Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad spoke with reporters on the sidelines of the 59th Annual General Conference (AGC) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).The theme of the conference was “Facing the Future.” He shared his thoughts on the events that led to his emergence as CJN, the perception that the judiciary is corrupt and his vision for the judiciary.
Ex-CJN Onnoghen’s exit and CJN Tanko’s emergence
The only thing that is permanent is change. There must be changes.This is universal. Change is very necessary. If things must move properly, there must be change. Even in the application of the law, nothing is static; the law is applied to suit the society.
Non-lawyers and retired judges as National Judicial Council (NJC) members?
Those who are making such proposition or suggestion do not know a lot of things. They are completely ignorant of a lot of things regarding the National Judicial Council (NJC). The composition of the NJC, as they are suggesting, is what it is. We have lawyers in the NJC. When it comes to the discipline of judges, those concerned were asked to recuse themselves. The law does not permit non-lawyers to be part of the NJC, but if the law changes today to say they should be there, it will be so.
CJN’s power to appoint persons to the NJC
Well, if those in authority think that the powers given to the CJN is too much and that it should be reduced, I have no issue with that, after all I have no stake in anything. What we are doing is executing the law as it is.
Perception that the judiciary is corrupt
Well, anybody can say whatever he likes. But, what we are saying is that if the judiciary is corrupt, those who are saying it should come up with proof. They should be particular about it and mention the individuals involved. This must be proved and when this is done, the law will take its course on anybody. This is what we are saying. You can’t just wake up and be making blanket allegations of corruption against the judiciary. Case or cases of corruption must be established and whoever is involved will not go unpunished.
Lack of funds for judicial projects
There were lots of complaints, particularly from Chief Judges of states across the country that state executives are not making funds available. Judiciary is an arm of government but, unfortunately, some states are not financially independent. Some of them have gotten what is due to them but others are yet to do so. But, certainly, whatever needs to be done has to be done, particularly as regards availability of funds because projects cannot be executed when there are no funds. In a situation where the judiciary has to go cap in hand for funds from either the state or Federal Government, a lot of things will have to wait. I believe these are part of the reasons why those projects are yet to be completed. Besides, most of these projects are handled by the Federal Ministry of Works and my view is that enough money should be made available for the purpose of executing the projects.
Relationship between Judiciary and Executive
Well, as far as I am concerned, the relationship, let me generally say among the three arms of government, is cordial. Each of the arms is carrying out its functions in line with the dictates of the Constitution. The Judiciary does not involve itself in making the laws, except when court’s pronouncements are deemed to be laws. There are situations where we make pronouncement and they are seen as law. Otherwise, we inter-relate. But, none of the institutions interfere in the roles or responsibilities of the other. That is how we are going. The Judiciary relates very well with both the Executive and the Legislature. That does not mean that we should not tell the truth if the Executive and the Legislature have issues to settle in court. We don’t mind whose ox is gored. That is what we stick to and this is what we have been doing.
The place of technology in moving the Judiciary forward
It is welcome. Technology will certainly make our job easier. Do you know that judges are still taking proceedings in long hand in almost all our courts in Nigeria? We still write judgments in long hand. If technology is introduced, I am telling you I will fully accept it because, like I said earlier, it eases a lot of work. If I tell you that in a day, I hardly sleep for the required eight hours, you may not believe me. This is because I have to study files of cases before me and I have to do this and other related works every day.
$9.5 billion arbitration award
I cannot specifically comment on this issue as well as what process will be involved in the investigation to be carried out by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation. This is because the case may eventually appear before me in court. Normally, we don’t give advice and we don’t make suggestions when cases are likely to be in court for us. We must keep our mouth sealed until the case gets to court. Besides, the Attorney General may also have made one or two comments on the issue, but I cannot make any comment on the issue for now to avoid any contradictions.
Agenda for the judiciary
We want to take Nigeria’s judiciary to a very high status. We want the nation’s judiciary to be first among equals and the first on the African continent. However, if government can give us all we require in terms of finance, a lot of things will be done. A lot of facilities will be made available for our operations. I am so optimistic that the judiciary will soon be financially independent because the Federal Government has been taking steps in that direction. I will also work towards achieving holistic independent for the judiciary in terms of everything.
Source: The Nation