Lawyers: Acting CJN must restore lost glory of judiciary
AKEEM NAFIU writes that lawyers have tasked the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, on the need to strengthen constitutionalism, respect for the rule of law, due process, accountability and transparency as he begins to steer the ship of the nation’s judiciary
“The Acting CJN has a huge responsibility to revisit the salient issues and concerns proceeding his appointment and keep them firmly in the front burner of judicial reforms until they are all resolved.
This is most expected since he could rightly be referred to as the protagonist and lead Justice of the Justices of the Supreme Court who publicly protested against the former CJN. “Thereafter, he should take deliberate steps towards profound reforms that could deal conclusively with similar challenges across all strata of the Nigerian judiciary.
The Acting CJN must consciously embark on concrete reforms and innovations that can guarantee speedy dispensation of justice”, one of them said. Another one said: “The Acting CJN should institutionalise a policy of zero tolerance for corruption across board and erring judicial officers should not be spared under any guise. He should prevent impunity from our collective consciousness. He should insist on obedience for court orders.
This, he should do, not minding who is affected. “He should try as much as possible to put in place, measures to avoid delays in our justice delivery system. The acting CJN should restore public confidence in the judiciary by emphasising competence, integrity, character and capacity in judicial appointments and justice delivery services”.
The above quotes are part of submissions by some senior lawyers on their expectations from Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, who was recently sworn-in as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) in Acting capacity by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The lawyers while expressing their concerns over the state of affairs in the nation’s judiciary said the Acting CJN should rise up to the occasion by providing impeccable and integrity-driven leadership. The mantle of leadership fell on Justice Ariwoola last week Monday after he was sworn-in as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari following the resignation of Justice Tanko Muhammad on health grounds. Prior to his resignation, the former CJN had a running battle with his colleagues on the Bench of the Supreme Court.
In an unprecedented manner, 14 Justices of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Ariwoola, wrote a protest letter to the former CJN outlining operational challenges that have almost crippled efficient adjudication of cases at the court.
The aggrieved Justices said their action became necessary following the refusal of Justice Tanko Muhammad to address the issues despite drawing his attention to them. Issues raised in the protest letter ranges from the rickety state of official vehicles of the Justices, electricity tariff, supply of diesel, Internet services to Justices’ residences and chambers, to epileptic electricity supply to the court.
While urging the CJN to act promptly on the issues raised, the Justices said: “We must not abandon our responsibility to call Your lordship to order in the face of these sad developments that threaten our survival as an institution. We have done our utmost best to send a wake-up call to Your Lordship.
A stitch in time saves nine”. However, in his response to the letter, Justice Muhammad maintained that the apex court have been living up to its constitutional responsibility and that since the court does not exist on its own, it is also being affected by the economic and socio-political climate prevailing in the country. Justice Muhammad promised to meet with his colleagues on the way forward, but this was not to be following his sudden resignation from office.
Acting CJN’s profile Justice Ariwoola’s profile on the Supreme Court’s website indicated that he was born on August 22, 1958, and was appointed a Justice of the apex court in 2011. The jurist, who hails from Iseyin in Oyo State, had earlier before his appointment to the Supreme Court served as a Justice of the Court of Appeal between 2005 and 2011.
Before his elevation to the Court of Appeal Bench in 2005, he served as a judge of the High Court of Oyo State, a position he was appointed to in 1992 from private legal practice. Justice Ariwoola started his education in his home town Iseyin at the Local Authority Demonstration School, Oluwole in Iseyin Local Government Area of Oyo State between 1959 and 1967. He was in the Muslim Modern School in the same town between 1968 and 1969 before proceeding to Ansar-Ud-Deen High School, Saki in Oyo North of Oyo State.
He studied law at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile Ife, Osun State, and bagged his bachelor of laws degree with honours in July 1980. He was called to the Nigeria Bar and got enrolled at the Supreme Court of Nigeria as a Solicitor and Advocate soon thereafter. Before his elevation to the Supreme Court, he served as Justice of the Court of Appeal in Kaduna, Enugu and Lagos Divisions.
Justice Ariwoola is expected to retire from the Supreme Court Bench in 2028. Lawyers’ agenda for Acting CJN A cross-section of senior lawyers have been speaking on their expectations from the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola.
The lawyers while baring their minds on the issue at the weekend said the Acting CJN must hit the ground running to tackle the myriads of problems confronting the judiciary. Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Jibrin Okutepa, noted that the task before the Acting CJN is onerous and daunting.
Okutepa said: “The task before my lord, Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, is not only onerous and daunting, but also very challenging. I am happy that his lordship was one of those Justices of the Supreme Court, who, from what we read, complained about leadership at the apex court and now the leadership baton has been handed over to him.
“So, what I am expecting therefore from his lordship, like millions of Nigerians, is that he must as a matter of necessity provide impeccable, integrity-driven leadership. The leadership that would be a shining example for other judicial officers to follow.
This is because the Supreme Court of Nigeria is not only a court of law, but also a court of policy. I expect my lord, Hon. Justice Ariwoola, to lead the Supreme Court to give us judgements and decisions that have contents of justice”. Another silk, Mr. Hakeem Afolabi, asked the Acting CJN to uphold the rule of law in his actions.
“The Acting CJN should strive to uphold the rule of law. He must work to change the perception of public about the Supreme Court particularly with regards to the issues raised in the letter written to the former CJN. That letter created a negative perception on the image of the Supreme Court as an institution. The Acting CJN should look into issues of delay with regards to giving dates to pending cases in the court”, Afolabi said.
A former National President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, said the Acting CJN should embark on a total reformation of the judiciary. Ugwummadu said: “Confident is at the centre of justice delivery system of every nation.The notion of justice disappears when the public looses confidence in the justice delivery system.
“Accordingly, the Acting CJN has a huge responsibility to revisit the salient issues and concerns proceeding his appointment and keep them firmly in the front burner of judicial reforms until they are all resolved. This is most expected since he could rightly be referred to as the protagonist and lead Justice of the Justices of the Supreme Court who publicly protested against the former CJN.
“Thereafter, he should take deliberate steps towards profound reforms that could deal conclusively with similar challenges across all strata of the Nigerian judiciary. The Acting CJN must consciously embark on concrete reforms and innovations that can guarantee speedy dispensation of justice.
“The problem of huge backlog in the dockets of our lord Justices culminating in adjournments of cases in the appellate courts for over one full year and longer at the Supreme Court is no longer acceptable.
The time frame within which cases are dispensed with in Nigerian Courts are unduly long and exhausting. The Acting CJN must develop fresh mechanisms and bureaucracies by which Justices of Supreme Court of Nigeria are insulated from finance management and day-to-day administration the judiciary.
“Finally, issues of recruitment/ appointment of Judges across board must be made public, competitive and transparent. Similarly, disciplinary processes in the judiciary must be taken seriously as it should in the Bar”. A rights activist, Mr. Kabir Akingbolu, asked the Acting CJN to fight every form of corruption in the judiciary.
“The Acting CJN should draw up a developmental plan for the judiciary starting from quick dispensation of justice and improvement in the welfare of the Justices of the Supreme Court which is one of the poorest in the world. I submit that there was rarely anywhere in the world where their judges, especially, the justices of the apex court of the land suffer or being subjected to mediocre treatment or welfare like that of Nigeria.
“This is too bad. The CJN should also find a way to reduce the rate the apex court meddle and interfere with internal affairs of political parties in the adjudicatory role of the court. He should ensure that any judge found culpable of corruption and misconduct shall be fired”, Akingbolu said.
In his reaction, an Abujabased lawyer, Livinus Onye, want the acting CJN to always lead by example and equally mandate other judges to live above board in carrying out their duties. Onye said: “The Acting CJN should institutionalise a policy of zero tolerance for corruption across board and erring judicial officers should not be spared under any guise.
He should prevent impunity from our collective consciousness. He should insist on obedience to court orders. This, he should do, not minding who is affected.
“He should try as much as possible to put in place, measures to avoid delays in our justice delivery system. The acting CJN should restore public confidence in the judiciary by emphasising competence, integrity, character and capacity in judicial appointments and justice delivery services.
“He should as the chair of NJC overhaul the operations of Council by enforcing consequences for judicial infractions. In summary, the CJN must strengthen constitutionalism, respect for the rule of law, due process, accountability and transparency and enhance our democratic institutions”.
On her part, Dame Ngozi Onuike, disclosed that the CJN as the symbol of justice in the country must deliver as a jurist and ensure that judges deliver too as jurists, saying the goal at all times should be the attainment of justice as the hallmark of his tenure. “He should set into action by tackling some of the debilitating factors hindering the smooth administration of justice, especially at the apex court.
“One of the greatest problems confronting litigants and lawyers today with regards to adjudication of cases at the apex court is the time it takes whether it is on civil or criminal matter for appeals to be heard.
“Litigants have died waiting for justice that was never dispensed on time. My personal suggestion will be for the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria to come up with an idea that will facilitate quicker dispensation of justice at the appellate jurisdictions.
Timely case management report of judges at the lower Bench to the National Judicial Council (NJC) has helped somehow to curb the excess delay of justice at that level. “At the lower level, more attention should be paid to the judges at the Federal High Courts.
We are still experiencing some form of uncanny delay with some of the judges in the various states of the federation”, she said. Chief Sylvester Iwuji called for a vibrant incorruptible judiciary that is devoid of favouritism and political partisanship. He further called for “a judiciary where rule of law and respect for people’s fundamental rights are respected irrespective of class, political leanings and ethnicity”.
He added that a judiciary where justice is not delayed to make it justice denied and where the NJC is incorruptible and fearless in carrying out its constitutional duties is desirable. Iwuji also stressed the need to ensure that the best of the judges and magistrates are recruited and trained.
He said ethnicity and political leanings should be discarded in the performance of judicial duties. He also urged the CJN to fight for full independence of the judiciary. A law teacher, Dr. Sidiq Abdullahi, said the Acting CJN must be pre-occupied with policies that will restore the credibility of the judiciary.
He said: “I think it may be too early to be setting an agenda for him since he is still acting. Until his appointment is confirmed, it will be premature for him to embark on any reform in the judiciary. I think what he needs now is to wait for the confirmation of his position. “What we are facing now is the challenges of allegations of corruption against some members of the judiciary. So, I think the
most important thing before the Acting CJN is how to reform the judiciary and restore its credibility. “His concern now should be how to manage the crisis. Beyond all these, the Acting CJN should look into how to improve judges’ condition of service and welfare. This should happen after the swearing-in as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
This is because since the man is still acting, there is nothing much he can do until his appointment is confirmed”. Mr. Funsho Oladipupo urged the Acting CJN to work with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and Bar leaders on how to redeem the already battered image of the judiciary. “I believe the Acting CJN understands the workings of the system. He is an old hand, an erudite, brilliant and someone who is highly valued in the legal profession.
He is not a loner but a team player. “All he needs to do now is to collaborate with the NBA and Bar leaders in order to redeem the image of the legal profession, especially the judiciary. The confidence that people once had in the judiciary which had been eroded owing to the recent happenings, most especially at the apex court must be restored at all cost.
In actual fact, people’s confidence in the judiciary is at a very low ebb now. “People’s respect for the Bar and the Bench is waning. If I were to be in the shoe of the Acting CJN, I will set only one agenda for myself. That is on how the integrity and dignity of the Bar and the Bench will be restored.
Even, if this is the only thing he can achieve while in office, I think it is okay”, Oladipupo said. Mr. Wale Balogun said he expects transparency, accountability, courage and substantial justice against technical justice as Justice Ariwoola takes charge of the nation’s judiciary.
He said: “I look forward to seeing the CJN driving the long overdue reform of administration of justice in Nigeria that will serve the overwhelming majority of Nigerians in accordance with rule of law and a Supreme Court that is blind to your status”.
*Additional report by Tunde Oyesina