Justice Buba: The judiciary in Nigeria is not to blame for impunity, but rather the political class

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Justice Ibrahim Buba, a retired judge from the Federal High Court of Nigeria, has stated that the political class in Nigeria, not the judiciary, is to blame for the current state impunity that exists in almost every area of the nation.

He forewarned that effective governance would continue to elude the nation and democracy would remain in jeopardy unless the political class, which makes up the executive arm of government, started to follow court decisions.

At a one-day workshop on judicial accountability held in Abuja on Friday, Justice Buba gave a speech. The event was arranged by TAP Initiative and the Open Society Foundation (OSF).

The jurist claimed that even if the court is one of the branches of government with the strongest laws and qualifications, Nigeria would not become a better society if politicians disregarded their own norms and the country’s Constitution.

The retired Federal High Court judge noted in his keynote speech, “Impact of Judicial Accountability on Public Trust in the Legal,” that many political cases would not even get to court if politicians followed the rules.

He stated, “It is very easy for an outsider to not see the “cow” on the head of the politician and political class, but to quickly see the “lice” on the head of the judiciary. The Nigerian judiciary is undoubtedly overworked by politicians to sustain democracy.”

“The political class’s unwillingness to follow the rules set down in their own party constitutions, as well as the Nigerian Constitution, means that no amount of judicial activism by the judges would improve society.

“If court rulings and orders are disregarded and return unfulfilled, society and democracy will be in jeopardy,” he continued. “Obedience to court orders is sine qua non to order and good governance.”

The former jurist contended that the Nigerian judiciary has performed admirably, despite the fact that it has never before seen the volume of pre-election cases and election petitions that it is currently facing.

He stated that “judgments can be leaked to the press before being delivered, and the judiciary in spite of all odds has to work with incompetent, poorly paid support staff whose trust cannot be guaranteed.”

Why wouldn’t we say that the Nigerian judge has given a good account of himself and that he is among the finest in the world, considering that he is a product of Nigerian civilization and not someone who came from the moon?

“Nigerian judges exhibit extreme bravery; like members of any society, they have dared the military and the political class and have dealt with colleagues who have been found wanting.”

We now have more people on the bench and at the bar, thus it is our responsibility to conduct background checks on each other and our members and to stop calling attention to problems when none exists.

In the meantime, he charged that politicians and other political players, unable to get their way, were undermining the judiciary’s independence by depriving it of funding, guaranteeing that its independence erodes, and attempting to remove chief judges in an unlawful manner.

“Even government agencies that are unable to implement their policies would like to have their own judges and courts in order to act beyond the scope of their statutory authority and the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s constitution,” he stated.

Buba pointed out that if the nation practices politics of advancement and development, money won’t be squandered on political petitions, intraparty strife, or, consequently, entangling the courts in the middle of disputes.

The judiciary is the only one of the three branches of government with strict qualification requirements. While anybody with a high school diploma, regardless of grade, can hold positions in other branches of the government, judges in our system must have served for at least ten years after being called to the bench to serve as justices of superior courts. They are the ones in politics who attempt to tell the courts what the law is and how it should be applied.

“In this sense, the bar’s members need to fiercely protect and steer their profession and make sure that the judiciary appoints qualified individuals to the bench who can act as a check and balance on the other branches of government,” the speaker stated.

Additionally, Buba emphasized that since the judiciary’s independence is protected by the constitution, “no judiciary, whether state or federal, should go cap in hand begging for funding.”

“We are not in the 1950s or 1960s where judges are recording in record books and long hands and lose sheets of paper,” he continued. “We have come a long way in information technology and artificial intelligence. Courts, like banks, must be computerized, and cases must be managed electronically.”

“The world is going to enter the metaverse soon, if it hasn’t already, where judges interpret contracts in terms of offer and acceptance. We have to accept the fact that offers can now be made by both humans and machines, that we can enter into contracts with both animate and inanimate objects, that we can enter into contracts with robots, and that we can purchase things that we can’t even see, like the sun, water, air, and space.

Beyond simply reading the law, the 21st-century court must comprehend how the economy functions and how people feel. Since we all shop at the same marketplace as regular people, we should also be worried about our nation’s GDP.

When the other branches of government are busy changing the constitution to include provisions on electoral matters, members of the legal profession should be interested in changing the law as well, to repeal laws that are out-of-date and laws that are impeding the functioning of the judiciary. For example, we should question and be concerned about why the dollar should rise when there are federal allocations. After all, law is a social engineering and the judiciary is an integral part of society.

“Anyone going to do business with us should know the law in our jurisdiction and be confident of the outcome and the length of time it will take the case to finish. Only in that way would the legal system in your jurisdiction be respected and will be certain. What is judicial activism, after all?

In his welcome speech, Mr. Martins Obono, the Executive Director of TAP Initiative, said that the workshop’s goal was to increase public confidence in the legal system.

But he bemoaned the fact that judges avoid taking responsibility and called for a shift in attitude.

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