The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has accused the Buhari led administration of undermining the independence of the judiciary. This position was articulated by the President of NBA, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN in the speech he delivered during the ceremonies that to mark the beginning of the 2019/2020 judicial year at the supreme court in Abuja.
Mr. Usoro berated the executive arm of federal government of using it’s agencies to “tele-guide the activities and decisions of the courts”.
The NBA President, who himself is currently being prosecuted for fraud, has in several occasions condemned in strong terms the executive’s manipulations of the judiciary one of which was the removal of former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, following allegations of false asset declaration.
Mr Onnoghen’s removal, weeks before Nigeria’s General election in February is widely condemned as a move by the Buhari-led government to gag the judiciary.
The NBA President’s speech was frank and blunt in castigating the government of the day on their intimidation of judiciary officers. Mr Usoro said “the mental and physical disposition of judges was instrumental to the attainment of justice in any society”.
In his opinion the independence of mind and thoughts by judges in the determination of matters before the courts is under severe attack. The learned silk lamented that the executive arm of government and its agencies are increasingly and unceasingly critical of the judiciary and its decisions “particularly in matters that the Government and its agencies may be interested in.”
“It is not unusual these days to hear high officials of government talk down the judiciary and ridiculously and rather ill-advisedly dump all the ills of society on the judiciary,” he said. “Decisions by Your Lordships are sometimes brazenly denigrated and attributed to ulterior and ill motives – and these on social and traditional media platforms.”
He also said “veiled and sometimes open and, in all cases, audacious attempts are made to tele-guide and program the decisions of courts”.
“These are very dangerous practices that destroy the independence of the judiciary and by extension the rule of law and indeed the fabric of our society,”the NBA president said.
Mr Usoro said the success of a democracy was largely dependent on a free judiciary and that denigrating the judicial sector was an invitation to anarchy.
“The society needs and can only survive if we have independent-minded judges who are empowered to dispense justice to all manner of men, including government departments, without fear or favor,” he said. “We can only survive as a nation if the independence and vibrancy of the judiciary, particularly, the non-interference with the thoughts and decision-making processes of Your Lordships, are guaranteed and protected.”