THE visit, by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen on President Muhammadu Buhari to brief him on activities in the Judiciary on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, is a welcome development.
Irrespective of the principle of separation of powers inherent in the presidential system of government, the heads of the three arms of government need to have a common platform where information, ideas and perspectives are exchanged to bring everyone on the same page in governance without necessarily compromising institutional independence.
The CJN emphasised this point after the meeting with the President when he told reporters: “There are basic things which everybody must know. We must all work together and cooperate for the system to move forward”. Meetings like this will give the heads of the Judiciary and the Legislature the opportunity to appreciate the issues the President is pushing in order to fulfill his promises to the people, particularly in the area of anti-graft war. It will also enable the President to understand the peculiar challenges facing the Legislature and the Judiciary which, perhaps erroneously, put them out as deliberately impeding the anti-corruption war.
If this understanding had existed there probably would have been no need for the President to feel the Judiciary is willfully putting a dampener on the anti-corruption war.
A constructive platform of this nature will make it easier for the Judiciary to quickly resolve many of the hanging issues requiring its intervention. These include the question as to whether the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, needs the Senate’s confirmation to function legally, and whether the National Assembly has powers to overrule the Independent National Electoral Commission on the order of elections.
Perhaps due to sheer ego and the pursuit of selfish political interests, these matters remain unresolved when a simple referral to the Judiciary would have put them to rest.
Working together will enhance greater understanding of the leadership of each arm of government of their respective places and those of their counterparts in our democracy. This will gradually minimise undue friction, reduce impunity and promote faster delivery of the dividends of good governance.
We must point out however, that cooperation should not be misconstrued as abdication of the principle of relative independence. Any attempt to compromise the independence of the Legislature and the Judiciary will be a betrayal of the Nigerian people and the laws of the land which both institutions represent. This will not be tolerated.
Separation of powers and independence of the various arms are the core issues that define our brand of democracy. We must learn how to operate the presidential democracy in a seamless manner without giving in to becoming the rubberstamp of the Executive.