Independence Of The Judiciary And Public Perception (A Case Study Of Justice Walter Onnoghen)

Project and Seminar Material for Political Science

Independence Of The Judiciary And Public Perception (A Case Study Of Justice Walter Onnoghen)


Abstract


This study was carried out on independence of the judiciary and public perception. The a case study of Justice Walter Onnoghen.On Friday 25th January 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari, purportedly acting on an order of the Codeof Conduct Tribunal suspended the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen. The sudden suspension of the CJN raised concerns all over the country as well as on the international scene with many citing the timing and manner as unconstitutional and also as an attempt to secure victory in the February 2019 General Elections. Justice Onnoghen’s suspension is indeed an interesting one for many reasons such as the unavailability of such a process in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) (CFRN).It is important to note that this is a nonpartisan paper and the objective of this paper is simply to examine the law as it is, point out where the President went wrong and suggest a way forward should the country ever find itself in such a fix again. The author reiterates the sanctity of the 1999 CFRN (as amended)


Chapter One


1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background of Study

The maxim ubi ius ubi remedium expresses an important legal principle. This means that “if there is a right, there is a legal recourse”. In other words: “The existence of a legal provision presupposes that there is a competent authority to grant an appeal if this rule is violated.” The legislation is inadequate if there is no legal recourse to enforce it and if there is no sanction for breaking this rule. “Therefore, it is fundamental for any constitutional system that provides for an institution to decide if a law will decide. The rule has been violated and, if so, what it means to provide or what sanctions to impose. It is necessary that said facility be independent and not be involved in the dispute. In Nigeria, the main body responsible for this responsibility is the judiciary. (1) In this context, the term “judicial power” is used interchangeably with judges, public officials and judicial assistants.

Although much has already been written on this subject, the independence of the judiciary remains a difficult principle to achieve. The Constitution of Nigeria lays the foundations for incorporating constitutional supremacy and the rule of law. The “independence of the judiciary is a constitutional principle that is generally considered an integral part of a democratic system of government, in accordance with this constitution, confers jurisdiction on the courts and declares that they are independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law.

The judiciary is made up of a series of interested parties, all of whom play an essential role in the exercise of justice, and the participation and coordination of each of them is crucial for the continued well-being of the judiciary. The main actors are the judges, who condemn the accused, the jury that determines the guilt of the defendants, the lawyers and lawyers that provide legal advice and represent their clients in the courtroom, as well as the representatives of the police and government agencies, whose participation often requires evidence in giving processes and specific cases.

The public itself is also an important actor in the dispute, since any decision made by the judicial system affects the public, either directly or indirectly. In Nigeria’s legal system, judges are expected to be completely impartial in the trial of a case; H. e. They should not be interested in the outcome of the trial, their only concern is that justice be exercised completely. However, lawyers, barristers, defendants and the public all have an active interest in the outcome of the judicial process. The public has a particular interest in the outcome of cases and trials, and it is this special interest that often leads to media criticism of the judicial process, which is one of the issues today’s judiciary faces. In today’s day and age, the biggest issue that the Nigerian judiciary faces is not corruption in the courts or biased juries, but rather the public perception of the system as a whole.

For the most part, Nigeria’s judiciary is first-rate, and overseas correspondents, such as American legal strategist Tracey Cain, have commented on the effectiveness of the system, and its ‘infallibility and uprightness’ when it comes to sentencing. However, regardless of outsider opinion, the overwhelming attitude of the Nigerian people towards the judiciary is of an inequitable, unfair and unjust organisation. In fact, the judiciary is increasingly being painted as an “obstacle to justice rather than the guardian of it” (Cain, Tracey, 2002).

According to a recent survey conducted on public perceptions of the judiciary (see appendix A), the Nigerian public perceived a number of flaws in the judiciary especially on the part of its Independence. The best known are the light sentences, the subjective judicial decisions and the excessive compensation for the judges. It is interesting to note that most of the respondents were very happy to make critical judgments about the justice system, but around 25% admitted that they did not even have a basic knowledge of the Nigerian legal system.


1.2 Definition of the Problem

Nigeria’s constitutional democracy includes the principle of separation of powers, which divides power among the three branches of government, the executive, the legislative and the judicial. It is often said that the judiciary is the weakest arm of the government, since the judiciary, unlike the parliament and the executive, lacks the power of the stock market and the sword.5 Therefore, the strict protection of its Interference independence is paramount. The objective of this protection is to “guarantee impartiality and impartiality in judicial proceedings and, to that end, allow judges to perform their duties without fear or relief”. It follows that the judiciary is individually and institutionally independent of any form of interference, regardless of whether this interference comes from the government, private actors or even the judiciary itself. Judicial independence not only protects judges, but also protects the public from arbitrary executive actions


1.3 Objectives of the Investigation

The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the judiciary as an independent and autonomous government apparatus and to understand the perception of the Nigerian public about the independence of the judiciary.

  1. Identify the mechanisms that protect the independence of the judiciary in Nigeria.
  2. Identify the current threat to judicial independence in Nigeria.
  3. Listen to the opinions of the Nigerian public about the current state of justice in Nigeria.

1.4 Significance of the Study.

The importance of this research can not be emphasized enough. Analyze that independence of the judicial system in Nigeria, in order to give the public clearer views on judicial administration. Also, the research is necessitated to show case the indiscriminate restrictions and violations justice by other arms of the government and the gross increase of corruption and injustice in the country which often leaves less to be desired.

The research work will also give the perception of the media and general public concerning the legal practice in the country, taking the case of justice onnoghen as the case study With the above issues, this research will serve as a viable source of information to all and sundry. First, it will benefit the public, those engaged in the administration of justice, law enforcement agencies and the court. It will also provide relevant suggestions on how best to curb the increase of injustice; it is also of immense benefit to policy makers, government officials, academicians, students and anyone interested in the peaceful co-existence of the Nigerian populace.


1.5 Research Questions

a) What is judicial independence? This section ends with an attempt to answer the following two questions:

  • Regardless of whom and
  • Independence for what purpose.

b) This chapter seeks to provide a holistic analysis of the legal measures taken to protect the independence of the judiciary in Nigeria. The question that is asked is whether these mechanisms are compatible with Article 165 of the Constitution, which establishes the independence of the judiciary.

Therefore, the following is discussed:

  • The constitutional and legal framework for the protection of the independence of the judiciary, covering both individual and institutional independence;
  • To what extent does the doctrine of separation of powers in the Nigerian Constitution refer to the independence of the judiciary. One issue that also needs to be addressed is whether the judicial administration system adopted by the apartheid state is fit for the functions that courts now have to fulfill under the constitutional waiver of Nigeria.

c) What threats currently exist for the independence of the judiciary in Nigeria? This section therefore addresses the following issue:

  • Judgment of the Judicial Service Commission on Judge Walter Onnoghen.

1.6 Scope of Study.

This research is limited to the independence of the judiciary and public perception. It will also examine the problems of prevention of occupational debts and the mechanisms for controlling injustice in Nigeria.But, The work will center greatly on the case of justice Walter Onnoghen, former chief justice of Nigeria. Analysis was also made on other judicial cases to enhance more knowledge on this area.


1.7 Definition of Terms

Judiciary;

The system of law courts that administer justice and constitute the judicial branch of government.

Independence;

Freedom from control or influence of another or others.

Perception;

The representation of what is perceived; basic component in the formation of a concept.

Public;

People in general considered as a whole


1.8 Organization of the Study

This research work is organized in five chapters, for easy understanding, as follows.

  • Chapter one is concerned with the introduction, which consist of the (background of the study), statement of the problem, objectives of the study, research questions, significance of the study, scope of the study etc.
  • Chapter two being the review of the related literature presents the theoretical framework, conceptual framework and other areas concerning the subject matter.
  • Chapter three is a research methodology covers deals on the research design and methods adopted in the study.
  • Chapter four concentrate on the data collection and analysis and presentation of finding.
  • Chapter five gives summary, conclusion, and recommendations made of the study.

Chapter Five


Conclusion and Recommendations

5.1 Conclusion

In the handling of anti corruption cases and political cases ( suits emanating from conduct of primaries of parties and election petitions) , members of the legal profession continue to face justifiable blames and accusations.
The recent proclivity of our courts to grant orders and deliver judgments preventing a political party from holding its primaries and nullifying entire primaries conducted in states , thus preventing the party from fielding candidates in the upcoming general elections, has only added to the perception that the Judiciary is toeing a path of war against that political party and its interests.

We had not expected that while exercising its judicial power in respect of testy and difficult intra-party congresses and primaries for selection of candidates, the Judiciary will place a blanket ban on a political party not to field candidates in an election, thereby giving a technical victory to other political parties ahead of the election.
Such decisions do not only affect the party at the receiving end of such an order, but also implicate the constitutional right of voters to elect candidates of their choice, since their preferred candidates and party may be those barred from participating in the election.

Decisions barring parties from fielding their candidates, which are hailed by some as the triumph of the rule of law is, therefore, an invitation to judicial instability, as political power wielders will escalate their use of the Judiciary as a field to wage their power struggle and supremacy battles.

In the face of assault, contempt and provocation, the Judiciary is not expected always to resort to retribution and vengeance. It can truly do justice according to law, while extricating itself from a path that may lead to its being carelessy, recklessly and unfairly branded as a politically partisan umpire.

Nigerians can then imagine that the Muhammadu Buhari Administration that once had described the Judiciary as “it’s headache” could quickly in the prevailing circumstances have developed a persecution complex, fearing that it may suffer irreparable judicial decimation in the elections petitions that may arise from the forthcoming elections, if there was no ‘intervention’ in the Judiciary, and CJN Onnoghen was left in the saddle.

The fact that beneficiaries of certain political and anti corruption cases that were decided by the Judiciary, and their very familiar lawyers are now the vociferous defenders of the Judiciary against a “rampaging and dictatorial“ Executive Branch of Government is a further “proof” which the Onnoghen ouster conspiracy will celebrate as the evidence of judicial partiality and lack of independence under Chief Judgeship of Hon. Justice Onnoghen.


5.2 Recommendations

In order to save the Judiciary from further assault and embarrassment, and Nigeria from further international humiliation, a number of urgent steps must be taken by the Judiciary, the Executive Branch of Government and the legal profession.

The President must withdraw his purported execution of the order of the CCT suspending CJN Onnoghen from office, and swearing in Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed as the Acting CJN of Nigeria.

This must be done immediately to stabilise the failing health of the Supreme Court that must have been occasioned by the act of the President.

Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen must immediately resign from the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
His reputation as a judge and as the head of the Nigerian Judiciary has been irreparably damaged, and his clinging to judicial office will not serve any useful purpose at this time.

His attempt to shield himself in office as exemplified by the inexplicable panicky indefinite postponement of the meeting of the NJC on 15th January , 2019, thereby robbing the NJC of its earliest opportunity to discuss the issue of his charge before the CCT is not helping him.

If anything , it portrays him, very unfortunately, as a person who is determined to cling to judicial office while the Judiciary is engulfed in crisis, flowing from issues relating to his alleged ethical infirmities.

The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, who is also facing a criminal prosecution by the Federal Republic of Nigeria ( EFCC) should either step down from the presidency of the NBA or recuse himself from the membership of the NJC, pending the conclusion of the criminal charge against him.

Even when his presumption of innocence is conceded, this is the only way to guarantee that his representation of the NBA in the NJC is not used and surbodinated in the prevailing circumstances to the pursuit of his self interest to have himself discharged and acquitted.

The NJC must meet immediately to accept the resignation of Honorable Justice Onnoghen, and forward same to the President; and recommend a new Chief Justice of Nigeria to the President for a due appointment, with the approval and confirmation of the Senate.

In the meantime, the President will now be in a position to properly exercise his powers under Section 231(4) of the Constitution to appoint an Acting CJN in the person of Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed.

The NBA and members of the legal profession must be mobilised not only to condemn the Executive for its acts of interference in the Judiciary, but also to compel Hon. Justice Onnoghen to resign as the CJN with immediate effect.

The unwitting impression the legal profession creates when it condemns the Executive without demanding for the resignation of the CJN is that it is protecting the CJN and shielding him from facing the consequences of alleged involvement in corrupt practices.

In addressing the issues that the actions of the Executive have raised, state actors and stakeholders in the Judiciary and outside it must ensure that the Judiciary is not further politicised or divided along ethnic or religious lines.
Finally, the current debacle rocking the Judiciary must be resolved to preserve and grow Nigerian constitutional democracy and rule of law and intensify the fight again corruption in Nigeria’s public life.


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