiciary. A virile and independent Judiciary is in the interest of the entire citizenry and all the other arms of Government.
“Let me also add, Your Excellency, that the success of the Judiciary under this Administration is no doubt in the best interest and an achievement of Your Excellency as the President of this great Country. I believe that we have a listening President seated in our midst and I take solace in the expectation that our plea will promptly be attended to.”