Law News
Governors sabotaging judiciary, says CJN

Justice-Mariam-Aloma-MukhtarIN her characteristic bluntness, outgoing Chief Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar Monday in Abuja decried the condition under which judges across the country work, describing it as “deplorable and unsecured.”

Speaking at the opening of the 2014 Conference of All Nigeria Judges of the Lower Courts organised by the National Judicial Institute (NJI), the CJN blamed governors for the said poor conditions of service‎ of judges.

She said the governors were responsible because they have refused to obey the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended which they swore to uphold by failing to comply with the judgment of the Federal High Court, directing them (governors) to enforce the autonomy of the judiciary.

Justice Mukhtar said that she was aware that judges of the lower courts in many states were working under horrible and sordid conditions.

According to her, some magistrates sit in classroom blocks and village town halls.

She said: “Some customary and area courts sit in rented apartments. I am also aware that in some states, courts have been closed down due to political squabbles among politicians. I have heard of stories of magistrates being abducted and in many cases murdered by unknown persons due to lack of security. All these factors are so debilitating on the performance of judicial functions.

“Nobody would like to work under such deplorable and unsecured environment. Some of these problems are man made. These are occasioned by the refusal of some governors to respect the constitution they have sworn to protect and defend. How can they protect and defend what they do not respect?”

She therefore called on governors to implement the constitutional provisions in line with the judgment of the Federal High Court in this respect.

“If this is done, some of these problems would become issues of the past”, she added.

However, she appealed to judges and magistrates in the country not to use the existence of these problems as a reason to perpetrate fraud or indulge in dishonest dealings and unwholesome conducts.

The outgoing CJN urged the judges to resist every temptation no matter how overbearing they might seem.

“Since you have accepted to do this work knowing of these challenges involved, you must do it honestly, dexterously, diligently and with utmost integrity and transparency.   Like Caesar’s wife, you must be above board. You must be incorruptible,’’ she advised.

She further stressed: “As judges of the lower courts, you occupy a very strategic position in the judicial hierarchy. In almost all judicial matters, you are the first port of call. You preside over courts located nearest to the people both in urban and rural areas. You are grass root judges. Any impression of you represents the impression people will have for the entire judiciary. That being the case, you must conduct yourselves properly, abiding by the Code of Conduct for judicial officers of Nigeria.

She observed that “the present mood of the Nigerian judiciary abhorred corruption, avarice, nepotism, inordinate ambition, impudence and obduracy”, noting that “these vices are the worst enemies of the judiciary and must be eliminated.‎

All your actions and utterances must be graceful and full of integrity. Your comportment must be judicial and impeccable. As judges closest to the people and as the first gate to this heaven-like institution, you must bear in mind that people are watching you.”

Mukhtar said that the action of the judges, their utterance, actions and comportment attracted people’s detailed scrutiny.

She said: “Any negative evaluation of your character can be disastrous to the entire Nigerian judiciary. You must approach your job with dignity and respect. You must not take the respect and confidence of your host community for granted. Every society has a system of resisting any denigration of their cultural values and customary ethos.

‘‘You will undoubtedly be resisted by your host community if you try to denigrate their cultural values and customary ethos. Those of you who sit in Customary and Area Courts must be prepared to apply and enforce the customary laws and rules of your host community even if you feel that they are contrary to your perceived Christian or Islamic ideals or teachings.

‘‘The only exception is where such a customary law or rule is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience or contrary to the Nigerian Constitution or any other written law in force in Nigeria.

“As Customary or Area Court judges, you are not expected to go to court and preach the Bible or Quran. You are to apply the customary laws and rules of the people subject to the exceptions stipulated above. Your religious inclinations must not bear on the discharge of your judicial functions as judges of Customary Court or Area Courts,” he cautioned.

The CJN said the judiciary must reform to improve on its services.

According to her, the most important service rendered by the judiciary is justice delivery.

She said: “The moment the judiciary fails to render this service effectively, it ceases to be of any relevance. If that happens (and God forbids), it will be the end of justice and order and the beginning of anarchy and chaos.‎”

Earlier, the Administrator of the NJI, Justice Rosaline Bozimo had said ‎the theme of the conference: “Repositioning the Lower Courts for Improved Justice Delivery” was chosen to connect the conference with the ongoing processes of judicial reforms.

According to her, the participants occupy a very veritable position in the judicial system.

She said that in most cases the lower courts, especially the Magistracy, acted as the breeding ground of future judicial officers of the superior courts.

She said: “They are the academies from where judges of the superior courts are appointed. That being the case, they must be properly groomed, nurtured and crafted in the best way possible to make them suitable for, and conformable with higher judicial office and responsibilities.

‘‘It is through this type of conference that we ensure that we maintain standards, promote efficiency and improve on the quality of judicial service at the lower courts.”

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