Confab’s mixed message on judiciary reform

Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar (CJN)

Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar (CJN)

The 2014 NationalConference’s committee on Law, Judiciary, Human Right, and Legal Reforms alongsides other committees had turned up its report for the conference plenary debates and adoption on May 15th, 2014.
The 25-member committee which includes retired Justices G.A.Oguntade,  T.F.Tabai, HRH LawalHassam Gumi, Abdullahi Mustafpha, Peter Akere, Adamu Aliyu, Baba Alkali Ba’aba, Adamu Bello and Veronica Ngozi Umeh; i.e. nine in all.
While there are two law professors – Auwal Yadudu and Onje Gye-Wado, there are four Senior Advocates of Nigeria, namely,   Chief Charles Uwensuyi-Edosonwan , Dr Olisa Agbakoba, Femi Falana, Mike Ozokhome, Bayo Ojo. Other members are HRH Alh. Abdullahi Ibn Muhammad Askira 111, H.E Senator Kofowora Buknor-Akere, Dr Magadalyne Mbadzeridan Dura,Hajia Bintu Ibrahim Musa, Bar. Igberi Nweme, Ms Hauwa Evelyn Shekarau, Hon Olawale Oshun, Barr. Zubair Muhammad Umar and Chief Goddy Uwazurike.
Curiously, when the committee paid a visit to the current Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar to seek for her contribution on judiciary reform debate, she reminded them that some wise men had recently researched into the same matter.
Justice Mukhtar presented a copy of the report of the 28 wise men constituted by her immediate predecessor, Justice Dahiru Musdapher with four former CJNs namely, Justices Muhammadu Uwais, S.M.A. Belgore, Idris L. Kutigi and A.I. Katsina-Alu as members.
She told the Confab committee that the report was pending before the National Assembly for constitutional amendment.
That Justice Uwais panel had three other retired justices of the Supreme Court as members – Justices Kayode Eso (late),
A.G. Karibi-Whyte and Umaru A. Kalgo; also had Justices Mamman  Nasir, Mustapha Akanbi and Umaru Abdullahi who were former PCA.
Others are Justices R.P.I. Bozimo and Rose N. Ukeje as former Chief Judges, and Justice Lawal Hassan Gummi as the then Chief Judge of FCT with former AGFs in the panel such as Chief Richard O.Akinjide SAN and Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim
It also includes former NBA Presidents; T.J.O. Okpoko (SAN), Wole Olanipekun (SAN), O.C.J. Okocha (SAN), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Oluwarotimi O. Akeredolu (SAN) and Prince Lanke Odogiyan, Esq in addition to  Joseph Daudu (SAN) who was a serving NBA President then.
Other SANs in the panel are Dr. A.G.F. AbdulRazak, Anthony O. Mogboh and A.B. Mahmud. Hajiya Hairat Balogun, Prof. Epiphany Azinge, SAN, (Former Director-General, NIALS), Dr. Mamman Tahir (Former Director-General, Nigerian Law School) were also in the panel.
The terms of references of the confab committee and Uwais panel may differ in the language or expression used, but it is all about judiciary reform aimed at having transparent, quick dispensation of credible justice and above all having a judiciary peopled by men and women of integrity and  honour. It is about having judiciary devoid of corruption with little or absence of executive interference.
A cursory glance at the confab judiciary committee report gives the impression of boardroom or tea-room exercise on the grounds that neither public hearings were held nor memoranda were received from members of the public. Besides, there is no record of wider consultations with stakeholders, pressure groups (like NBA and CSOs) and members of academic community except the visit to the CJN by the committee members on April 28th, 2014.
However, the exigency of time and space constraint will make it inpracticable to place the confab judiciary committee report side by side with the Uwais panel report for detailed analysis in this discourse.
Though, the confab judiciary committee which was chaired by a former justice of the Supreme Court, Justice G.A.Oguntade spent 23 days to arrive at its decision, but it made far reaching recommendations capable of moving judiciary forward. Again, the committee made some recommendations that are capable of levying collateral damage on the judiciary if allowed to stand.
For instance, the confab judiciary committee recommended that a retired Justice of the Supreme Court should be appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Chief Justice of Nigeria as the chairman of the Federal Judiciary Service Commission (FJSC)
The Functions of the Commission as contained in the Third Schedule (Part 1, Section E) of the 1999 Constitution states that the Commission shall have power to advise the NJC in nominating persons for appointments to the office of CJN, PCA, Justices of the Supreme Court and the Appeal Court.
Others include the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, a Judge of the Federal High Court, and the Chairman and Members of the Code of Conduct Tribunal,
The confab committee said that the CJNs should continue to chair the NJC, in other words, a retired Supreme Court justice is now empowered to superintend over a CJN in the process of appointment of judicial officers including that of succeeding CJNs.
This sounds somehow, and could breed confusion and anarchy in the system. The right to hire goes with the right to fire.
The confab judiciary committee also recommended that ‘’Retired Justices to preside over Election Tribunals as instead of serving justices”
This recommendation failed to take historical account of the fact that electoral dispute since the advent of democracy in 1999 has led to heavy casualty in the judiciary. The temptation associated with adjudicating electoral dispute is so high to the extent that the possibility of being caught and sanctioned by NJC is not mitigating enough.
Besides, retired justices are not immune to corruption as well. The former NBA president, Mr J.B.Daudu had said some eminent retired justices do midwife between serving justices and litigants to sell judgements.
Daudu on February 17, 2010 had during a valedictory court session held in honour of late Justice Anthony Nnaemezie Christopher Aniagolu, ”vowed to expose how politicians used “consultants” to buy election cases with “incredible sums of money.”
“We are no doubt aware that some of our colleagues including very senior counsel and at times eminent retired judicial officers go about offering their services as ‘consultants’ particularly in election cases for incredible sums of money so as to act as conduit between his client and the election court. The end result is to facilitate ready-made justice for the persons they are acting for”.
The question is, can NJC that is in-charge of disciplining erring judges also sanction retired justices if found to be corrupt while presiding over electoral dispute? The answer is no.
Take for instance; against the backdrop of 2003 general elections, two justices of the Court of Appeal, were dismissed by NJC for receiving bribes of N15m and N12m respectively. This was in respect of the appeal over  Anambra South Senatorial Election Tribunal.
The Second instance was the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Tribunal set up after the 2003 Governorship Election. There were five members of the Tribunal. Whilst the proceedings were still pending in the Tribunal, on the 10th July, 2003 the petitioner petitioned NJC alleging that four of the five members of the Tribunal i.e. the Chairman, and three others had been compromised with large sums of money as bribe.
NJC investigated the complaints through a committee set up for that purpose and found that the allegations were true and that the Chairman of the Election Tribunal and three other members received bribes during the sitting.
They were accordingly dismissed from the Bench. One Federal High Court Judge who was not a member of the Tribunal, was also dismissed for corruption and abuse of office because he was found to have associated with one of the contestants in a corrupt manner.
Even the feud between the former CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu and the former president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Isa Salami which almost left the judiciary prostate was borne out of the electoral dispute.
One also hope that if the confab judiciary committee’s recommendation for review of the composition of NJC sails through, such laws will not turn the council to theatre of absurd whereby the CJN will begin to lobby council members before judges can be appointed or disciplined..
The committee’s view that ”the system that requires judges to turn in a certain number of cases/judgments quarterly without regard to the quality of the judgment should be discouraged”, appears counter-productive. Curiously enough, it is the same body that dwell on the matter of ‘’delay in administration of justice”.
Even before we sat for Common Entrance examination in our primary school days, we were warned that our successes would depend on ‘’speed and accuracy” If a target is not set in a system, what then becomes the measure to determine the level of productivity in that system?
•Ahuraka Yusuf Isah is the Media aide to the CJN
Vanguard

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