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  • Updated: March 02, 2024

Political class responsible for impunity in Nigeria — Justice Buba

Political class responsible for impunity in Nigeria — Just

A retired Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Buba, has said that Nigeria’s political class and not the judiciary is responsible for the prevailing state impunity in virtually all the sectors of the country.

He warned that until the political class, which constitutes the executive arm of government, begins to obey the orders of courts, good governance would continue to elude the country while democracy would continue to be endangered.

Justice Buba spoke in Abuja at a one-day workshop on Judicial Accountability, organized by TAP Initiative in conjunction with the Open Society Foundation (OSF).

The jurist said that although the judiciary, amongst other arms of government, has the strictest forms of regulations as well as qualifications, the failure by politicians to respect the country’s Constitution and their own rules would not make Nigeria a better society.

In his keynote address titled, ‘Impact of Judicial Accountability on Public Trust in the Legal’ the retired Federal High Court judge observed that if politicians play by the rules, a lot of political cases would not reach the courts in the first instance.

“The Nigerian judiciary, undoubtedly, is being overworked by politicians to sustain democracy, it is very easy for an outsider not to see the “cow” on the head of the politician and political class, to quickly see the “lice” on the head of the judiciary”, he said.

“No amount of judicial activism by the judges can better society if the political class are not willing to play by the rules of the game, according to the constitution of their parties enacted by them and given to themselves, a fotiori the Constitution of Nigeria.

“Obedience to court orders is sine qua non to order and good governance, if judgments of courts and court orders go forth without respect and come back without effect, society and by extension democracy will be endangered,” he added.

While arguing that never in the history of Nigeria are the courts so inundated with pre-election matters and election petitions, as under the current dispensations, the former jurist submitted that the Nigerian judiciary has given a very good account of itself.

According to him, the “judiciary despite all odds, has to work with incompetent, poorly paid support staff whose trust cannot be guaranteed, judgments can be leaked to the press before being delivered”.

“The Nigerian judge, a product of the Nigerian society and not from the moon, is still struggling to hold the balance evenly, why wouldn’t we say the Nigerian judge has given a good account of himself, why would we not say he is one of the best in the world.

“Nigerian judges are courageous, very, very courageous, they have dared the military, they have dared the political class, like every society, they have also dealt even with their colleagues who are found wanting.

“We have increased in numerical strength, both at the bar and on the bench, it is our duty to carry out checks on our members and the way we do things and stop crying wolf where there is none.”

Meanwhile, he accused politicians and political actors, who cannot have their way, of undermining the independence of the judiciary, not only starving it of funds but ensuring an erosion of independence and trying to remove chief judges unconstitutionally.

He said, “Even agencies of government who cannot have their ways would want to have their judges and their courts, so as to act ultra vires their statutory powers and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Buba noted that if the country play politics of development and politics of advancement, resources will not be wasted on inter-party fighting, election petitions and by extension, dragging the judiciary in the mud of the conflict.

“In the three arms of government, it is only the judiciary that has stringent conditions of qualification. Our judges must have a minimum of 10 years post-call to be appointed judges of a high court, while a school certificate whether pass or fail or its equivalent can attain offices in the other arms of government. It is they who are in politics and try to dictate to the judiciary what the law is, and what should be done.

“It is in this regard, the members of the bar must jealously guard and guide their profession and ensure that the judiciary gets the right people on the bench who can call the bluff of the other arms of government in checks and balances,” he said.

Besides, Buba pointed out that, as the constitution has guaranteed the independence of the judiciary, “no judiciary, whether state or federal, should go cap in hand begging for funding”.

He added, “We have advanced so much in information technology and artificial intelligence and we are not in the 50s or 60s where judges are recording in record books and long hands and lose sheets of papers, courts like banks must be computerized, cases must be electronically managed.

“The world will soon, if not already, be in the metaverse world, where judges do not only interpret contracts in terms of offer and acceptance, we must come to terms with the realities, that offers can now be made by both human beings and machines, we can contract with both animate and inanimate objects, we can contract with robots, we can buy things we don’t even see, we can buy sun, water, air, space.

“The 21st-century judiciary beyond interpreting the laws must understand emotions, the working of the economy, because we all go to the market with ordinary people, we should be concerned about the GDP of our country.

“For instance we should ask questions and worry why should the Dollar rise when there are federal allocations, after all law is a social engineering, the judiciary is part and parcel of the society, when the other arms of government are busy altering the constitution to get provisions on electoral matters, members of the legal profession should be interested in also amending the law, to repeal dead laws and laws that are not making the working of the judiciary possible.

“It is only in that way that the legal system in your jurisdiction would be respected, will be certain, and anybody coming to do business with us should know the law in our jurisdiction and be certain of the result and how long it will take the case to finish. After all what is judicial activism?”

The Executive Director of TAP Initiative, Mr Martins Obono, in a welcome address, stated that the workshop was aimed at enhancing public trust and confidence in the judiciary.

He however lamented that judicial officers shy away from accountability and canvassed for a change of heart.

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