Most jurists, local and foreign, are quick to acknowledge that every case before them puts them and the judiciary on trial. This is because the judgment that is delivered in any and every case is a scorecard with which the jurists and the judicial system are judged. This is more like saying that the judiciary has always been on trial from time immemorial. It is not a Nigerian phenomenon, but what the judiciary is and should be in order to keep the judges on their toes, after all, their roles are too sensitive for them to be laid back.
In Nigeria, however, the judiciary has been in the eye of the storm in the recent past, and mostly for the wrong reasons – assault on the independence of the judiciary, allegations of corruption, allegations of conflicting judgments, seeming lack of cohesion among judicial officers and players, alleged to be lagging behind the times etc. It is no longer abnormal for parties to cases which judgments have been given to openly accuse judges of miscarriage of justice; some out rightly accuse the judges of corruption and bias. Unfortunately, some of these petitioners have had their cases proven at the National Judicial Council (NJC) and have got some of these erring judges sanctioned.
Recently, the judiciary was almost brought to its knees with the suspension of the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen JSC by President Muhammadu Buhari, over the jurist’s alleged non-compliance with the Code of Conduct’s stipulations of asset declaration, and the swearing-in of Tanko Muhammad JSC as the acting CJN. It should be recalled that the President did this hire and fire without the recommendation of the NJC, which many claimed, had roles to play in such circumstances. The fallout of these incidences were a harvest of injunctions and counter injunctions that Nigeria experienced only during the June 12 era.
Delay in the dispensation of justice is another evil that our judicial system grapples with. The judiciary in the country seems to have become helpless in tackling this issue which has become a clog in the wheel of the administration of justice in Nigeria. Before the review of the Electoral Act that put timelines to elections petitions, judgments in election petitions dragged and were, sometimes, delivered only months to the expiration of the tenures that some of these candidates were supposed to serve, thereby denying justice to some of the petitioners and their constituencies.
Some of these weaknesses and threats our judicial system experience, as well as the global trend in adjudication, including the changes that have been introduced in the world by technology and internet demand that our law, which guides everyday relationships amongst peoples and corporate bodies needs to acquaint itself with these current developments to be able to adjudicate between contending parties in times of rift as well as be able to deploy these developments to achieve its own growth.
It is with this background and with eyes set in the future that the organizers of the 59th Annual General Conference (AGC) of the Nigerian Bar Association set the theme of this year’s conference to be ‘Facing the Future’. Like the quote attributed to the legendary Mahatma Gandhi, “the future depends on what you do today.” The Nigerian Bar is using this year’s conference to plan the future of its industry, its practice and the entire justice system in Nigeria.
According to its programme of events, the august conference “will address issues around the rule of law, independence of the judiciary, access to justice and protection of fundamental human rights, the economy and how to pilot the present to assure a better future. The theme ‘Facing the Future’ is borne out of the pressing need to invest in a sustainable foundation for an optimistic future.”
The Conference will also interrogate the current legal regulatory environment, lawyers’ response to technology and preparedness to harness these tools for efficient legal services delivery and a technology driven judiciary.
As usual, the NBA Sections and their respective specialist committee sessions are going to play active roles at the conference to assist in building the capacity of the participant lawyers, who would be given the opportunity to focus on their areas of interest and benefit from exposure to emerging practice areas to be better equipped for a better future.
One of the issues that will be discussed at the conference is sexual harassment in the legal and justice community. This is one issue on the lawyers’ conference agenda that the wider society is eagerly looking forward to as it would benefit from the deliberations and recommendations that the ‘learned men’ would proffer. People have attributed the dearth of convictions for sexual offences in this part of the globe to a weak judicial system that has failed to adequately protect victims of sexual abuses.
As the lawyers converge in Lagos for this year’s AGC, one would expect that they are going to find lasting solutions to some of the ills that bedevil our judicial system, in general, and the legal profession in particular.