By G9ija

The Federal Government will continue to support efforts and reforms that safeguard the integrity of the Nigerian Judiciary, its independence from all forms of interference, and ensure it maintains the highest level of responsiveness and professional standards.

Also, because Nigeria is a major part of the global marketplace for investment and legal services, more foreign investors are attracted to the country because of a judiciary that maintains the highest professional standards and integrity.

According to a statement by Laolu Akande, senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, these are the views of President Muhammadu Buhari.

In his speech at the 2021 Biennial All Nigeria Judges’ Conference, which held at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja, the President was of the opinion that “the extent to which we can attract business to our country depends in part upon investor perception of the quality of our justice delivery system. If we are seen as inefficient and ineffective, we would lose out to more efficient systems.”

Acknowledging that the judiciary remains the last hope of the common man, the President, who was represented at the event by his deputy, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, noted that “a trusted, well-resourced and well-functioning Judiciary is therefore essential to the entrenchment of rule of law.”

He added that “to maintain this revered position, and retain greater public confidence by the citizens, the Judiciary must be independent of all forms of interference and must maintain the highest level of responsiveness, professional standards, and integrity.

“We will continue to partner with you in ensuring that the Judiciary is financially independent; and effectively and sustainably retains a preeminent position in the quality of jurists manning our courts and the jurisprudence that develops from their collective premier reasoning.”

The President recalled his 2019 address to the Judiciary body, where he emphasized the need for implementation of measures that will ensure speedy dispensation of justice in the country through the dual-track of removing administrative bottlenecks in the judicial process and adopting modern time-saving technology.

In the same vein, President Buhari also commended the Nigerian Judiciary for “rising to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, by adopting innovative approaches.

He noted that these approaches, “in addition to ensuring compliance with the Covid-19 protocols, have ensured that the wheels of justice continued to move unhindered – in some cases even faster than what was obtained during physical hearings.”

The President pointed out that, “Practice Directions were issued by several courts for remote hearing of cases, electronic filing of court processes, service of hearing notices via email addresses and mobile phone numbers of counsel, and e-payment of filing fees; with relevant devices installed.

“Speed, efficiency, and effectiveness were attained. It aided in the decongestion of cases, did away with the obsolete method of physical filing, and ensured structured use of both judicial and administrative time and resources. Travel time to-and-from the court for litigants, counsel, and witnesses was no longer an issue, effectively minimizing the need for adjournments.”

According to the President, a universal application of these approaches nationwide will greatly enhance access to and speedy dispensation of justice.

President Buhari further said, “as My Lords are aware, delay in the dispensation of justice coupled with the increase in the number of cases in our courts have remained subjects of grave concern. As someone said, “our problem is not access to justice, it is exiting the justice system.”

“And I know that delays are not necessarily the fault of judges, lawyers are often responsible. Should we not then as been suggested by some, be evolving a cost-award system that recognizes the court as a finite and expensive public resource? And as such delays and other dilatory tactics are visited with deterrent costs?”

Again, emphasizing the importance of judicial integrity, President Buhari stated that “in my humble view, nothing is as important as for judges to be trusted for honesty and integrity.”

While he acknowledged the number of challenges that he said was “slowing the pace of transformation in our administration of the justice system,” President Buhari urged that “more needs to be done to strike a sound balance between a high level of productivity, the quality of judicial decisions, and careful consideration of cases.”

In his view, “men and women who have the power over the lives and livelihoods of others are not like the rest of us, we must place them on the highest scale of probity. I would like to urge that your Lordships must not allow a few to undermine the respect and trust both local and international that our Judiciary has built up in over a century of its existence.”

Highlighting some of the measures taken by his administration, through the Federal Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the National Judicial Council, in resolving challenges in the Judiciary, the President noted the development of strategic infrastructure to provide ease in case management in courts, and the enhanced welfare of judicial officers.

The development of strategic infrastructure includes “the electronic recording of proceedings to replace the tedious longhand recording currently practiced in the majority of our courts,” the President stated.

He added, “advancements in courtroom technology (E-Court systems) have increased the level of efficiency in the justice system in the areas of speed of documentation, accuracy, security, and accessibility of records.

“Enhanced welfare of judicial officers, especially in the area of conditions of service – salaries, allowances, and retirement benefits for Judicial Officers. Provision of comprehensive medical insurance. On this, I wish to commend the National Judicial Council for the institution of the NJC Health Insurance Programme, which provides comprehensive international insurance for all members of the Federal Judiciary as well as comprehensive local coverage within all the States of the Federation.”

Also, the President commended the leadership of the Judiciary and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, for its proactive stance, “in tackling some of the recent issues that emerged, especially in the area of conflicting court orders by courts of coordinate jurisdiction; and My Lord’s disposition in revolutionizing the process of selection and appointment of Judges.”

In his remarks, the CJN, Honourable Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, thanked President Buhari and the VP for their efforts towards supporting the judiciary.

“Let me publicly acknowledge and thank the President of the federation, through his Excellency, the Vice President, for his complete obedience to the Constitution of the Federation in relation to the funding of the Federal Judiciary. The negotiation driven by the Ministry of Labour, between JUSUN and the Governors Forum under the directive of the President is quite commendable, we appreciate this support.”

Hon. Justice Muhammad also thanked Prof. Osinbajo for honoring their invitation on behalf of the President.

Describing the Vice President as “a very solid part and parcel of us,” the CJN said, “luckily enough for us, the man seated with us happens to not only be one of us but very knitted into us. He knows the court very well, not because of a few years ago, but he has been appearing before us. We talk with him and we are sure he is ever ready to continue to listen and assist us.”