The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tank Muhammad on Monday vowed that the Supreme Court under his watch will never be subservient to any person in Nigeria, no matter how highly placed the person or the office occupied.
Justice Muhammad also insisted that for peace and tranquility to prevail, governments and their agencies in the country have to adhere to the rule of law and obey judgments and orders delivered by courts.
The CJN’s declaration may not be unconnected with insinuations that the judiciary including the Supreme Court may have been cowed and compromised by the executive.
But Muhammad, in his speech on the state of the judiciary delivered during the special session of the Supreme Court marking the 2019/2020 legal year, said though he may have assumed office as CJN, “after the unfortunate events that shook the Nigerian Judiciary to its foundation”, he was nevertheless determined to leave behind a justice system that would be the pride of all.
Speaking on the independence of the judiciary, Muhammad said, “the Nigerian Judiciary, to a large extent is independent in conducting its affairs and taking decisions on matters before it without any extraneous influence.
“At the Supreme Court, like I have always said, we are totally independent in the way we conduct our affairs, especially judgments. We don’t pander to any body’s whims and caprices. 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”, he said.
The CJN however admitted that the judiciary cannot enjoy or know true independence if it has to go cap in hand, asking for funds to run itself. “It is like 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? He queried.
The CJN accordingly appealed to governments at all levels to “free the judiciary from the financial bondage it has been subjected to over the years.”
“Let it not just be said to be independent but should, in words and actions, be seen to be truly independent. We would not like to negotiate our financial independence under any guise”, he said.
The CJN also used the occasion to stress the need for all to adhere to the tenets of the rule of law at all times to avoid a situation of anarchy and also preserve the nation’s democracy.
“The rule of law which is the bastion of democracy across the world will be strictly observed in our dealings and we must impress it on governments at all levels to actively toe that path. The right of every citizen against any form of oppression and impunity must be jealously guided and protected with the legal tools at our disposal.
“All binding court orders must be obeyed; nobody, irrespective of his or her position, will be allowed to toy with court judgments. We must collectively show the desired commitment to the full enthronement of the rule of law in the land.
“As we all know, flagrant disobedience of court orders or non compliance with judicial orders is a direct invitation to anarchy in the society”, he said.
While stressing that such acts are completely antithetical to the rule of law in a democratic environment, Muhammad said the Supreme Court under his watch would however not tolerate it.
The CJN at the occasion inaugurated 38 Senior Advocates of Nigerian whose elevation to the rank was announced in July by the Legal practitioners Privileges Committee.
Also in his speech, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), called on Justices of the Supreme Court not to bow to the pressures of different political actors, irrespective of any irregularity that might have occurred in the course of dispensing justice by different election tribunals.
“It is important that this court, as a final arbiter remains just and resolute in resolving all issues presented before it.
“Let me at this juncture, reflect on the issue that has dominated the public space in recent times that requires our collective urgent attention, which bothers on granting of interview by Counsel during the pendency of a matter or after judgment has been delivered over his matter.
“I must state that in as much as the Constitution enjoins freedom of speech, it has to be within the context of ethics of our noble profession.
“Therefore. it is not in the interest of the Nigerian legal profession for lawyers, who are bounded by Rules 1 and 30 of the Rule of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, to grant interview disparaging the Court of law and its judgment, thereby eroding the sanctity of our judiciary”, the AGF said.
Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanentl Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Justice Mr Dayo Toba Apata SAN represented Malami at the occasion.