With a pledge to sustain judicial independence, President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday opened this year’s Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) at the Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.
The President said he was not dictating to the third arm of government.
He explained that the Federal Government under his watch had demonstrated this by accepting unfavourable court judgments.
President Buhari, who was represented by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami (SAN), restated his administration’s commitment to strengthening institutions.
Alluding to the raging controversy about the recent trial of top judicial officers, the President pledged to justly apply the law against “sacred cows”.
He said: “We have had to disrupt the age-long wrong assumptions and historical narratives of the presumed immunity of sacred cows in our society, simply to demonstrate that henceforth the law will be used as a potent instrument to regulate the activities of all persons and institutions in our country in a fair and transparent manner.”
Malami affirmed government’s resolve to probe the circumstances surrounding the failed power project leading to $9 billion arbitration award against Nigeria in favour of British firm, P & ID.
The AGF regretted that the $9 billion is 20 per cent of Nigeria’s reserves and vowed that all culpable individuals and corporate bodies would be punished.
He said: “It is a sad testimony with potential for national economic disaster when legal issues are handled either in a compromised, ignorant or incompetent manner.
“Let me say that without prejudice to our right to challenge this award, Mr. President has already directed the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to take steps to ensure that all issues related to negotiation, signing, formation and obvious frustration of the purported contract are duly investigated and all persons and institutions, whether in the private or public sector, who acted in ways that have now made our dear nation face potential economic adversity and widespread opprobrium are made to face the law and prosecution in the law court.
“Never again shall we allow such short-sighted individuals to compromise our national interest and walk away without a sense of accountability… Never again,” Buhari said.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, noted that the Judiciary was not truly independent financially.
He promised that it would not lose “its firm grip on the mantle of honesty, transparency and integrity”.
The CJN, who explained that those three virtues formed the pivot of his administration, said the judges do not regard “anybody’s face or feelings” in deciding cases.
He said: “By the grace of Almighty God, I will tenaciously hold on to that, even until that very moment of my last breath on earth.
“Let me assure this assembly that we don’t look at anybody’s face or feelings before making our decisions.
“If there is any deity to be feared, that deity is the Almighty God. We will never be subservient to anybody, no matter how highly placed.”
He pleaded with those preventing judicial independence to desist.
“Please, all that are concerned, let us enjoy our independence. If you say that I am independent, but in a way whether I like it or not, I have to go and bend down, asking (for funds) I have lost my independence” Muhammad said.
Muhammed added that Supreme Court and Court of Appeal Justices sacrificed their annual vacation this year to clear the backlog of “time-sensitive cases”. He admonished lawyers to desist from the practice of filing needless appeals at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The CJN warned that the apex court would be unsparing in punishing “blatant abusers of the court processes”.
Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu urged lawyers to key into the ongoing global technological transformation, if they must remain relevant.
Sanwo-Olu, who was represented by his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, said with the impact of technology in different aspects of life, the legal profession, as the voice of the voiceless, could not afford to swim against the tide in the scheme of things. NBA President Paul Osoro assured that the association’s members would ensure that the legal profession in Nigeria was “placed on the pedestal of integrity”.
Delivering the keynote address, the International Bar Association (IBA) President Horatio Neto urged Nigerian lawyers to promote gender parity and ethnicity. He also advised them to specialise in different fields of technology that are relevant to the law profession at the global sphere.
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