Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Tanko Muhammad has warned that the judiciary would no longer tolerate harassment and embarrassment of its officials from anyone or agency of government.
He also said testing the will of judicial officers would come with dire consequences to bear.
CJN Muhammad sounded the warning Wednesday at the special session marking the official commencement of the Supreme Court’s 2021/2022 legal year.
The high point of the event was the conferment of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on 72 legal practitioners at the Supreme Court Abuja.
Justice Muhammad spoke against the backdrop of the invasion of a Justice of Supreme Court, Mary Odili’s Abuja residence during the legal year by some armed security operatives.
The residence was invaded following a purported search warrant from a controversial source.
The CJN said: “Unfortunate occurrences blighted our joy and presented some pensive moments to contend with.”
Sounding visibly angry, Muhammad said: “On a very sad note, I must say, we were jolted with the embarrassing news of the invasion of the official residence of one of our brother Justices, Hon Justice Mary Peter Odili on Friday, October 29 by men suspected to be security operatives, acting on a search warrant.
“The said warrant was purportedly obtained from an Abuja Magistrate Court under questionable circumstances.
“I must make it known to all and sundry that we have had enough dosage of such embarrassment and harassment of our judicial officers across the country and we can no longer take any of such shenanigans.
“The silence of the judiciary should never be mistaken for stupidity or weakness.
“By the nature of our work, we are conservative but not conquered species and should not be pushed further than this by any individual, institution or agency of the government. With time, those taking judiciary as a mere weakling will soon realize that it is from the calmest seas we often experience the fiercest storms.
“The time to oppress, suppress and intimidate judicial officers is gone. No one, irrespective of his or her status or position in the country, should test our will because the consequences of such unwarranted provocation will be too dire to bear.
“We shall begin to resist any clandestine attempt to silence or ridicule us to oblivion. Nigeria, to the best of my knowledge is not a lawless society. We should begin to do things that will project us favourably and rightly too, to the international community.
“No law permits anyone to invade, subdue or overawe any Nigerian citizen in his or her residence with a flimsy, fraudulently obtained search warrant.
“We are making efforts now to ensure that henceforth, every search or arrest warrant must be issued with the knowledge and approval of the Chief Judge of the respective State or Federal High Court as the case may be.”
On the implementation of the provisions in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, the number one judicial officer said this has “remained a major clog in the wheel of progress.”
In a rhetoric manner, he queried: “Are we adhering to these provisions and the general tenets of the Act?”
Commenting on the general standard of living of Nigerians under the current dispensation, Muhammad counselled the three arms of government to chart a way out.
He said: “I want to use this occasion to call on the executive, legislature and judiciary to work assiduously to better the lot of the citizenry.
“It is the insensitivity of some of our conducts as leaders that have brought us to where we are today.
“I urge all the stakeholders of the Nigerian project to reconcile with our conscience…and align our actions with its dictates in order to evolve an egalitarian society.”
2021 Legal Year
Speaking on the number of cases handled, the CJN said notwithstanding the impact of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and a better part of 2021, a total of 746 corruption-related cases were dispensed with.
He also listed a number of forfeited non-cash recoveries to include 51 automobiles, 16 real estates, 11 barges/tug boats and two schools in the outgone year.
Other non-cash forfeited assets, he added, include aircraft, seven filling stations, 48 real estates and 149 vehicles amongst several others.
Furthermore, the CJN said in 2021, some 1,143 suspects were convicted for various corruption and financial related crimes.
Giving the specific cases handled by the apex court, he said a total of 681 cases comprising motions and appeals were entertained.
The CJN, who said “I will confidently say that this scorecard is impressive,” further stated that “out of these, we heard 312 civil, 95 criminal and five political, making a total of 412 motions.
“Similarly, the court considered a total of 269 appeals, comprising 139 civil, 102 criminal and 28 political. A total number of 216 judgements were delivered in the year.”
SANs urge NJC on courage
Also in a remark, the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) urged “the NJC to be courageous enough to approach the legislature directly with its budget estimates.”
Speaking on behalf of the group, Mr Adegboyega Awomolo, who said this observed that the current practice of subjecting the judiciary’s budget proposals to the executive arm for onward transmission to the Parliament for appropriation won’t augur well for the third arm of government.
The body, which condemned the raid on Odili’s residence, also admonished the court to “stamp its feet for the independence of the Nigerian judiciary,” even as they called for improved welfare, security and safety of judicial officers.
And in his remarks, President Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Olumide Akpata faulted the recruitment process of judges, just as he called for protection of judges from danger.
Akpata, who recalled with sadness the raid on Justice Odili’s residence, urged that perpetrators of the act must be brought to justice.
He also liked the raid to the U.S. Capitol scenario January 2020 where riotous supporters of former President Donald Trump violently protested over disputed polls.
Mr Olumide queried the process for the recruitment of judges, saying it is shrouded in “opaqucity.”
The NBA urged the NJC to tackle issues of indiscipline amongst judges.