A group of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) under the aegis of The Justice Reform Project (JRP), has expressed embarrassment and concern over recent events surrounding the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
The group is therefore calling for the reform of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and necessary judicial reformsothers. It wants the review and reform of the composition, constitution, functions and internal controls of the NJC and the process for the appointment, continuing education and promotion of judicial officers, among others.
The new group, in a statement, said its members felt obliged to make this intervention for two primary reasons: (i) a recognition that the events which have resulted in this debacle is in fact a manifestation of and response to a deeper malaise in the administration of justice and justice delivery in Nigeria; and (ii) a concern that the crisis of confidence that is currently shaking the judiciary and the legal profession in Nigeria is unprecedented.
“In making this intervention, we do not propose to delve into the merits or demerits of the respective positions that have been taken by the different actors regarding the suspension of Justice Onnoghen,” the stamen said.
Membership of the group, which said it is seeking to collaborate with stakeholders in an effort aimed at achieving broad consensus on, and implementing a process that will lead to the review and reform NJC, cuts along many spectrum of the silk rank. They are Ebun Sofunde, Kayode Sofola, Kola Awodein, Ademola Akinrele, Eyimofe Atake, Olufunke Adekoya, Oluwafemi Atoyebi, Yemi Candide – Johnson, Olasupo Shasore, Babatunde Ajibade, Osaro Eghobamien, Babatunde Fagbohunlu, Wemimo Ogunde, Jibrin Okutepa, Olumide Sofowora, Ernest Ojukwu, Olatunde Adejuyigbe, Adewale Olawoyin, Adeniyi Adegbonmire, and Oyesoji Oyeleke.
“Our focus in making this intervention given the context of the unfolding events is to examine the underlying factors that have engendered or perpetuated the undoubted loss of confidence in the judiciary and the legal profession and to proffer suggestions for a much-needed reform.
“Certain facts are hardly contestable. There is a widespread perception that there is corruption in the judiciary and this perception is supported by anecdotal evidence. Unscrupulous litigants and some complicit lawyers, including some Senior Advocates, procure judgments and orders by corrupt means. It is also beyond dispute that the system for self-regulation in the judiciary and the legal profession has failed.
‘Lack of transparency and a deep appreciation of the basic ethos of governance in the processes and procedures of the relevant institutions lies at the very heart of the challenges the Bench and the Bar are currently facing.
“There is a perception that the NJC has been ineffective in exercising discipline where high-ranking judicial officers are involved and that its proceedings and internal processes are unduly opaque. Similarly, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, is notorious for its inefficacy in respect of disciplinary issues. Petitions filed by litigants and members of the public linger for years on end without resolution.
“The Nigerian legal profession and justice system have known better days. We recall the golden era of our judiciary, when judgments of Nigerian courts were cited with approval in foreign courts. Sadly, this is no longer the case. In our view, the incessant examples of contradictory decisions that have afflicted Nigerian jurisprudence in all facets of law further fuel the perception of incompetence and corruption by the Nigerian judiciary and the legal profession. It must be obvious to everyone that the time has come for urgent self- introspection and evaluation with the ultimate aim of a robust systemic reform of the Nigerian judiciary and the legal profession.
“Therefore, this group has been established to collaborate with stakeholders in an effort aimed at achieving broad consensus on, and implementing a process that will lead to the review and reform of the following critical aspects of our justice delivery system: The composition, constitution, functions and internal controls of the National Judicial Council; The process for the appointment, continuing education and promotion of judicial officers; The process for the discipline and regulation of judicial officers; The terms and conditions of service of judicial officers.
“A review of judicial ethics, values and the relationship of the Bench with the Bar; The process for the appointment of lawyers to the Body of Benchers; The composition, constitution and internal controls of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee; The process and criteria for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria; The roles and responsibilities of Senior Advocates of Nigeria as leaders of the Bar; The regulation and discipline of Legal Practitioners; and Ethics, values and standards of legal practice.
“A review of the composition, constitution and internal controls of the National Executive Committee of the NBA. The need for action is urgent. We will commence our work immediately, and we will operate on the basis of transparency, objectivity and inclusiveness. We will soon publish details of how we propose to engage and collaborate with all stakeholders, especially the NBA. Let us act now to save our profession and our nation,” the group said.