On this day 1st October 1960 Nigeria became an independent nation.
Let me congratulate all Nigerians and our past leaders who made the attainment of independence possible.
I also thank God for those of us that are alive today to witness this day. This day is a day of stock taking and to see how far we have fared as an independent nation. As with any nation, the development of great nations of the world was gradual and was mostly measured and attained by the level of independence of the legal profession. When I speak of the legal profession I mean the Bar and the Bench.
On this occasion it is not out of place to take a critical look at the legal profession, the Bar and the Bench cum the judiciary and to see how vibrant it has been and how independent, patriotic and nationalistic we are now.
There is no doubt that given the excruciating and unhygienic environment that the legal profession and our judiciary operate, patriotism and nationalistic instinct in me will not allow me to say that the legal profession and our judiciary have not been doing well since independence. If given opportunity to award marks, I believe that the Nigerian judiciary and the legal profession have scored about 50% to 60% in keeping this nation together since independence. Time and space may not allow me to list the cases here.
Let me say that our judiciary is a product of the legal profession.
All judicial officers of our superior courts of record and even some lower courts are members of the legal profession.
So when I speak of judiciary hereunder I am speaking of the legal profession. Those who are students of our legal history and jurisprudence will no doubt find that when it matters most and the country was at cross roads politically, economically and socially the nations judiciary always rose to the occasions to protect and preserve the unity and corporate existence of this country.
To this extent, and given the level of the environment of near lack of infrastructural developments and unavailability of technological equipment to work with, in our judiciary, as an arm of government has fared far better than any of the two other arms of government.
Again let me say that notwithstanding these lofty achievements of the judiciary, it will be shortsighted arrogant and sycophantic puerile blind nationalism to say that Nigerian judiciary is independent.
The judiciary itself is aware that it is not independent.
The judiciary is not independent financially.
This is too notorious a fact to require any debate.
In terms of judicial performance there are arguments of interference with judicial functions. Appointments of judges seem to be more of reward based than merit based.
While there are good and sound judicial officers on the Bench, there are arguments that some judges who found their ways to the exalted office of judicial officers ought not to have been appointed in the first place.
The qualities of some judgments we see in our courts too make people to argue that the judiciary has been compromised by political class. Whether this is true or not is what I cannot say with certain degree of accuracy but the perceptions are all over for the judiciary to take judiciary notice of it.
Justice, it is said is rooted in confidence and when right thinking members of the society go away from the seat of justice thinking that the judex is compromised, then confidence is thereby destroyed.
There is no doubt that our judiciary can do better and improve on the quality of justice in judgments.
It appears that over the years since independence, the legal profession has developed some principles of law that have set complete road blocks to attainments of political, social and economic justice in our justice system. Most people perceived and rightly too that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eyes of the needle than for losers of our elections to get justice in our courts. These trends have made the political class to develop winning at all costs mentality and they give no dam to the sovereignty of the people through the ballots.
Today most politicians who manipulated their ways to top political offices either at party levels or government offices usually have their manipulations rectified via judicial fiats judgments by the application of anachronistic legal principles and jargon that closed eyes to factual realities on the grounds.
For us to be truly independent in terms of justice delivery system, the legal profession must have a rethink and fathoms and fashion out principles of law that take into accounts the peculiarities of our behavior and attitudes to make attainments of justice less technical than we see our courts do in most electoral disputes. The principle that documents duly certified must be tendered through the maker even when the makers are the ones whose actions are being challenged need to be looked into and jettisoned for substantial justice.
The concept of demonstration of documents is another area of potential injustice in judgments. The lingua franca of Nigerian lawyers and courts is English language. Why do we then advocate and insists that documents written in English language must be demonstrated. After all the law is that documents speak for themselves.
Another potential dangerous principle that needs to be critically looked into is the principle that losers of electoral disputes must call polling units by polling units agents. Nigerian courts/Tribunals must take judicial notice of the length our politicians go to interfere with witnesses.
I do not see why our courts are not ready to apply electronic and scientific means of proofs in electoral disputes in the face of section 68 of the Evidence Act 2011 and section 151 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended. The delayed justice is another area our judiciary and the legal profession must tackle if truly we are to claim to be independent.
Willful delay in hearing causes and matters are usually attributed to so many factors but essentially the attitudes of legal Practitioners and judges are responsible.
Time has come as we celebrate 60 years of independence to look at our justice system and admit that we have put many road blocks to attainments of justice and to retrace our steps in the overall interest of our profession and our people.
Happy independence to all Nigerians.
Jibrin Samuel Okutepa SAN