A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr Olisa Agbakoba SAN on Monday took a look at the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN) and declared it too powerful, undemocratic, and inimical to the progress and efficient administration of the justice system.
Agbakoba said this on a television programme, ‘Morning Show‘ anchored by Dr Reuben Abati on Arise Television. Agbakoba in reaction to the valedictory speech of Justice Musa Mohammed Dattijo of the Supreme Court of Nigeria last Friday, confirmed the position of the retiring justice that the CJN office is too powerful for the good of an efficient judiciary. He however said that Justice Dattijo did not refer to the person of the incumbent CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola in the valedictory but to the office. He said that prior to Dattijo, Justice Samson Odemwingie Uwaifo of the same court in his valedictory speech in 2004 made similar comments when he warned that politicians will destroy the judiciary. He therefore opined that Nigerians need to take the comments of Dattijo seriously before the system totally collapses.
“Of the three arms of government- the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary, the most undemocratic actually is the judiciary”, adding that the CJN controls virtually every agency under the judiciary- the National Judicial Council(NJC) Federal Judicial Service Commission(FJSC), National Judicial Institute (NJI), and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee(LPPC). ‘The gap between the CJN and other judges, including the state chief judges, is like God in heaven and man on earth’, he said.
An example of the gap, according to Agbakoba is that the Registrar of the Supreme Court earns more than its justices. He said that this shows that some things are not right. “It is only the CJN that has a right of accommodation after retirement, one in Abuja, and the other in his hometown running into billions of naira. Other justices have no such privileges. I know as a fact that the late Justice Niki Tobi lived a miserable life after his retirement. A lady justice had no home to go after serving in the court. All these things will have to be looked into”, he said.
The human rights lawyer recommended the implementation of the late Justice Dahiru Mustapha’s report on the reforms of the judiciary. According to him, the late Justice Mustapha was the most reform minded Justice to have served as the CJN. “The problem with judges is that they have no clue as to judicial administration versus administration of justice. They are two different things. Which is why the judiciary since independence has been fairly but badly run”, adding that the Supreme Court and the judiciary remains ‘toxic’.
However, Agbakoba disagreed with Justice Dattijo Mohammed on whether the absence of Justice of the apex court from South East and North Central extraction affected the court’s judgment in the Atiku Abubakar, and Peter Obi’s election petition decided by the court in favour of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. “The presence or absence has no consequence on the court’s judgment” he said after a thoughtful pause.
Agbakoba then noted that Nigerians have a habit of vilifying the judiciary when the actual problem lay within the agencies. “We need to really really take the opportunity of the lesson I think Dattijo Muhammed’s valedictory- which has been the most candid- has given us. It’s to understand where we are in the judiciary, and if we want to reverse judicial failure, then the current NJC must implement it.”
The former NBA president, giving his opinion on the solution to these issues, said, “Public opinion of the judiciary is at its lowest ebb, and I think that this is something that the judiciary ought to take very seriously. They ought to take the points made by Justice Dattijo Mohammed extremely seriously.”
He said that it is up to the judiciary to work on the things Dattijo mentioned otherwise, “the judiciary is going to go downhill.”
“So, what I would recommend to the current NJC is to have a very good look at the report, update it, and absolutely remove the powers of the CJN to be everywhere,” he said.
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