Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, on Monday revealed that the events that saw his ascension to his present position shook the nation’s judiciary to its very foundation.
Although, Justice Muhammad did mention the name of his predecessor, Justice Walter Onnoghen, he went ahead to call for the full enthronement of the rule of law in the land.
He noted that the flagrant disobedience of court orders and non-compliance with judicial orders is a direct invitation to anarchy in the society.
“Certainly, such acts are completely antithetical to the rule of law in a democratic environment and will not be tolerated under my watch as Chief Justice of Nigeria. We must all work together to make Nigeria one of the front line countries that observe all the tenets of the rule of law and rights of the citizens.”
The CJN spoke at a special session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the new legal year, where Justice Sylvester Ngwuta who was suspended from the bench resumed his duties.
Ngwuta who joined his colleagues at the event sat behind the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, and Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour as the third most senior Justice of the apex court.
He was charged with money laundering before the Federal High Court in Abuja, and with assets declaration breaches before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
But both cases were dismissed in 2018 following a Court of Appeal’s verdict which prohibited the trial of a serving judge without being first disciplined by the National Judicial Council.
While speaking on the circumstances that elevated him to the position of the CJN, Justice Muhammad noted ” the 2018/2019 legal year which ended on Friday, 26th July, 2019 was significantly remarkable. I was appointed in acting capacity in the course of the year after the unfortunate events that shook the Nigerian judiciary to its very foundation.”
In another reference to the Onnoghen crisis, the CJN said, “At the commencement of the 2018/2019 legal year, it was as if the year would take a much longer time to end in view of fussillade of events that beclouded that particular phase of the Nigerian judiciary.”
Justice Muhammad who spoke in the presence of two former CJNs, Justices Alfa Belgore and Mahmud Mohammed, however, expressed gratitude to Almighty God that “We have been able to weather the storm, stabilised our sail.”
He added, “I can assure you that our ship is on a steady cruise to success and prosperity.”
Recalled that Justice Onnoghen was slammed with criminal charges that eventually ended his career in a controversial circumstances.
Meantime, the CJN who reiterated his call for judicial independent lamented that though the nation’s judiciary is independent in conducting it’s affairs and taking decisions on matters before it without any extraneous influence, it still go cap in hand, asking for funds to run its affairs.
He likened the situation to “saying a cow is free to graze about in the meadow, but at the same time, tying it firmly to a tree. Where is the freedom?
“When we assess the judiciary from the financial perspective, his free can we say we are? The annual budget of the Judiciary is still a far cry from what it ought to be. The figure is either stagnated for a long period or it goes on a progressive decline.
“The only thing I can do at this juncture is to plead with all concerned to let us enjoy our independence holistically. If you say that I am independent, but in a way, whether I like it or not, I have to go cap in hand, asking for funds to run my office, then I have completely lost my independence.”
Regardless, Justice Muhammad boasted that the Supreme Court under his watch will dished out judgments without pandering to anybody’s whims and caprices.
His words, ” If there is any deity to be feared, it is the Almighty God. We will never be subservient to anybody, no matter his position in the society. ”
The CJN equally expressed the need for the entire criminal laws to be thoroughly appraised and updated so that those aspects that are primordial and no more in tandem with modern trends can be updated.
He said “it is always very embarrassing when you see some of our overzealous security bagents hurriedly bring suspects to court without due diligence or any form of preliminary investigations.
” In most cases, it is when trial commences that they now begin to look for evidence to prosecute them. This act is not only condemnable but also, a major cog in the wheel of speedy Justice delivery. ”
Others who spoke at the ceremony that climaxed with the inauguration of 38 new Senior Advocate of Nigeria were the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro (SAN), the Body of Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour (SAN), wife of Justice Rhodes-Vivour who spoke on behalf of the new SANs.