Mukhtar’s New Broom Reforms

Mukhtar
Mukhtar

Aloma Marian Mukhtar, Chief Justice of Nigeria, starts a process to sanitise the judiciary. How far can she go?

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Jun. 3, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

CAN Aloma Mariam Mukhtar really reform the judiciary in Nigeria? This was the question on the lips of many Nigerians in 2012 when Mukhtar, took over as the chief justice of Nigeria, CJN, on July 16. But recent developments in the judicial arm of government have showed that it will no longer be business as usual. She has demonstrated the desire to restore public confidence in the judiciary. Her reforms are being commended by many Nigerians.

Apart from the suspension of two high court judges for judicial misconduct and threat to sack lazy judges, the CJN has recommended the compulsory retirement of Justice Thomas Naron of the Plateau judiciary and Justice Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court, Lagos. They have since been booted out. She has started investigation on petitions written against judges, especially with regards to corruption. So far, 23 judges are being investigated including high-profile judges such as the Justice Lawal Gummi, chief judge of the Federal Capital Territory, who has tendered his resignation to become a second-class emir in Zamfara.

She has also intensified efforts to tackle inefficiency and non-performance of members of the bench. She  recently said that judges that gave less than four judgements in a year will be fired for non-performance. She has also directed that court sittings should start by 9 a.m. rather than the usual practice whereby judges come in late at noon as well as placed a ban on the indiscriminate travelling by judges.

Mukhtar said the on-going reform in the judiciary is not meant to victimise practitioners but to clean and bring sanity into Nigeria’s judicial system. She made the comment recently at a two-day workshop organised by the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Lagos State chapter. She said the National Judicial Council, which is the mirror of the judiciary in the country, could not be found wanting in its efforts at ensuring a better judicial system.

“The judiciary is an indispensable partner in a democratic dispensation. The judiciary is responsible for interpreting the laws and it has the responsibility of checking the excesses of the legislature and the executive. So, the NJC, being the image of the judiciary in this country, cannot slack in its efforts to improve the judicial system. Nobody is out to victimise anybody. The singular message here is that everything has to be done to ensure a credible judicial system in Nigeria,” she said.

Ubani
Ubani

Onyekachi Ubani, chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Ikeja chapter,  commended Mukhtar for embarking on the reform. He said that the CJN has changed some of the negative perceptions people have had about the Nigerian judiciary within one year of her tenure. He explained that her reforms have shown that we can have somebody at the apex, who is very upright and who believes that we need to clean and sanitise the judiciary. Ubani noted that the CJN has reformed the system in a manner that is commendable but lamented that Mukhtar has a limited time to spend in the system.

“Everyone in the judiciary is sitting up because of her role as the chairman of the NJC and the disciplinary measures she has given to some of the judges. I, as a branch chairman, I’m a bit impressed about her administration so far. She has demonstrated courage in some instances and has shown an understanding that there is some problem with our judicial system and certain things need to be corrected. I’m impressed I must say, with the style of her administration. The efforts at sanitising the judiciary are commendable but the war against judicial ungodliness can only be won if judicial courage and honesty are also rewarded. This is the only means by which the scale can be balanced,” he said.

To encourage judicial purity, Ubani said the CJN must introduce a means of rewarding judges that have displayed exceptional judicial honesty and bravery. According to him: “Hunting those who have sinned while losing sight of the saints would only tilt the scale of reform towards one side. High Court judges in this country who have demonstrated a very high sense of judicial gallantry in the discharge of their duties should be rewarded. Such judges should not be allowed to rot on the High Court Bench. The much desired sanity in the judicial system can only be attained when honest and brave judges are allowed to climb the judicial ladder to the peak.” Specifically, he referred to the Lagos High Court judge who handled Bode George’s case as a reference point.

Mukhtar also has to tackle the issue of infrastructures, technology and the procedure for the appointment of judicial officers by making it more transparent and competitive, so that only those who are fully prepared will ascend the bench.  The CJN should also expand the court and appoint more judicial officers.

Before Mukhtar became the CJN, Nigerians had lost confidence in the courts which led to public distrust of the judicial system. Thus, there was the tendency to view every judicial decision as a product of behind the scene arrangement no matter how legally justifiable such decision may be. The height of the public distrust in the system was once again manifested a couple of months ago given the public disapproval that greeted the judgment of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory sitting in Abuja in the John Yakubu Yusuf police pension fraud case.

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