BACKGROUND OF THE LAWSA JUDICIARY
The Law Students’ Association Abia State University Judiciary is the arm saddled with the responsibility of justice administration in LAWSA – ABSU and committed to promoting the rule of law and constitutionalism.
The triumph of the LAWSA Judiciary has continued to thrive and has not stopped in setting the pace for other faculties with its gamut of activities and achievements.
The LAWSA Judiciary within the 2020/2021 administration involved in a lot of activities and projects in light of technology, judicial activism , strategic partnerships , access to Justice and rule of law.
So far, we have been able to grow the LAWSA Judiciary far beyond what it was when we assumed leadership through the introduction of various judicial transformation initiative such as the ; Judgments ( Enforcement) Rules 2021, LAWSA Practice Direction (No.1) 2021, Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers 2021, (which prescribes standards of ethical conducts for the members of the LAWSA Judiciary) and the LAWSA Court of Appeal Rules 2022.
The principal target of the LAWSA Court of Appeal Rules 2022 is to facilitate total Justice delivery by ensuring speedy dispensation of justice and the restoration of public confidence in our Judicial system.
For a very long time , the absence of the new rules has been an embarrassing feature of the administration of justice in LAWSA.
The LAWSA Constitution is not enough and could not meet the demands of modern civil & criminal justice and fell starkly behind international best standards, thus, it became necessary to establish the new rules to meet the obvious reality and in terms of efficiency, accessibility and effectiveness criminal & civil justice delivery remained deficient.
It therefore became expedient to address these problems by introducing the new Court of Appeal Rules 2022 directed towards the achievement of a just, speedy and efficient administration of justice in line with the commitment statement of our administration.
A review was also essential to further reinforce the independence of the LAWSA Judiciary and address the lacuna identified in the present LAWSA constitution.
One of the reasons why the administration of justice in LAWSA has been highly revered is because of its leadership international best practices reform and the new Rules is in line with international best practices and comparable with any global jurisdiction.
It is my firm believe that with the new Court Of Appeal Rules , other law student bodies would be more attracted to a global LAWSA – ABSU which has an efficient and effectual driven rule of law.
It was in this light that a 5 – man drafting committee was set up under our administration to review and ensure an all inclusive criminal & civil procedure rules.
THE NATURE AND ROLE OF THE LAWSA JUDICIARY
It is common knowledge that the LAWSA judiciary is a creation of the LAWSA Constitution (as amended).
The term ‘Judiciary’ has been defined as the court system of a country. The learned authors of Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th Edition, define the term as follows:
“The branch of government responsible for interpreting the laws and administering justice. A system of courts. A body of judges.”
Thus, section 6 (1) of the CFRN, 1999 provides as follows:
“The judicial powers of the Federation shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established for the Federation.”
The Judiciary has also been classified as “the court and all those who work in the vineyard of justice.” This includes Tribunals and Inferior Courts established by the National Assembly or the House of Assembly of a State.
From the foregoing, it is evident that the most significant task of the judiciary is the adjudication of controversies through the application of law to a specific matter.
The Judiciary is thus that arm of government vested with the judicial power to construe, interpret and apply the law with the ultimate end result of delivering justice in the society. In essence, the thrust of the Judiciary is to arrive at an end goal of justice.
We can conveniently therefore boast that the judiciary is the foundation upon which democracy grows and develops, as it is the only organ that deals with the administration and dispensation of justice in a sovereign entity.
Without a proper forum to resolve disputes between persons and persons, between persons and governments and between governments and governments, society will become a place fit only for the strong and mighty, where the rights and opportunities of the weak and feeble, will be trampled upon with impunity.
We should therefore cherish and appreciate the role of the judiciary in stabilizing the society, generally. Thus, even at the height of military rule in Nigeria, the judiciary has never been shut down or scrapped, as was the case with the legislature and the executive arms of government.
As opined by Ibrahim Mohammed Musa Saulawa, JCA in Sahara Reporters & Anor v. Saraki (2018) LPELR-49738 (CA) “by the very nature of its fundamental functions and role, thereof, the judiciary is the citizens’ last line of defence and hope in a free democratic society. Indeed, it is the line separating constitutionalism from totalitarianism.”
The role of the judiciary can therefore not be over emphasized being the stabilizer in a political system wherein it plays a divine role as the guardian and custodian of the Constitution. The Judiciary is further invested with the power to checkmate the other arms of government by compelling the legislature to act within its constitutional limits while performing its legislative duties and on the other hand subjecting the State (that is the Executive) to the Rule of Law.
Accordingly, Justice Chuwudifu Oputa (JSC) once opined that:
“The judiciary is the guardian of our Constitution, the protector of our cherished governance under the rule of law, the guardian of our fundamental rights, the enforcer of all laws with or without which the stability of society can be threatened, the maintainer of public order and public security, the guarantee against arbitrariness and generally the only insurance for a just and happy society.”
Under the scheme of things, it is right to posit that only a court of law has the power and the right to say authoritatively and conclusively what the law is and once a court of record has spoken then its pronouncement however perverse or blatantly wrong it may appear to be, establishes the law. As such, Section 287 of the CFRN, 1999 is instructive in in this regard. It states thus:
“The decisions of the Supreme Court shall be enforced in any part of the Federation by all authorities and persons, and by courts with subordinate jurisdiction to that of the Supreme Court.”
The same goes for the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court and the High Courts of the States and all other courts of record. The Judiciary thus occupies a very important, significant and strategic position in the Nigerian state. It is the bastion of the people’s hope, as it offers a formidable panacea to the sufferings and predicament of the masses.
It is the desire of the general public that justice must be done at all times and be seen to have been done. It is thus obvious that whenever the Judiciary failed to play its stabilizing role in the Nigerian democratic state, democracy is bound to be threatened or truncated.
It is no wonder therefore that the Constitution, under Section 17 (2), stipulates that the independence, impartiality and integrity of courts of law, and easy accessibility thereto shall be secured and guaranteed. In all I cannot agree less with Appadorai in his book, The Substance of Politics, where he surmised the essence of the Judiciary thus:
“…nothing more nearly touches the citizen than his knowledge that he can rely on the certain, prompt and impartial administration of justice. The Judge, therefore, fulfils an onerous function in the community.”
ISSUES, CHALLENGES & PROSPECTS
Having fully appreciated the magnitude of the centripetal role that the Judiciary plays in our nation, the LAWSA Judicial System is not left out from the several expectations of the masses (LAWSANites).
The instant topic for consideration “ LAWSA Judicial Integrity: Achievements, Challenges & Prospects” therefore comes at a time when a negative perception of the LAWSA Judiciary is pervasive (perhaps erroneously) among the common man in the LAWSA polity.
Going by the democratic system of government in operation, powers are basically operated through three tiers of government, the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary. Amongst these three arms of government, it has been said that the Judiciary (our subject matter of discourse) is the closest and most accessible branch of government to the common man. As such, I believe this topical issue is one in which every right-thinking person of the LAWSA community should consider himself/herself a concerned stakeholder.
There is no doubt that the LAWSA judiciary is plagued by a number of problems ranging from institutional to inadequate financial provisions, and constitutional problems, by which the arm is being limited in its performance.
To buttress this point, whilst taking a swipe at some of the key challenges thereto, I will humbly consider suggested solutions to the said challenges.
APPOINTMENT OF LAWSA JUDGES
For me, the challenges of the LAWSA judiciary take a leap from the process and mechanism of appointing judges in the judiciary. The current system to which there is no iota of transparency or public scrutiny of the candidates for judicial appointment is not something we should continue to engender. The present system, being not transparent, seems not to follow merit. Hence, the need to ultimately revive the LAWSA Judicial Council (LJC) to conduct proper screening of the quality of people fit to be judges.
The Judge position is truly a high threshold, hence, persons selected for judicial office should be individuals of integrity and ability with appropriate training in law. This brings to the fore for the need for the aforementioned body to carry out , and insist that students who intend to be judges attend compulsory continuous judicial training and to consistently re – screen and re – certify people that can be judges.
The reality is that anything hidden in the dark is subject to condemnation.
As it stands, the process of appointing members of the judiciary is bedeviled with lobbying, begging and invasion by several political interests.
Expectedly, a shoddy appointment of any position in the Judiciary leads to shoddy results and conclusively a shoddy Bench where the appointees are not only indebted to their lobbyists for such appointment, but remain available instruments to be influenced in the Justice delivery system.
Chief Afe Babalola SAN rightly captured this menace as follows:
“When appointment of men and women to the Bench is premised on extraneous considerations such as god-fatherism, political connections, religious leanings, “federal character”(without any regard for merit and competence) and monetary inducements, the ultimate victim is justice. The society is bound to suffer and bear the brunt of the consequences of having incompetent judges on the Bench.”
Finally, whereas our discussion is a humble admission of the imperfection of our judicial system, on the other hand , the constant improvement and better operation of the LAWSA Judiciary can become a reality if the LAWSA constitution can be amended to give the LJC proper powers to select and make recommendations for appointment to the president people fit to be judges in order to curtail the functions of the office from the vestiges of political influence and considerations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hon. Justice Daniel Alagor was the Court Of Appeal President & Head Of the Judiciary, Law Students Association of Nigeria, Abia State University.