21 More Judges May Face Sack
- As NJC Considers Petitions
- 15 Others Queried
At the next meeting of the National Judicial Council (NJC) in June, 21 meritorious petitions against judges would be considered, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mariam Muhktar disclosed on Monday in Lagos.
Speaking at a function organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) “Rule of Law Action Group” entitled: “Rule of law – The bedrock for sustainable democracy”, she also made it known that her leadership of the council received 198 petitions against judges in her 10 months of being in office.
15 other judges had also been queried for alleged unethical conducts and their responses being awaited.
According to her, “On my assumption of office as Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council, I inherited 139 petitions, 106 of which were vexatious or baseless, only 33 of the petitions were considered worthy of attention.
“After my assumption of office as Chief Justice, 198 fresh petitions were filed, of this number, 150 were found to be frivolous, 15 are awaiting responses from Judges and only 21 were slated for consideration.”
She further added that “The Judiciary, considering its usually privileged stability in the face of political upheaval must be at the forefront of institutionalizing the rule of law. The enunciation of a radical, transformative jurisprudence by the judiciary holds considerable promise for the restoration of the rule of law and at the institutional level, signals a definitive break from the past. It behooves all of us gathered here today to pick up the challenge, join hands together and ensure that the rule of law is upheld in Nigeria, thereby extolling a viable democracy in the country.
The onus falls on those of us present here because the Judiciary is an indispensable partner in democratic governance. It is charged with the primary function of interpreting the law and therefore has a focal role in checking the excesses of the legislature and executive and building faith in the polity so that the current democratic dispensation can work.
“As the image of the judiciary in the country, we cannot afford to slack in our effort. I therefore use this medium to appreciate all and sundry who have lent their hands in support of the reforms of the National Judicial Council aimed at overhauling the judiciary. One basic fact must be clear, that nobody is out to witch- hunt any person or disparage any person’s office. The singular message remains that everything has to be done to ensure a credible Judiciary in Nigeria and no sacrifice is out of place.
“Instituting a suit in court is an explicit expression of trust and assurance in the honesty and strong moral principles of the umpire; that is to say that the intending litigant believes that the umpire will be unbiased and give him/her what he/she deserves, positively or adversely.
However, where that assurance is being questioned, then the Judiciary is said to be suffering from a crisis of confidence and this may spill over into the society at large. Every Judicial Officer must therefore be interested in actively participating in the establishment, maintenance, enforcement and observance of a high standard of conduct so that the integrity and respect for a credible Judiciary can be preserved.
“ There is indeed no reason a Judicial Officer who sits over trials should not be made to come under trial in deserving cases, as a person who cannot follow must not lead and a person who cannot practice incorruptibility must not seat at judgment over others and find it humiliating to stand trial.
“Allow me to also point out the negative habit of litigants and lawyers using petition as an alternative to appeal. What is more worrisome is that members of the bar who are learned in the country’s legal system have indulged themselves in this negative practice. This has led to an influx of frivolous petitions before the National Judicial Council.”
Aloma also warned that “anybody who raises an allegation of corruption against a Judicial Officer must be ready to substantiate same. Any person who also offers baseless allegation must in line with the relevant statutes be made to face the long arms of the law.
“Members of the bar as officers of the court are also expected to assist in this struggle. As the link between the Judges and litigants, legal practitioners must be vigilant and ensure that any Judicial Officer who breaches the principles of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers is reported and accordingly brought to book. Also, the NBA as well as the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee must be on high alert to sanction disgruntled members of the bar who use themselves as conduits to transmit different forms of inducements or themselves induce Judicial Officers.
“In the end, the fact remains that the Judiciary plays a fundamental role in national development by efficaciously resolving disputes and upholding civil rights and the rule of law, it creates a stable environment that is indispensable to economic development and social cohesion. It is crucial, not only that Judges do Justice but also that the public think that they do, otherwise the confidence/assurance of presenting cases for adjudication will be eroded. Justice must be rooted in confidence and that confidence is destroyed when right thinking people doubt the neutrality of the Judge.”
Earlier the President of the NBA, Okey Wali (SAN) in his address said the NBA was determined to deal with corruption and indiscipline at the Bar.
“Some of our colleagues have turned themselves to conduits of all sorts, hobnobbing with clients and with respect, some judicial officers to subvert the rule of law,” he stated.
The NBA leader condemned the request by the government that members of the bar should report all transactions over $1000 to government officials and described as an attempt to muscle the bar. He said: “The attempt to muscle the Bar under the guise of fighting terrorism through money laundering and anti-terrorism Acts will not work. The request that members of the Bar go to register with a government agency Special Control Unit on Money Laundering (SCUML) and report all transactions over $1000 is not only an attack on the independence of the Bar, but also a breach of the aws on Solicitor/Client Privilege and Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioners.”
Wali who harped on the rule of law and the challenge of insecurity pledged that the NBA cannot allow the foundations of law and order in Nigeria to collapse. While Fashola appealed to lawyers to shun the culture of impunity and ensure that the rule of law prevails in order to tackle the many challenges facing the country, Phillips said Nigerian laws should be fashioned to suit the need of our people. Phillips was of the view that it is high time we jettisoned the common laws and make laws that are tailored to suit our peculiar environment. On his part, Nweze in his keynote address noted that people are losing faith in the judiciary while some have argued that the concept of rule of law is a mere slogan. He condemned the attitude of some lawyers who rush to court to collect perpetual injunction restraining the security agencies from investigating them or their clients.
He observed that without the rule of law, democracy would be impracticable, adding that the judiciary has however stabilize our polity, otherwise it would have been worse than the ‘wild, wild West’.
Also at the event were governor of Lagos State Babatunde Fashola; former presidents of the NBA, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba and Joseph Daudu, Chief judge of Lagos State, Ayotunde Phillips; Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen; Justice of the Lagos division of the Court of Appeal, Chima Nweze; a life bencher, Mrs Hairat Balogun; chairman of the NBA rule of law action group, Dele Adeshina and human rights crusader, Femi Falana, among others.