By Ambassador Usman Sarki
Achieving excellence in all human endeavors is a perpetual effort that requires diligence, application and reiterated actions towards the desired outcome. Applied to the work of the judiciary, to achieve excellence in the system is the most virtuous and important objective in any nation’s life or existence.
Since ancient times, the magistrate or judge, was the buffer between the rulers and the people, and the last bastion of protection of the rights of the people and their dignity, against the excesses and inequities of the rich and the powerful. In the same vein, he was the protector of the rich and the powerful against the blind envy and rage of the multitude, and the senseless impulse towards anarchy inherent in the masses.
In this role, the magistrate protected everybody and ensured that peace reigned everywhere. Without the active and robust presence of the magistrate, the impulse towards chaos can never be contained or suppressed, nor can the slide down the path of disorder and a state of lawlessness be prevented.
The current state of affairs in Nigeria has been discussed, diagnosed and dissected in every manner possible, and seen through all sorts of prisms. But the one critical factor that is seldom discussed and if spoken of it is only in passing and in an insignificant tone, is the role of the judiciary in correcting the vices and straightening the capacity of the state and government in the country.
The relegation of the judiciary to the background in national discourses presupposes that it has little or no role to play where there are no breaches of the law, or breakdown of order. To discuss the judiciary within the context of normal and day-to-day affairs of the nation is therefore; seen as an irrelevant exercise or a veritable waste of time, as it is supposed albeit erroneously, that the judiciary is not a normal part of governance or administration of the affairs of the people.
The distancing of the judiciary from governance (and in the process from the people) so to speak, and its alienation over time from the daily experiences of the people, have served only to perpetuate the notion of its rarefied nature and reinforce the idea that it has little to do with the people and the way their lives and fortunes should be organized.
The only time that the judiciary could be noticed or taken into consideration according to this maxim or belief, is when there is a litigation, some constitutional crisis or aggravated incidents that require a third party intervention to either punish the guilty or reward the innocent, and pass rulings on contentious issues like elections.
This reductionist view of the judiciary may serve the purposes of some segments of the society such as politicians and others in whose interest it is to keep the judiciary at bay, but it does not augur well for the larger society since it is in the interest of the people for the judiciary to be seen to be active in regulating all facets of life of the society, and administering the rule of law not in the abstract sense, but in reality and in a demonstrable manner.
The imperative of an effective and highly credible judiciary in maintenance of law and order, as well as democratic governance which are the essence of the Nigerian State or any State for that matter, cannot be over stated or asserted. The empowerment of the judiciary to enhance its viability and visibility as an independent arm of the State must entail the containment and subsequent elimination of negative perceptions like corruption in the judiciary.
It should also entail ensuring efficiency in all judicial proceedings in the country, which is essential to buttressing of democracy and civil government in Nigeria. Constitutional rule especially the separation of powers in government, the upholding of rule of law, establishment of judicial precedents and examples, as well as ensuring the speedy trial of cases and passing of judgment, are all intrinsically linked to a successful and efficient judicial process.
Also, essential and indispensable attributes of a functional and successful judiciary are the uprightness and impartiality of the judges and the inscrutable integrity of their lives and actions. To ensure this, they would have to be seen to be above the rest of the society in terms of propriety, interests and inclinations especially towards their maintenance and upkeep both domestically and in their work places.
This separation of interests of judges from the common run of problems and challenges and existential issues of the rest of the society would inspire respect and awe for these officials and the trappings of their offices. To the extent that these perceptions are indispensable and necessary, the judiciary must be involved in the process of renewing itself and rejuvenating its functions, through regular or seasonal capacity-building courses, internal checks and balances, as well as comparative assessment of its work and methods as against what is obtaining in other countries with similar or symmetrical practices with Nigeria.
The achievement of these objectives can be done through interaction between the National Judicial Institute and the National Judicial Commission on one hand, and the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru for example. The Office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (OCJN) can be the intermediary in this process. It can set the agenda and determine the nature, context and content of such interactions.
The present Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) has rightly and appropriately taken upon himself the singular task of fighting corruption, inefficiency and waste in the Judiciary since he assumed office in 2019. These laudable initiatives must be supported and deepened through deliberate measures that are aimed at delineating and highlighting important issues that require urgent or immediate address or redress towards strengthening internal due processes.
Timely and transparent proceedings of courts, and enhancing welfare packages for the judicial workers should be seen as links in the chain of the fabric of the judiciary, that are also the foundations of its raison d’etre or purpose of its beings. In furtherance of these measures, the CJN should look at capacity-building and performance enhancement in the judiciary, by instituting different activities aimed at specific sectors of the judiciary to train officials in following due processes, the upholding of integrity of judges, and elimination of unwholesome practices in the system.
Collaboration with NIPSS will, undoubtedly, ensure that these objectives are realized and mainstreamed into the judicial system at all its tiers and levels. NIPSS could be approached to design courses that address each pillar of the judiciary particularly ethics, integrity, welfare and processes and proceedings which are the bedrock of any successful and credible judicial system anywhere in the world.
Ambassador Usman Sarki, a former Deputy Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations in New York is a Directing Staff @ the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos in Nigeria