Role of the judiciary in democratic government: Social Engineering or a Quagmire(4)

Ogunsakin Mustapha
12 Min Read
Ebun Olu Adegboruwa SAN

By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

In this concluding part of the paper delivered at the Bar and Bench Forum of the Ogun State judiciary, focus is beamed on the role of lawyers in shaping the fate of the administration of justice generally. The judges were first lawyers before they became elevated to the bench since under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, no legal practitioner can qualify to be appointed as a judge unless he has been called to the bar and has garnered not less than ten years of robust experience as a legal practitioner. In some cases, candidates for appointment into the higher bench are required to submit a number of cases that they have handled in the court. In order to properly assess the role of the judiciary, one must necessarily examine the role of lawyers.


We cannot talk about the judiciary without a proper x-ray of the bar being a vital component of the justice sector. The bar in this sense comprises legal practitioners who have qualified to practice law. In most cases, lawyers determine the course of justice. They constitute the foundation of law being the ones in contact with the litigants whose causes they propagate. It is the lawyers who articulate the cause of action that they received from their clients into a court case, either directly in the court or at times through arbitration or other forms of dispute resolution. At the stage of consultation, it is the lawyer who offers direction to the client as to the success or otherwise of the matter in issue. In this regard, it is my fervent belief that law should be deployed for the benefit of society, to promote democracy and good governance. Generally, the role of lawyers in shaping the judiciary can be deciphered from the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association, in its paragraph 3, wherein they are clearly stated as follows:
“3. Aims and Objectives
The aims and objects of the Association shall be the:
1. Maintenance and defence of the integrity and independence of the Bar and the Judiciary in Nigeria.
2. Promotion and advancement of Legal Education, Continuing Legal Education, Advocacy and Jurisprudence.
3. Improvement of the system of administration of justice, its procedures, and the arrangement of court business and regular law reporting.
4. Establishment, maintenance, and operation of a system of prompt and efficient legal aid and assistance for those in need but who are unable to pay for the same.
5. Promotion and support of law reform.
6. Maintenance of the highest standard of professional conduct, etiquette and discipline.
7. Promotion of good relations among members of the Association and lawyers of other countries.
8. Promotion of co-operation between the Association and other National or International Law Organizations and such other bodies as may be approved by the National Executive Council.
9. Encouragement and protection of the right of access to courts at reasonably affordable fees and of representation by counsel before courts and tribunals.
10. Encouragement of the establishment of a National Law Library.
11. Promotion and protection of the principles of the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights, human rights, and people’s rights.
12. Creation of schemes for the empowerment of newly qualified members and members living with disabilities, and for the provision of assistance to aged or incapacitated members of the Association.
13. Establishment of schemes for the promotion of the welfare, security, and economic advancement of members of the legal profession.
14. Creation and maintenance of an Endowment Fund for the proper observance and discharge of any of these aims and objects.

The Late Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams, the first indigenous lawyer in Nigeria, laid down what is considered as the foremost duties of a lawyer. He said:


“The legal practitioner lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country.”

Can the Bar be seen as living and existing for the direction of the people and the advancement of the cause of the nation through effective administration of justice? As Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN succinctly said, it takes an activist Judge to appreciate an activist lawyer but when we have an activist body of lawyers, this will strengthen the activist Judges on the bench.


We need a strong Bar that must speak truth to power and take a position on every issue of governance. Lawyers must encourage judges in the promotion of democracy and good governance. It was the Honourable Justice Augustine Nnamani, JSC (as he then was) who said that “a courageous, honest, industrious, vigilant, independent, knowledgeable Bar is a necessary instrument for the protection of the rights of the society.”

The Nigerian Bar Association (the NBA), otherwise known as ‘The Bar’ is an analogous term for ‘the Nigerian Lawyers’. To therefore understand the duties and role of lawyers in promoting democracy, keen attention must be paid to the Constitution of the Nigerian bar Association and the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) governing legal practitioners in Nigeria. The Bar is thus seen as the sentinel of democracy whereby it serves as the Watchdog, on behalf of the society, to monitor and ensure the observance of the rule of law and respect and enforcement of fundamental and people’s rights by the Government. It is this apparent expectation from the legal profession that has earned the Bar Association several labels like “defender of rights and protection of liberties”, “bulwark of our nascent democracy”, “voice of the voiceless”, and “conscience of the nation”, amongst others.


Advancement of the Rule of Law


From the foregoing, it is clear the essential role that must be played by lawyers is to ensure that the law is upheld at all times. Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN validated this point when he said that all legal practitioners can best serve the cause of the country if they uncompromisingly protect, defend, advance and observe the rule of law. The rule of law is the bastion of democratic stability in any nation. Lawyers inescapably ‘the Bar’ must ensure that the law not only rules but that it is seen to rule. Everybody, from the high horses of the ‘governors’ to the low terrains of the ‘governed’, must be brought under the law to which nobody will be above it. Sadly, it is the non-observance of the rule of law in Nigeria that led to the seeming collapse of the administration of justice in Nigeria.


I would like to state the dictum of Honourable Justice, (JCA) IBRAHIM MOHAMMED MUSA SAULAWA, at page 45 – 46 Paras B – E in the case of SAHARA REPORTER & ANOR v. SARAKI (2018) LPELR-49738 (CA) , I quote:

“I have deemed it expedient to reiterate the fundamental axiom, that an independent and courageous judiciary is the greatest asset of a free people anywhere in the world. This is absolutely so, because by the very nature of the fundamental functions and role; the Judiciary cannot shirk its sacred responsibility to the nation and maintain the rule of law. It is both in the interest of the Government and all persons in Nigeria.”

It has always been one of the pillars of freedom, one of the principles of liberty for which on recent authority we are now fighting, that the judges are no respecters of persons and they stand between the subject and any attempted encroachment on his liberty by the executive, alert to see that any coercive action is justified by law.

As I end this discourse, let me stress that the judiciary is indeed in charge of the justice delivery system, which is a crucial component of the process of sustaining our nation. It must carry out its institutional duty of administering justice impartially and without fear or favour. Where it falls short in this area, it creates an environment that is conducive for impunity to thrive. The incapacity of a state’s institutions to provide justice, which forces people to turn to self-help and completely dismantles law and order, is one of the most obvious indications of state failure. By occasionally providing difficult-to-swallow messages to Nigerians, particularly corrupt politicians, it is also effective in purging the political and electoral processes. The judiciary has horned the abused procedures for impeaching governors, as we used to know, altering candidates in primaries without consequence, and cloning elections drastically. The Bench and the Bar bear immense responsibility for averting this terrible state of anarchy, which can develop when people lose faith and confidence in the judicial system.

My Noble Lords and distinguished colleagues, on a final note, I commend the event’s organizers for giving me and other participants a forum to deliberate on the topic of how the judiciary can carry out its sacred duty to the justice delivery system while promoting the judiciary as an essential component of Nigeria’s efforts to build an infallible democratic nation. God bless Ogun State, God bless Nigeria.

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