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CJN demands independence of judiciary as President Buhari declares NBA conference open in Lagos

CJN Muhammad.

By Editor-in Chief.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, on Monday, August 26, 2019 at the ongoing largest gathering of lawyers of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), at the prestigious Convention Centre of the Eko Hotels and Suites in Victoria Island in the aquatic splendour of Lagos State, shocked his audience of over 13,000 participants when he looked the Nigerian Presidency in the eyes and demanded in a bellowing voice: “Let the judiciary enjoy its independence as the third arm of government”.

But President Muhammadu Buhari, who was billed to declare the 59th conference open was unavoidably absent because he was in far away Japan attending a conference on African development, but he was represented by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), who vowed to the people to invoke the instrument of the law to prosecute the untouchables and the sacred cows in the society who hitherto had been shielded from wrong doings and therefore become so powerful.

Justice Muhammad in driving his message home to the executive arm of government, told the audience that the judiciary is prepared to cooperate with the other arms of government in applying the instrument of law to fight the ills of the society, provided the judiciary is allowed to enjoy its fair share of independence.

To demonstrate the judiciary’s resolve to resist the undue influence of the two other arms of government, the Chief Justice warned that despite all odds, the third arm of government under his supervision, will do all things within its powers to assert its independence in its avowed responsibility to do justice to all manners of people without fear or favour at all times.

These are his declarations: “Going forward, we at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Nigeria (the two senior superior courts of records) will no longer look at any person’s face before taking any judicial decision on any matter. We will not, I repeat, we will not be subservient to any person no matter how highly placed in the society”.

He continued: “We are prepared to reestablish the judiciary of interest and take the bull by the horn with the support of the Nigerian Bar to lift the standard of the administration of justice to a level that will benefit all Nigerians”.

He said that his concern is the ‘speedy administration of justice’, adding that to assist in this regard, lawyers and indeed, senior counsel should desist from filing frivolous appeals which similar decisions have been given by the apex court, as the Supreme Court will continue to punish lawyers who flagrantly abuse the due process of court proceedings.

Returning to the issue of the independence of the judiciary, Justice Muhammad retorted: “If I have to go and bend down to collect the money to fund the judiciary, I have lost my independence”.

He however commended the mature engagement of the Bar with the Bench in several issues and asked lawyers who are constitutionally empowered as social engineers to fight on to protect and preserve the rule of law for the benefit Nigerians.

On the theme of the conference: “Facing the Future”, the Chief Justice said, facing the future is very apt as the future of Nigeria looks bright and that every person spends the rest of his or her entire life facing the future, adding that ‘if we fail to plan for the future, we will plan to fail’, as the old saying goes.

In declaring the conference open, the AGF, representing President Buhari at the occasion, said the present government has vowed to renew the vigour in improving the law enforcement agencies and security apparatus of government to deal with all persons and institutions that caused the country to be at the verge of losing over $9.9billion awarded by a United Kingdom (UK) Arbitration Court in favour of an Italian firm, adding that his Ministry has been mandated by the President to use the instrument of law to fish out and deal with all the people who contributed one way or the other to the huge judgment debt incurred by the nation.

The key note address was delivered by the International Bar Association (IBA) president, Mr. Horatio Bernardes Neto from Brazil. In his address he urged the Nigerian Bar to embrace the emerging technology in dealing with legal services, adding that in Brazil law practice is digitalized and all the over one million lawyers in his country have embraced the new technology which caused law firms in that country like in Singapore, United States of America (USA), UK and other Western nations to see their law firms being quoted at the stock exchanges of the various countries.

According to Mr. Neto, law firms working with the new technology should begin to expand to make people invest in such firms, thereby creating specialists like legal engineers, architects and designers who are lawyers but practicing different fields of endeavour.

He urged lawyers to go into different areas as there are several jobs for lawyers to do, including being risk advisors not minding that this is the age of robot technology where robots are replacing human beings in every area of human endeavour, but quickly added that lawyers’ jobs cannot be replaced by robots but that legal practitioners should create robots with artificial intelligence.

Addressing the young lawyers and their challenges, the president of the IBA stated that in his over 50 years of law practice in Brazil and around the world he has found out that young lawyers like to work with law firms that have good reputation for probono cases and not with those that pay them fat salaries.

This comment elicited divergent reactions from the crowd, as young lawyers in the audience chorused that the opposite is the case in Nigeria.

The visiting IBA president counseled the young wigs to learn to protect the core values of the law profession and create opportunities to key into the new transformation the law profession is undergoing at the moment.

In his own speech, the host governor and special guest of honour, Mr.Babajide Sanwo-Olu, represented by his deputy, Dr. Femi Hamzat said the state was pleased to host the conference this year with the large attendance of lawyers because Lagos wanted to showcase its aquatic splendour and tourism potentials to the visitors, having for several years painstakingly developed social infrastructures to accommodate people with the hospitality it is known for over the years

Welcoming the participants and international visitors, the president of NBA, Mr. Paul Usoro outlined the reasons for the annual rituals of gathering as lawyers to include: “Review and renewal of friendship among lawyers of all ages, to discuss issues of common interests, provide opportunity to review the relationship between the Bar and the Bench and to renew the resolve of both the Bar and the Bench for the protection and preservation of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary’.

Also welcoming the conferees, the chairman of the technical committee on conference planning, (TCCP), Mr. Gbenga Oyebode (SAN) assured the participants that everything that would make them comfortable for the week-long parley has been provided to make the conference a huge success. He therefore thanked the Lagos State government for extending tremendous support to the association for the conference.

Among dignitaries who were present at the opening event were the acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Alogba, the President of National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Justice Adejumo, Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Court of Appeal of Nigeria Justices, superior courts of records judges, senior advocates of Nigeria, eminent jurists from within and outside the country, religious and traditional rulers, senior military officers and captains of industries.