A legal practitioner in Nigeria, Assam Assam, has asked lawyers and judges to rise up and save the nation’s judiciary.
“These are troubling times and for our profession these times represent the most debased and bestial moments,” Assam, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said.
“Judges of our apex courts are now being subjected to physical abuse and attacks.
“The most productive arm of our government is now the whipping boy and we are clapping. This is all because we extol politicians and the rule of law has been literally bastardised.”
Mr Assam, a former Nigerian ambassador to the Russian Federation and Belarus, made the remarks February 25 in Uyo at a valedictory court session for Justice Ifiok Ukana who has just retired as a High Court judge in Akwa Ibom.
He said even ordinary Nigerians were now acting without the traditional respect for judges and court decisions.
“Now we have arrived at a point where the apex court of our land, which ought to enjoy reverence in all its ramifications will have its decisions reviewed by all and sundry, taxi drivers, cooks and stewards – in palm wine bars and bukkas.
“I am a regular visitor to a property I am developing here in Uyo and the masons, carpenters, electricians and the concrete bearers discuss rulings of the Supreme Court with the most negative attributes.
“Judgments of our Supreme Court are now subjects for prayer points in churches and pastors are now using their decisions to deliver sermon.”
Mr Assam in his remarks urged the Supreme Court not to allow itself to be pressured into reviewing its own decisions on political grounds.
“We have no other profession, the one we have must not be destroyed for our future generations by a handful of people without a fight.
“It is my hope that we shall rise from the hubris which is plaguing us now and regain our status as that hope of the common man, when we are courageous enough to give direction to our profession, which is essentially the mother of the judicial arm of government.
“That hope is sustained because we have young men and women still sitting on our bench, men and women with the conviction that the current state of affairs is unsustainable,” he said.
Assam said though the common thinking is that the lack of financial independence is one of the major causes of corruption within the judiciary, judges could still reject the influence from the executive.
He narrated how some judges in Akwa Ibom brave out and returned their official cars to the Akwa Ibom government, during a military regime, when the military administrator of the state wanted to force a judge to deliver judgment in favour of the government in a particular case.
“Men and women of courage and conviction defy corrupt practices. Weak and dishonest people succumb to blackmail and intimidation.
“The key is in being transparent not only in the management of the little resources made available to us but ensuring its even and satisfactory distribution and also being transparent in the recruitment process of judicial staff and eschewing what may be perceived as a corrupt and nepotic practices.”
Assam advised Nigerian judges to resist the temptation of falsifying their date of birth just because they want to stay a little longer in office.
“Justice Ukanna’s record of service bears no tipex marks and requires no amendments, or second affidavit of birth,” he said.
“We may never fully appreciate the enormity of the consequences of a matter conducted by a judge who after the due date of his retirement continues to sit, conduct cases, make binding orders and enter rulings and judgment.
“He could make orders for forfeiture of assets, sentence persons to death, conclude cases outstanding for several years. Of course the consequence is that all the decisions are a nullity.
“But the problem is with the criminal cases, where for example a kidnapper is tried and sentenced by a judge who ought to have retired at the time he entered the judgment – the judgment is nullified and the kidnapper is set free because he cannot be tried twice for the same offence. The victim and complainant loses his peace and freedom. In so far as the kidnapper prowls, he must always watch his back. How does such a judge sleep at night and what is the consequence for the integrity of the bench.
“This is the season of the Sounds of Silence. The sounds made by the silent masses is so deafening that its decibels is no more audible. We are just watching people move their mouths without hearing what they are saying. They are saying things we need to hear. We endanger ourselves, our profession, our generation in not hearing them. The silence must not be taken for granted,” Mr Assam said.