A few days ago, 14 serving Justices of the Supreme Court wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria. In the letter, their lordships lamented the excruciating pains and experiences they go through to dispense justice in the apex court. Their lordships, I believe decided to document their complaints to the CJN, to demonstrate the degree of seriousness the matter has assumed. I will not repeat what they said here. My main worry here is how these noble men and women of advanced age can be subjected to the agony they demonstrated in their letter and then we expect them to deliver justice in judgments.

Goats, said my dad, do not bite unless pushed to extreme provocation and against the wall. I think their lordships have been pushed to the wall beyond the limit of elasticity of endurance. Currently, S. T. (Hon.) SAN is in court to fight for the relevant authorities to do their work by increasing the salaries and allowances of our judicial officers across the board. Many of us Senior Advocates of Nigeria have joined him to fight this noble cause. 

There is no dispute that the Nigerian judiciary is not being fairly treated not only by the other arms of government but by some of those who have the privilege to lead that arm of government. There is more we need to do as lawyers and Nigerians to see that the lots of Nigerian Judiciary and judicial officers are bettered than we have now. 

These judges in the first place are human beings. If you do not want he-goats to fornicate, then you must train the she-goats to learn to cover their nakedness. These judges take merge salaries but they try causes and cases that involve billions of dollars and Naira. They are prone to temptations in a bid to do their work. We want a corrupt-free judiciary but we are not prepared to do what will insulate the judiciary from corruption. Judges have no good cars. When state governments acquired some substandard cars for these judiciary officers, they go to town to advertise them as achievements. Nigerian judiciary still writes in long hands. No good working environment. Some judges still climb bikes in some places. Some cars of these judges are so rickety that they are like death traps.

The letter by all the Justices of the Supreme Court to the Chief Justice of Nigeria should worry us as leaders of the Bar. I just hope the body of Senior Advocates and the leadership of the NBA will not look at the letter as one of the usual things in Nigeria. When my lord Eko JSC, as he then was in his valedictory speech at the Special Court session marking his retirement from the Supreme Court Bench, made some revelations and called that EFCC and ICPC should look into the ways and manner heads of the court were managing money allocated to the judiciary, he was speaking as an insider. He spoke the minds of many oppressed judges and judicial officers. He spoke the minds of all reasonable users of the seat of justice in Nigeria. He was frank and blunt as anyone with reasoning faculty can appreciate. 

The efforts by S. T. (Hon.) SAN and some of us in the court are good but we need to do more. Truth needs to be told and those who have denied the judicial officers even the meager they ought to get and they are not getting should be dealt with according to law. 

We cannot pretend that all is well with our judiciary. Judiciary in Nigeria is sick. It is on life support. It is lacking financial oxygen. Judicial officers are under serious and excruciating environmental unhygienic. That itself has polluted the stream of justice. No hungry man can select the meals to eat. I have not seen the leadership of the legal profession doing want it ought to do. The just-concluded primaries of political parties showed that there is money in Nigeria. The mumbo jumbo salaries and allowances by other arms of government should be extended to the judiciary. Judiciary must be well equipped to deliver justice to the Nigerian people. We have starved the judiciary to the point that their lordships can no longer bear it. They have spoken and I believe the 14 wise men of the Supreme Court spoke for the entire judiciary. In some states, judges are just treated by their chief judges as if they the Chief Judges are superior in knowledge and learning to their brother judges. That should not be. The Bar and the Bench must come together now to fight for the liberation of the judiciary from the slavery status it has been put by those within and outside the judiciary. Unless we do so, we may return to the state of nature where people will no longer use the judiciary to settle their disputes. God forbids this to happen.

J. S. Okutepa SAN


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