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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Adegboruwa: Let The Judiciary Assert Its Independence

Adegboruwa: Let The Judiciary Assert Its Independence

Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa

* I support judicial autonomy

I welcome the landmark judgment of the Court of Appeal, delivered on 11th Dec 2017, in the case of Hon Jus Nganjiwa. In the said judgment, the Court of Appeal stated the process of discipline of a judicial officer for official misconduct is to be undertaken first by the National Judicial Council, NJC.

This decision is sound in law and logic, in helping to assert the much desired independence and autonomy of the judiciary.

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In recent times, judicial officers have been under mindless attack by the executive, arising from the expressed disaffection for the third arm of the realm, by the President, who is the head of the judiciary, who has stated severally, that the judiciary is his headache.

The hallowed democratic principle of separation of powers requires that the three arms of govt should be independent of each other but work together for the effective administration of the realm.

In the present dispensation, the Executive arm has totally hijacked and captured the Legislative and Judicial arms, both of which have not been allowed to function effectively and independently, as anticipated by the Constitution.

It is therefore a welcome relief indeed, that judicial officers will no longer be under the fear and tremor of intimidation of the executive, in the discharge of their official duties. A judge should be free to deliver his judgment according to his conscience and according to law, without fear or favour, without affection or ill will.

Under and by virtue of Paragraph 21(b) and (d) of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, the NJC is to exercise the power of disciplinary control over all judicial officers.

Thus, where there is an allegation of corruption against a serving judicial officer, such should be tabled before the NJC first, as it is a matter arising from the discharge of official duties by the judge.

Otherwise, judges will become liable to do the bidding of the executive, once it is possible to just pick up a judge and lock him up, whenever he delivers a judgment that is not favourable to the executive.

However, this judicial immunity should not be a blanket one; it should only be limited to matters involving the discharge of judicial duties. Consequently, a judge involved in the common crimes of murder, rape, etc, all committed outside the performance of his judicial duties, should still be held accountable in the normal course of criminal justice administration.

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So I salute the rare courage of the justices of the court of appeal, who have taken this landmark step to free our nation from dictators and fascists in political garb and I commend the boldness of My Lords, for rescuing the judiciary from the choking harassment of the executive.

Since time does not run against the prosecution of offenses in law, the govt can always commence prosecution against any judicial officer found wanting, after the NJC has concluded its own statutory roles, in the discipline of such judicial officer.

I also commend the EFCC for its rare display of courage in confronting the menace of corruption in our land. The proper step in this case is to appeal against the judgment, in line with the best traditions of respect for the rule of law and due process, and cease to attack judges in the media, for the discharge of their official duties.

In it all, Nigeria will be the better for it.

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