President Goodluck Jonathan last week appointed Justice Mahmud Mohammed as a replacement for the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mukhtar, who retired upon attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Mukhtar, the first female chief justice of the country, is demonstrably an unprecedented martinet in the Nigerian judicial system having revolutionized the entire process and restored immeasurably the dignity that was almost lost before her occupation of that exalted position. We salute her courage, professionalism and unparalleled commitment to the rule of law. Her diligence was so profound that her legacies would be inerasable. There is no doubt that she brought Spartan self-discipline to the judiciary.
It is pertinent to underscore the fact that Mukhtar passionately tried to stamp out corruption in the judiciary in very manifest ways that challenged the status quo ante. She may not have succeeded in totally cleansing the Augean stables, but her exemplary efforts are there for her successor to advance. The most critical component of Muhktar’s battle against improprieties in our judiciary is the consciousness that she has developed among judicial officials such that henceforth there would be a rethink by anyone bent on soiling their hands, both at the Bench and on the Bar.
As Justice Mohammed takes over the mantle of leadership at the apex court, he should put his best foot forward by consolidating on the modest achievements of his predecessor. If the landmarks are not sustained, we may return to the era of judicial passivism when administration of justice was scandalously commercialized for the highest bidder! In other words, the war against judicial corruption must be sustained at all costs. Once public confidence in the judiciary is eroded, there is no hope for the whole society—not just the common man.
Justice Mohammed has a responsibility to improve, generally, on the laudable records of his predecessor. Anything short of this is capable of undermining all the indelible accomplishments attained so far. With just two years’ tenure for His Lordship, the new CJN must move as fast as possible so that time constraint will not be an issue. Whatever needs to be addressed should be urgently attended to. Despite the sterling performance of the former CJN, there are still grey areas calling for urgent intervention by Justice Mohammed.
We implore the new CJN to review the situation where the country’s number one judicial officer presides over the National Judicial Commission (NJC) and also the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC). Simply put, this amounts to a judge presiding over his own case! This practice is fundamentally flawed, retrogressive and antithetical to the basic principles and tenets of equity, justice and fairness. The CJN should be a modicum of impartiality and propriety. Any entanglement or institutional encumbrance by obsolete laws should be removed to foreclose circumstantial compromise of the country’s paramount judicial official. The controversial case between the former CJN, Justice Katsina Alu, and Justice Ademola Salami, both retired, needlessly and avoidably dragged the name of the judiciary to the mud because of the duality of function pointed out above which tends to cast aspersions on the objectivity of the CJN in a matter that majorly involves him and his office.
Justice Mohammed equally needs to focus on the legendary delay in the dispensation of justice. There is so much buck-passing between prosecuting and defence teams, the police and other government agencies that are integral to litigation and, of course, infrastructural deficiencies that hamper justice administration. The evergreen aphorism that justice delayed is justice denied must be a reminder for the new CJN as he sets out to make his own mark in the shortest of time.
Interestingly, his predecessor identified why there are delays in the administration and dispensation of justice. Justice Mohammed should take up the baton from there and find ways of resolving the knotty areas that frustrate the process of this core aspect of the law which is at the heart of the judiciary.
Another area that the new CJN may consider looking into is the deplorable condition of courts in the states and the deployment of archaic methods in the recording of proceedings and other related matters that culminate in the poor, cumbersome and awkward dispensation of justice due to lack of modern gadgets, standard furniture and decent office accommodation that is supposed to be hallowed.
We wish Justice Muhktar blissful retirement and Justice Mohammed a memorable tenure in the prime office.