Justice Amina Augie
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Abuja
Justice Amina Augie, on Thursday, called for an urgent amendment of the 1999 Constitution to enhance the functioning of courts, lamenting that the Supreme Court once sat over a case of 12 burnt goats.
Justice Augie maintained that swift action was needed from the National Assembly to limit the type of appeals that would be allowed at the apex court.
She decried that justices of the apex court sometimes “sit all day and have to deal with appeals that do not align with the Court’s role as a policy-making court.”
Justice Augie officially bowed out of the Supreme Court bench on Thursday having clocked the 70 years mandatory retirement age.
Narrating what she termed as a perplexing example, Justice Augie said: “One remarkable day, we found ourselves entertaining an appeal in an unusual criminal case.
“Surprisingly, it was not the accused or convict that had filed the appeal; it was the State. The case involved an incident of arson where 12 goats were set ablaze.
“As we grappled with the load of pending judgments and the stack of files awaiting review for our upcoming conference — a sacred ritual in this Court — l could not help but voice my astonishment.
“I leaned over to my brother Justice and whispered, ‘with all that is on our plate, why would such a case come before us? Our primary role here is to be a policy-making Court’.
“Something must change. This Court is the apex court, and its final decisions shape society’s social order. Justices should be able to focus on what truly matters.
“They could issue directives for formulating specific policies or amend existing ones to better serve their intended purposes.
“But how can they do that when they are drowning in an overwhelming caseload?” the retired jurist queried.
Justice Augie, who was the sixth woman to be elevated to the Supreme Court in over 50 years, said she was confident that the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, who was once her student at the Law School, would initiate the constitution amendment process.
“I had the privilege of teaching him evidence. And I trust that he learned it well. Hence, it should be evident to him that swift action is needed from the 10th National Assembly to accomplish what others could not — amending the Constitution to enhance the functioning of our courts in Nigeria.
“It is said that a teacher’s reward is in Heaven. I cannot wait to reach Heaven to receive my reward for teaching him because it is my sincere wish that the justices coming behind me do not go through what those before them went through.
“Thus, I implore the National Assembly to undertake the necessary constitutional amendments. By doing so, this Court and its Justices can be freed from the constraints that impede their ability to fulfill their mandate of upholding the rule of law, justice, and democracy,” she added.
In his speech at the valedictory court session that was held in honour of the retired jurist, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, showered encomiums on her.
He noted that she “diligently and meticulously offered unquantifiable services to her fatherland and the generality of humanity in different capacities for several decades.”
He said: “We are all here to felicitate with an accomplished judicial colossus that has offered the best of her intellect to the advancement of the legal profession through her several years of inimitable adjudications and unprecedented judicial prowess.”
In his remarks, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, expressed the readiness of the Federal Government to elevate more judicial officers to the apex court bench which has depleted to 11 justices owing to Justice Augie’s retirement.
The AGF further stressed the determination of the President Bola Tinubu-led administration to improve the welfare and condition of service of judicial officers in the country.
He said the government would support critical reforms that would enhance greater access to justice, facilitate speedy trials and build confidence in the country’s judicial and legal systems.
The AGF described Justice Augie as an embodiment of patriotism, acknowledging that she made several far-reaching legal and judicial pronouncements that have continued to generate reviews from legal commentators.
On his part, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau, SAN, decried that no other Supreme Court in the world is as over-worked as that of Nigeria.
He said there was an urgent need for the government to speedily improve the remuneration of judicial officers in the country.
Meanwhile, though Justice Augie clocked 70 years on September 3 but the valedictory ceremony in her honour was delayed till Thursday to enable the court to resume after its annual vacation.