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Only financial autonomy will guarantee judiciary independence —— Ajulo

By Jane Echewodo

Dr. Kayode Ajulo, a human right activist  is former National Secretary of the Labour Party. In this interview, he shares his view on measures to be put in place to ensure true independence of the judiciary, among other issues he spoke on. Excerpt:

What measures do you think can be put to ensure true independence of the judiciary?

The judiciary will become truly independent when it is granted full autonomy, especially with respect to its finances. With a fully financially autonomous judiciary, judges will not be subjected to the whims and caprices of the executive which may adopt the use of financial resources as a tool to whittle down the influence, power and efficiency of the judiciary.

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In fact, I recall vividly that at the recently held 59th annual general conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, the CJN,  Justice Ibrahim Tanko, called for full financial autonomy for the judiciary in order to uphold “justice without interference”.  Without further amplification, this statement made by the CJN captures the most important measure to be taken to ensure judicial independence.  This position is ably supported by virtue of the provision of Sections 84 and 121of the 1999 CFRN as altered.

Another issue confronting judicial independence, which must be addressed, is the political and societal pressure on the judiciary. I will restrict myself to the latter for now. Societal pressure arises as a result of the negative public perception of the judiciary which is borne out of ignorance of the frame of duties of lawyers and judges alike. The citizens most times feel that cases can be tried and decided based on emotions or some outcry. This is far from the truth.  Cases are decided based on the available facts in issue or dispute and the applicable laws.

Therefore, to bolster public confidence in the judiciary, the NBA may from time to time organise seminars and symposia aimed at enlightening members of the public on the intricacies and peculiarities of the legal profession. This will improve public perception and the image of the judiciary which ensures less pressure from the society as to the unnecessary criticisms of judicial decisions.

The other leg of it as stated earlier is undue political pressure or influence on the judiciary. This can be corrected by a de-politicization of judicial appointments.  Judicial appointments should never be a form of political compensation or patronage for ‘friends” of government. The place of merit and qualifications cannot be overemphasized with respect to appointment. The processes laid down by the National Judicial Council for the appointment of judicial officers must be strictly followed.

What do you make of the CJN recent threat that there will be serious consequences for disobedience of court orders?

The CJN as the highest judicial officer in Nigeria understands the effect of disobedience of court orders, therefore, it will be in the best interest of those concerned not to tag his “threat” as an empty or boastful one. The major effect of disobedience of court orders in my opinion is that, it is an invitation to anarchy and lawlessness.  A court order except when vacated must be obeyed and complied with. The CJN is in a position to direct the respective heads of court to deal decisively with errant government officials, agencies or even the FG itself when court orders are flouted by them. The FG could be slammed with penal cost when held in contempt by the court as a result of disobedience to its orders. This will send the right signal that the judiciary can no longer be taken for a ride.

In the alternative, the court can decide to use its power as the compass of the society to teach any executive defaulter a lesson that sovereignty resides in the people.  This is not impossible as many are wont to think.

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The EFCC Chairman has remained in acting capacity since his appointment. What is the implication of this?

With regards to this issue, I have unshakable opinion to the effect that the EFCC Chairman’s appointment does not need the confirmation of the Senate.  I have also carefully perused the 1999 CFRN as altered, I have not come across any section that explicitly provides for the appointment of the EFCC chairman, let alone mandating the confirmation of his appointment by the Senate. However, Section 171 (2)(d) of the 1999 CFRN as altered grants the President the Power to appoint the Head of any Extra-Ministerial  Department of the Government of the Federation no matter how designated.

The meaning of the term extra-ministerial department is not defined by the 1999 Constitution neither is it defined under the Interpretation Act but a cautious look at the activities of the EFCC and Statute establishing the Commission will suggest that it is an extra-ministerial department as it is not subject to the supervision of any ministry. The question that may be agitating the minds of many is that what led to uproar about the appointment and subsequent renewal of appointment of the EFCC Chair in acting capacity. The answer is not far-fetched. Section 2(3) of the EFCC Act provides thus “ the Chairman and members of the Commission other than ex-officio members shall be appointed by the President and appointment shall be subject to the Confirmation of the Senate.”

The Bar appears to have lost its capacity to hold government accountable. What really has gone wrong and how can it be remedied?

The NBA primary basis is for its members interests, just like many other human institutions is not properly insulated from  external interference especially political influence and this alone has reversed its gains of yesteryears. In its earlier years, NBA was a vibrant body committed to the pushing of the frontiers of an accountable and purposeful government. The apparent loss of capacity is due to a number of factors, chief among which is the lack of honest, courageous and fearless lawyers at the helms of affairs of the NBA. You will recall how the NBA contributed its own quota in ending the junta, the Bar and Bench were composed of men such as  Alao Aka-Bashorun, Fred Agbaje, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Chukwudifu Oputa, Justice Kayode Eso, and others  of blessed memory.

Also, the NBA suffers from its own internal “demons”. NBA leadership acts in a manner suggestive that it is not accountable to its members. There are instances where lawyers have complained of not getting as little as conference kits paid for by them. Also, the issue of lawyers’ welfare has failed to receive adequate attention from the NBA as I have it on good record that some firms pay lawyers in their employ as low as Twenty Five thousand naira monthly as salaries. This is clearly in clear contravention of the now repealed Minimum Wage Act.

The first immediate step towards repositioning of the Bar is to entrench a system that will produce a courageous and brave leadership at the National and State levels. Democracy is all about choices, given our expected role in the society, the right choice will be that those who are time tested men of integrity, capacity and character should be rewarded with leadership positions at the Nigerian Bar, failure to do this will lead to the erosion of public confidence in the Nigerian Bar. Let the NBA leadership fix and be accountable to its members before before thinking of holding government accountable.

What would be your disposition to the saying that the Nigerian Judiciary has been hijacked by dictatorial cabals?

This is absolutely incorrect, no one can cow or hijack the judiciary, this was not even possible during the dark days of the military era. The statement is just way too speculative, no doubts, there may have been several attempts to meddle with the affairs and activities of the Nigerian Judiciary, these have only come with a huge cost on the part of the usurpers and meddlesome interlopers.

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The Nigerian Judiciary is the last hope of the common man , it cannot therefore be hijacked by any dictatorial cabal. Does the ordinary Nigerian knows what it takes to be a judge of a high court for instance? A 5/6 year training at the university education level and the law school coupled with a ten year post call qualification is no child’s play, to think that one who has undergone such training can now be subjected to any form of dictatorship is a joke taken too far except of course if such a judge has something up his sleeves.

My candid advice therefore is that the Bar and the Bench must ensure that only men of character, capacity and competence are allowed within its ranks, anything short of this exposes and predisposes it to ridicule. Finally, the Nigerian Judiciary must continue to assert and uphold the sacrosanctity of the doctrine of separation of powers and the rule of law.

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