The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, and the President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Augustine Alegeh (SAN) yesterday decried the tag on the Judiciary as corrupt.
Justice Mohammed said the barrage of criticisms against the judiciary is as a result of ignorance of the operations of the judicial system while Alegeh faulted the general condemnation of the third arm of government.
They spoke in Abuja at a valedictory court session held in honour of retiring Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Muhammad Saifullahi Muntaka-Coomassie.
The judiciary has been under attack recently over its handling of corruption and electoral cases. Also recently, President Muhammadu Buhari was quoted as expressing doubt about the commitment of the Judiciary to his government’s anti-corruption war.
The CJN said: “I make bold to declare that the qualities of conscience and duty are essential to the functioning of our Judiciary.”
He noted that the Judiciary, “though constantly striving to redress wrongs and tilt the balance in favour of that which is right, has recently had to face the backlash of misguided opinions fashioned without due consideration of the law and rationale for the system of government that we operate.
“The judiciary is duty bound to act in accordance with the dictates of the law as it stands and not as critics would like it to be. In this sense, naive idealism is, but a pale limitation of legal certainty and it is in observing the career and jurisprudence of such eminent jurists as my lord, Honourable Justice Muntaka-Coomassie that we see this most clearly.”
Justice Mohammed spoke glowingly about Justice Muntaka-Coomassie, who started as a Magistrate in Kaduna. He expressed the hope that he will now have time for his family and “to catch up with old friends. I am also sure that it will be great to lie in bed till any chosen hour on a Monday morning.”
Alegeh deplored what he described as the “generalisation and/or categorisation” of the Judiciary as corrupt and a stumbling block to the Buhari administration’s war against corruption
The NBA President also pledged the support of the bar to resist any attempt to intimidate or harass judicial officers.
“Whilst acknowledging that there may be a few bad eggs in the system, the NBA restates unequivocally that ýthe categorisation of the entire judiciary as corrupt is a misconception and will stand solidly behind the judiciary in any attempt to intimidate or harass its personnel.”
“The NBA however wishes to souýnd a note of warning to the few bad eggs in the system to desist from further causing untoward embarrassment to the judicial arm of government and will henceforth petition any judicial officer involved in or suspected to be involved in any corrupt or fraudulent transaction to the appropriate quarters for action. We believe that a word is enough for the wise and that wise counsel will prevail in this regard.
Alegeh called for the full compliment of justices of the Supreme Court from 15 to “the constitutional quota of 21.”.
He suggested an arrangement where the apex court occasionally holds special sessions in various regions to deal with cases from such regions, an arrangement he argued, was capable of reducing the litany of appeals and workload of the court.
On welfare, Alegeh suggested the extension of the current practice of building houses for retiring CJNs o other Justices of the apex court
Justice Muntaka-Coomassie disappointment about the state of affairs in the Judiciary.
“I am using this medium to appeal to governments at all levels to free the Judiciary from the bondage it has been subjected to over the years. Let it not just be said to be independent, but should indeed be seen to be transparently independent.
“There should not be any string attached. We should not also like to negotiate our financial independence. Let the Judiciary take its destiny in its hands. Enough of being fed with the crumbs from the master’s table.
I have devoted 38 of my 70 years to services to my fatherland. I came into service with great enthusiasm and expectations, but unfortunately, I am today retiring with maginal satisfaction. My regret, from all indications, is the regret of many of my retired colleagues.
“The Nigerian Judiciary is only third arm of government on paper. It has always been treated like a paper tiger in the scheme of things. I want to use this opportunity to call on the relevant authorities to put the Judiciary in a proper perspective. It should be placed and treated as the third arm of government in every meeting and programs as enshrined in the Constitution,” Justice Muntaka-Coomassie said.