The battle for the independence of the Judiciary in Nigeria is now or never.

Bar leaders act as if things are okay. When the main crux of the judicial process, the Judiciary budgetary process, is left to political control, talking about pedestrian issues. The Nigerian Judiciary is under siege from politicians and it is now a laughing stock by the public and the international community.

Injunctions are now commonplace, even those that determine the main matter at Ex Parte or interlocutory stage.

We lost it during the Onnoghen case. Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria was removed from office with an Exparte order by the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, who was equivalent to a Magistrate in Nigeria and we all stood by and watched. What a shame!

I said then, that it was not about Onnoghen, but it was about the desecration of an institution that is sacred. That desecration is now hunting us all. We are now victims of our silence.

Now things have become sore and even direr. Citizens will seek injunctions against governments when they have established legal rights, and have shown urgency in the matter, showing that the balance of convenience is on their side and that damages will not adequately compensate them for the looming losses if the injunction is not granted. They are denied the injunction, which is concomitant with their case's facts.

In the converse, government and forces in and around government seek even Ex Parte injunctions, when they have not shown any established legal right, where the order sought will one way or other determine issues in controversy. The injunctions are granted, even in the face of insufficient affidavit evidence and the law which precludes such judicial indiscretions.

To make matters worse, leaders of the Bar keep quiet amid such judicial somersaults and the impunity and injustice go on and on. We now have judgments that do not even make common sense. The charade continues on all fronts. We are now a laughing stock. We either get it right now or lose it forever. We will be victims one day!

Justices Taslim Elias, Fatai Atade Williams, Chukwudifu Oputa, Udo Udoma, Aniagolu, Mohammed Bello, and Peter Irekefe, will all be crying in their grave, lamenting the state of the Nigerian Judiciary.

The Bar must rise up to the occasion.

The appointment process of judges must be taken out of the purview of politicians. In this regard, we must amend the constitution to leave judicial appointments to judicial authorities alone. We must also move against those judges who are associated with politicians and which associations show in their rulings and judgments. We know them. They should be forced to resign. Appointments and interviews of Kenyan judges are covered live on television. We must remove the secrecy that accompanies the appointments of Nigerian judges. It must be open to public glare and public scrutiny. This is the only way we will be sure that there is transparency in the process of appointment.

The days of announcing the appointment of judges by NJC statements should be over. Let Nigerians see by themselves who is qualified and who is not. Let the selection process for judges be covered live on television. That is the only way we can vouch for the integrity of the process.

We will not be proud to bequeath this Judiciary to our children. You might gain the system today, but you can become a victim tomorrow.

We should also fight for the financial independence of the Judiciary, as provided for by Section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As amended), which provides thus:

"Any amount standing to the credit of the Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the state shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned."

There is no magic about the issue. Just pay the money standing to the credit of the Judiciary on the first line charge from the Consolidated Revenue Funds to the heads of court. It is that simple. What is the hullabaloo about this? If you protect the rule of law, while in office, the rule of law will protect you while you are out of office.

The Judiciary should also be self-assertive on issues when the law is on its side.

In Kunle Edun & anor. V. The Cross Rivers State House Of Assembly & Ors., where Kunle Edun, the National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA ), and Ike Augustine a radical lawyer from Owerri, Imo State, both challenged the propriety of the Cross Rivers State House of Assembly denying the most senior judge in Cross Rivers being the Chief Judge of Cross Rivers State because she is from Akwa Ibom though married to a husband from Cross River, the Federal High Court in Calabar ruled that there is no evidence that the House of Assembly was unfair to the judge. That was another case of the Judiciary not being self-assertive, ruling against itself when the facts and the law were on its side. The case is now on appeal and luckily two leading lights in the legal profession in Nigeria, Femi Falana, SAN, and Ferdinand Orbih, SAN now lead the legal team of the reformist lawyers.

If you can not liberate yourselves little by little, nobody will liberate you and if the political class knows that you are a toothless bulldog when it comes to your issues, they will continue to run the Judiciary as a parastatal of the government house.

Budgeting is governance. The man who controls the budget controls the structure. The inconvenient truth is that you can not get real justice in Nigeria, the way the Judiciary is being run now as per the budgeting process. The men who approve the budget, and sign the cheque, all have cases or have friends and family who have cases in court. How do you expect justice in such a very partisan arrangement?

A situation where a Chief Judge or the Chief Registrar goes to the government house and begs for money, that is, that of the Judiciary and sometimes they are denied, is completely unacceptable. In some states of the federation, if the expenditure of the Judiciary is more than one million naira, the Chief Judge is at the mercy of the governor. How can we have justice in such a scenario?

Those in power should also know they will not be there forever. You will be a victim of the system you festered today, and tomorrow if you do not follow the law today. I promise you that.

About the Author:
Douglas Ogbankwa Esq., @[email protected], a Lawyer, Policy Analyst, and Writer, is the Convener of the vanguard for the Independence of the Judiciary (V4IJ).

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