President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday assured the Judicial community that the recent investigations involving some judicial staff was not aimed at intimidating the Judiciary as wrongly portrayed in some sections of the media.
The president, who stated this while declaring open the 2017 All Nigerian Judges conference held at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja, further maintained that the action was in no way a prelude to usurping the powers of the National Judicial Council.
He said he was of the belief that the “majority of judicial officers are learned and incorruptible and day in day out acting in the best spirit of their oath of office’’.
“My lords, earlier this year the Judiciary came under investigation. Let me again assure the judicial community, this action taken by the Executive was in no way a prelude to usurping the powers of the National Judicial Council or aimed at intimidating the Judiciary as wrongly portrayed in some sections of the media. Executive and legislative officials were also investigated.
“I am aware that the majority of judicial officers are learned and incorruptible and day in day out acting in the best spirit of their oath of office.
According to the president, his administration’s commitment is to accord the Judiciary its constitutional rights.
He, therefore, commended the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, for his recent decision to ask all judges at lower courts to provide him with a comprehensive list of all corruption and financial crimes cases in order to designate special courts to handle them.
“I support your action and the public is awaiting the results of this initiative,’’ he said.
He, however, stressed the need for fairness, impartiality and speed in the administration of justice by the judiciary.
The president noted that there were huge backlogs of cases waiting to be dispensed especially at the appellate levels.
He said the reform of the judiciary should start “at eliminating these seemingly endless delays in settling what to the layman are apparently simple cases.’’
He lamented that court cases could drag on for years and sometimes decades without resolution.
“I need only mention land cases in Lagos to illustrate my point.’’
He added that, “again, litigants expect that higher courts should endeavour to harmonize their rulings.
“There are contradictory decisions of superior courts on the same subject matter in cases where facts are substantially the same without a clear attempt in subsequent cases to distinguish the earlier cases.
“This lack of clarity leads to serious confusion to the lower courts.
“The knock-on efforts of these delays and dis-continuities range from loss of confidence in the judicial system to over-crowding of prisons.’’
President Buhari, therefore, urged the leadership of the judiciary to pay close attention to these challenges in its efforts at reforming the system.
He revealed that he had already written to all state governors urging them to make special visit to prisons in company with Chief Judges and release prisoners unnecessarily detained without due process.
President Buhari expressed the readiness of his administration to continue to address problems besetting the Judiciary including under-funding, inadequate personnel and absence of modern technological aids.
He observed that the federal government had increased allocation to the Judiciary from N70 billion to N100 billion in the 2017 budget, saying that a similar figure had been proposed for 2018.
In his remarks, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, said prison congestion was a worrisome phenomenon in the nation’s justice delivery system which he said had become an embarrassment.
He, therefore, stressed the need for the judiciary to partner with the executive arm of the government to curb this menace.
“Again, close supervision, and frequent visits by heads of courts to prisons within their jurisdictions, and synergizing with Attorneys General of States are veritable steps to a lasting solution.
“In addition, the executive should consider expansion of the present prison facilities to ease the situation,’’ he added.
Onnoghen advocated for full financial independence for the state judiciary so as to continuously strive to achieve their constitutional mandates.
He said the conference was intended to serve as a forum to give judges the opportunity to come together every two years to discuss common problems and exchange ideas and experiences for the enrichment of the nation’s judicial system.