…I’m embarrassed as a lawyer, says Omo-Agege
…Adds there’s no reason judiciary should lack financially
By Henry Umoru, Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Olayinka Ajayi, ABUJA
Despite is resignation, the Senate, yesterday insisted it would go ahead with the probe of former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad.
This was sequel to a motion on a matter of urgent public importance moved by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central).
The legislators took the decision as more reactions trailed the resignation of Justice Muhammad.
Those who spoke yesterday include the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, BOSAN; a lawyer, Mr. Babatunde Fashanu, SAN; and Chairman of Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran.
The Senate had on June 22, mandated the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, to, as a matter of urgency, wade into the crisis rocking the judiciary.
Yesterday, following the motion, the Senate mandated the committee to go ahead with its assignment and find a lasting solution to the matter by interacting with relevant stakeholders. This is with a view to addressing complaints raised in the petition by justices of the Supreme Court.
The Upper Chamber also mandated the committee to interface with the relevant stakeholders in the three arms of government as well as at the Bar and Bench.
Earlier, Bamidele, while moving the motion, pursuant to Rules 41 and 51 of the Senate Standing Orders, noted that poor welfare of judicial officers will affect delivery of the judiciary in respect of their output and prevent them from performing optimally.
“The sacred image of the judiciary, which is the epicentre of the temple of justice should be preserved by the Senate through appropriate legislative measures in order to safeguard this highly revered institution and prevent it from being ridiculed,” he said.
The lawmaker, who regretted the former CJN’s resignation, said “this development will not prevent the committee from going ahead with its assignment in the quest to find a probable, lasting solution to the matter.
“Though Muhammad has stepped down as CJN, most of the issues raised by the justices of the Supreme Court and other stakeholders within the judiciary remain and need to be addressed urgently to prevent an eventual shut-down of the Judiciary.”
Supporting the motion, Deputy Chief Whip, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, said “this motion will show clearly that the Senate is not unaware of the role it is supposed to play.
“Of course, in playing that role, we also respect principles of separation of powers. Our concern is that the judiciary as an arm of government deserves all the support it needs, being the last hope as far as the rule of law is concerned.”
Similarly, Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege said: “I am very embarrassed as a lawyer and someone from the judicial family. Seeing that petition on social media and eventually in the mainstream media, I was taken aback because it has never happened, it is unprecedented. There is no reason the judiciary should lack anything financially.”
In his remarks, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said: “I can see most of the emphasis is on funding. When we look into the issues, they go beyond funding. We should look at other areas, whether there is need to improve on the structures or issues that may not be about funding but funding is, of course, a major issue.”
Recently, 14 justices of the Supreme Court leveled allegations of corruption against the former CJN, Muhammad.
The justices, in a memo, protested non-payment of legitimate entitlements, non-replacement of poor vehicles; accommodation problem; lack of drugs at the Supreme Court clinic; epileptic electricity supply; increase in electricity tariff; no increase in the allowances for diesel; lack of internet services in residences and chambers, among others.
Justice Tanko denied the allegations against him by Supreme Court justices but resigned on Monday on health grounds.
Ex-CJN, Muhammad acted as a gentleman— Body of SANs
Meanwhile, the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, BOSAN, yesterday commended Justice Muhammad, saying he behaved as a gentleman by voluntarily resigning from office as CJN.
Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, who spoke to Vanguard on behalf of BOSAN, maintained that the ex-CJN acted as an honourable man.
He, however, said the body will not officially issue any statement on the circumstances that led to Justice Muhammad’s resignation.
“What do you expect the body of SANs to say? The President has commended him, so what else is there to say? Who else can commend him better than that? He has also been given a national honour.
“So, what else? For me, he acted as an honourable man and he behaved as a gentleman by resigning,” Awomolo added.
The legal body had prior to the resignation of the former CJN, attempted to broker peace between him and 14 aggrieved justices of the Supreme Court.
His resignation akin to vote of no confidence — Fashanu
On his part, Mr. Babatunde Fashanu, SAN, said the protest of 14 justices against Justice Muhammad was like a vote of no confidence in him, hence his resignation is in order.
“When all colleagues petition you and are basically complaining of incompetence in handling provision of necessities for their well-being and performance of their jobs, that is akin to a vote of no confidence in a parliamentary system and the Prime Minister, nay, the CJN has to go.
“It is unprecedented in our country and may we not be subjected to such an experience again. The judiciary is the last bus stop of the common man and the apex court must always be headed by the most qualified and competent jurist.
“The damage done to the justice system by his appointment can only be imagined and will surface to the public glare in due time. I can only wish the new Acting CJN the best of luck in correcting the damage done but he must, immediately, make arrangements for the convenience and comfort of all Supreme Court justices in dispensing their constitutional duties.”
On the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, GCON, honour bestowed on the ex-CJN by President Muhammadu Buhari, he said: “No doubt the title was ill-timed and so soon after he was forced out as CJN but whether it was deserved is out there with the jury.
“As CJN, the holder must definitely have paid his dues to get to that position and made a lot of sacrifices but the President should have tarried a little bit for the allegations against the ex-CJN to be thoroughly investigated because if found to be true, especially the part about corruption, many will not agree with the president on the award.”
He should be thoroughly investigated by NJC — Adeniran, CACOL
Also reacting yesterday, Chairman of Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, urged the appropriate agency to investigate the former CJN and be punished, if found wanting.
He said: “The allegations levelled against the outgone CJN should be thoroughly investigated by the National Judicial Council, NJC, the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, and the various anti-corruption agencies in the country. Swift prosecution should as well follow and he should be punished if found guilty of any of the allegations to deter others.
“I would also like to congratulate Justice Olukayode Ariwoola on his appointment as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria. We urge him to live above board and write his name in gold by carrying out extensive reforms in the judiciary that will facilitate speedy dispensation of justice like we have in other climes, while carrying along other supreme court Justices.”