Buhari seeks stringent punishment for Lawyers obstructing justice

*Says efficient judiciary essential to entrenchment of rule of law

Just as CJN decries  lack of judiciary financial autonomy

President Muhammadu Buhari has challenged the judiciary to devise and deploy stringent measures against lawyers, who in the cause of defending their clients resort to all kinds of delay tactics to obstruct and frustrate speedy dispensation of justice in the country.

He said the call is necessitated by the need to make the justice sector more efficient and effective in preserving the nation’s democracy and attracting foreign investments.

Buhari made the call on Monday in Abuja, while declaring open the 2021 All Nigeria Judges’ Conference of the Superior Courts.

The President who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the event, expressed concern over the impact of delays in the administration of the justice system as well as the image of the judiciary and by extension the country.

“As my lords are aware, delay in the dispensation of justice, coupled with the increase of cases in our courts have remained subjects of great concern. As someone said, our problem is not access to justice, it is exiting the justice system.

He continued, ” And I know that delays are not necessarily the fault of judges, lawyers are also responsible. Should we not then as have been suggested by some, evolve a cost award system that recognizes the court as a finite and expensive public resource and as such delays and other dielectric tactics are visited with deterrent cost”.

 According to him, Nigeria is part of the global market place for investment and legal services, and the extent to which the country can attract business depends in part on investors perception of the quality of the justice delivery system.

He said: “if we are seen as inefficient and ineffective, we would loss out to more efficient systems”.

The President  however, warned that judges must endeavour to show the highest level of integrity, responsibility, professionalism for the singular fact that they make decisions over the lives and livelihood of men and women in the society, adding that they must not allow a few to undermine the respect and trust that the judiciary have built up  over a century of its existence.

While stating that the current administration is not unaware of the number of challenges slowing the pace of transformation in the administration of the justice system, he disclosed that the administration has been working towards the resolution of these challenges by putting in place some measures such as the development of strategic infrastructure that will provide ease in case management; enhancement of welfare packages of judicial officers, amongst others.

While stating that the judiciary remains the last hope of the common man he said that “a trusted, well resourced, well functioning judiciary is therefore essential to the entrenchment of rule of law” adding that for the judiciary to function optimally and retain greater public confidence it “must be independent from all forms of interference”.

He assured that the administration will continue to partner with the judiciary in ensuring that it is financially independent.

Buhari commended the proactive measures taken by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Ibrahim Muhammad  in tackling the menace of conflicting court orders by courts of coordinate jurisdiction and the  efforts at revolutionizing the process of selection and appointment of judges.

In his remark , the CJN  lamented the lack of financial independence of the judiciary, noting that, “it may be difficult for the judiciary to be impartial and objective in a democracy where it remains financially tied to the Executive”. 

According to him, the issue of judiciary funding has continued to pose serious challenge to the institution. 

“I hereby report on a sad note that very few states have implemented the agreement entered into in June.

“While the Constitution specifically mandates that all monies due to the judiciary should be given to the Heads of Courts, such provisions are complied with more in breach than obedience. 

“Majority of the Heads of Courts still go caps in hands to the Governors to beg for what is constitutionally due to them, he stated. 

“As such, I urge the State Governors to emulate the Federal Government by ensuring that Section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is fully adhered to and implemented.

Muhammad, who scored the judiciary very high in the discharge of its function argued that but for the intervention of the judiciary Nigeria’s democracy would have been truncated.

“I make bold to state further that, but for the timely intervention of the Nigerian Judiciary, our present democratic status would have probably collapsed and fallen like a pack of ill-arranged cards”, the CJN stated.

He  admonished judges to desist from all negative conducts including indiscriminate granting of ex-parte orders that have portrayed the judiciary in bad light.