Bulkachuwa, who represented Bauchi North senatorial district in the 9th Senate, confirmed infringing on the “freedom and independence” of his wife, Zainab, while serving as a judge and President of the Court of Appeal
By Valentine Amanze
Judiciary is the hope of the common man worldwide. In Nigeria it is not so.
The 2023 general election exposed the decay in the country’s judiciary to the extent that the once respected institution nolonger commands people’s respect.
Judiciary was at the lowest ebb, losing its prestige on Thursday October 26, 2023, when the Supreme Court led by Justice John Inyang Okoro brezenly legalized illegality by confirming Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the president of Nigeria despite evidences to the contrary presented by Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP).
The allegations against Tinubu included perjuries on name, age, gender, nationality, parentage, state of origin, not getting 25 percent vote in Abuja,
academic records, at home and abroad; and crime conviction in U.S.
How the seven-member legal experts waved aside all the allegations and accusations against Tinubu still baffles me today.
In previous election cases in the second republic, one witnessed some dissenting (minority) voices among the judges during their rulings, which is lacking presently.
For instance, Justice Sylvanus Nsofor, now late, in 2003, was the only dissenting voice in the Election Tribunal, which ruled in favour of the incumbent president then, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Nsofor stood by his convinction at the tribunal, insisting that Buhari of the then All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), was the winner. At the end, the majority carried the day, with Obasanjo declared the winner.
It was a brainstorming judgement based on evidence and conviction, not technicality.
Nsofor did not lose his job for having a contrary view in the judgement.
No wonder, when he died last year, Buhari described him as “an outstanding judge of rare courage and truth, who is not afraid to give justice to whom justice is due.”
But today, it is different.
Checkout all the election cases since Buhari’s tenure in 2015; there has never been any different opinion among the tribunal judges and those of the Supreme Court.
It has always been cases of unanimous decision by the judges in election petitions.
Does it mean that the judges are overworked or they lack intellectual capacity to argue?
Well, since they are an integral part of a rotten soeeity impoverished by a wicked leadership, one would not expect anything different.
Nigeria’s political class has messed up the judiciary.
Justice now goes to the highest bidder in the midst of the rising poverty in the land, while office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) continues to pick “loyal” judges on “special” political cases. Merit is nolonger the norm in the corrupt system.
In fact, the rot in the judiciary was aptly captured recently by Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa, and the retired justice of the Supreme Court, Musa Dattijo Muhammad.
Bulkachuwa, who represented Bauchi North senatorial district in the 9th Senate, confirmed infringing on the “freedom and independence” of his wife, Zainab, while serving as a judge and President of the Court of Appeal.
“My wife, whose freedom and independence I encroached upon while (she) was in office, and she has been very tolerant and accepted my encroachment and extended her help to my colleagues,” Bulkachuwa, an All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftains, said at a valedictory session of the 9th Senate on June 10, 2023.
Also, the retired justice of the Supreme Court, Musa Dattijo Muhammad, during his valedictory session that was organised in his honour by the Supreme Court on Friday October 27, 2023, lamented that the seven-man panel that dismissed all the appeals that sought to remove President Tinubu from office was not well constituted as it did not have members from all the geo-political zones of the country.
He pointed out that it was deliberate that South East hasn’t Supreme Court justice.
The retiring justice also said that the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, had enormous powers and such powers must be reduced to prevent abuse of office.
“Considering the number of years I have spent in judicial service and the position I have attained by the grace of the Almighty, I feel obligated to continue the struggle for reforms for a better Judiciary and would be leaning on the earlier submissions of those who had exited before me,” Justice Muhammad said.
He maintained that the judiciary, as presently structured, gave so much power to the CJN whom he said usually takes decisions without consulting other justices.
“As presently structured, the CJN is Chairman of the NJC, which oversees both the appointment and discipline of judges, is equally Chair of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), the National Judicial Institute (NJI), the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) that appoints Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“In my considered opinion, the oversight functions of these bodies should not rest on an individual alone. A person with absolute powers, it is said, corrupts easily and absolutely.
“As Chair of NJC, FJSC, NJI and LPPC, appointments as council, board and commitment members are at his pleasure. He neither confers with fellow justices nor seeks their counsel or input on any matter related to these bodies. He has both the final and the only say.
“The CJN has the power to appoint 80 percent of members of the council and 60 percent of members of FJSC. The same applies to NJI and LPPC.
“Such enormous powers are effortlessly abused. This needs to change.
“Continued denial of the existence of this threatening anomaly weakens effective judicial oversight in the country,” he added.
On the current composition of the bench of the apex court, Justice Muhammad alleged that the refusal to fill the vacant slot of South East on the apex court bench, was deliberate, blaming it on “absolute powers vested in the office of the CJN.”
Honestly, for the judiciary to command respect again the imbalance in the appointment of judges must be corrected. Right now the entire South East and North Central have no representatives at the Supreme Court, while four other zones have two or more representatives.
The power to appoint the CJN must not be the prerogative of the president, but the bench.
The salaries of the judges must be regularly reviewed, while serious disciplinary committee be set up by the bench to monitor judges and their judgements.
Nigeria deserves a quality and corruption-free judiciary for rebranding.