Stakeholders have proffered solutions to the problems of creating a credible legal system in Nigeria. Speaking on “The Overriding Role of the Judiciary in Contemporary Democracy,” former dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Benin, Prof. Emeka Chianu, said the court was one of the chief objects in modern democracies to ensure that principles and philosophies that underlie governance were upheld.
He was speaking at the recent Justice Innocent Umezulike Memorial Lecture and book launch in Enugu, Enugu State.
Chianu said, in the 59 years of Nigeria’s independence, the people were currently enjoying 20 straight years of democracy, stressing that the judiciary had continued to support the move in line with laid down rules.
Citing various case laws, he demonstrated how Nigerian courts have grappled with the call for the gains of democracy to percolate beyond the sphere of public law to private transactional level. He also examined the application of rights to dissociate, to practice one’s religion without undue interference, to own and enjoy real property and fair hearing.
Explaining that there was need for mutuality between the bench and the bar, he said: “Democracy would thrive better when good advice was given. Nigeria’s judiciary deserves plaudits.”
Although he agreed that much was expected of judges, he, however, stated that Nigerians should learn to respect court judgements to “ensure the fledgling democracy does not decline into pseudo democracy.”
Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN) explained that subduing justice on the guise of technicalities by the courts couldn’t advance democracy: “The country’s democracy has suffered various forms of abuse. It was more disheartening when judges were subjected to arrests and prosecution as well as being hounded to write statements on issues they knew nothing about.
“It is not democracy when the homes of judges are invaded in the night by security forces. It is not democracy when judges write judgments under duress. It is not democracy when judges are being monitored as if they are common criminals.
“These and more are the many excesses, which the judiciary has been subjected to. If the judiciary must protect democracy, it must also be protected against executive recklessness.”
Dean, Faculty of Law, Rivers State University, Port Harcourt, Prof. Uche Jack Osimiri, emphasised the need for tolerance among the various religions. He said his findings and experience had showed that they worshipped same God: “One major challenge the country faced since the inception of her democracy was religious intolerance.”
He advocated the inclusion of comparative religion in the school curriculum, saying it would go long way in diluting tension among the various religious beliefs in the country
Director of the Nigerian Law School, Enugu campus, Dr Francis Ojeih, suggested a synergy among the judges: “If united, they can handle any attempt by any arm of government to undermine their constitutional role.”
Former Anambra State governor and PDP Vice Presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, praised the judiciary for holding the country together. Describing the nation’s judiciary as one of the best in the world, he said the judges have resisted attempts that ordinarily could have derailed democracy, even at the threat to their jobs:
“If a percentage of the judiciary was in the nation’s politics, the situation of the country would have been better. However that democracy had throttled because politicians are trying to infect the judiciary with their characters. But I will urge members of the judiciary to resist them and stand for that which will keeps the country united.”
Umezulike, who died last year at the age of 64, was the longest serving Chief Judge in the South East and South-South. He served as Chief Judge of Enugu State for 13 years.