President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday lamented how judges and lawyers aid those milking the country.
Opening the 2015 All Nigeria Judges’ Conference in Abuja, Buhari accused corrupt lawyers and judges of sabotaging his efforts to recover stolen assets.
Represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, he said: “Further on point of negative perception, there is both local and international dissatisfaction with the long delays in the trial process. In the past few years, this has become especially so for high-profile cases of corruption, especially where they involve serving or former political office holders.
“As my lords are undoubtedly aware, corruption transfers from public coffers to private pockets, resources required to deliver social and economic justice.
“Government’s attempts to recover such assets in accordance with the law are often faced with dilatory tactics by lawyers sometimes with the apparent collusion of judges.
“These tactics are often not directed at reaching any conclusion or affirming innocence or guilt, but at stalling trials indefinitely, thus denying the state and the accused person the opportunity of a judicial verdict. I wish to echo the sentiments of the vast majority of Nigerians in saying that we cannot afford to continue on this path.”
Buhari called for a total reform of the Justice sector to stop instances of delays or outright inaction in some high-profile corruption cases over shoddy investigations, outmoded rules of procedure, poor prosecution or unprofessional practices of defence counsel.
“Delay in judicial processes has cost our economy dearly in terms of much needed investment, as investors prefer other jurisdictions where the progress of court cases is such more predictable and in accordance with the rule of law. Being able to reverse this trend is largely dependent on the efficiency and effectiveness of a justice system.
“Unfortunately, our justice system currently has a reputation for delays, usually occasioned by a combination of endless adjournments, incessant interlocutory applications and overwhelming caseloads. This situation is a huge disincentive for businesses.
“It is not surprising, therefore, that Nigeria ranks near bottom on the ease of doing business index. We are currently ranked 143 out of 189 countries by the World Bank Group’s Enforcing Contracts Indicator.
“Delays in the trial process have damaged the international reputation of the Nigerian Judiciary, even amongst its international peers.
“In pursuing its internal reforms, and without prejudice to the recognition that should be given to the disposal of high profile cases, the Judiciary must always remember that one of its key roles is the promotion of equity and social justice, all persons are equal under the law.
“Judicial reforms must take into consideration the need to clean up the systems and processes in our magistrate and district courts and all other lower courts across the country which handle matters involving th e poor and the less-privileged.
“Together with the Police stations, these courts constitute the only interface between the less-privileged and the Justice system. Our justice sector reforms must, therefore, seek to position and portray these court as humane and efficient.
“I have to admit that reforming the current system must extend beyond the judiciary and necessarily include reviewing laws, institutions, processes and procedures that inhibit speedy justice delivery. We must also re-orientate and improve the attitude of legal practitioners and the legal profession in general.
“Judges must not be weak or appear to be weak in sanctioning lawyers and litigants who deliberately stall and frustrate the judicial process.
“I have consistently declared that this administration is committed to the rule of law and that no one will be related above the law of the land. As the rich and powerful claim legal rights before the courts, we must remember that the poor also deserve social and economic justice.
“This is why our government is determined to fulfil key planks of our campaign promises, as they relate to the provision of social welfare programs in aid of the poor.”
Pledging to improve the welfare of judges, Buhari stressed that the current economic reality requires modest use of resources to achieve great changes.
Earlier, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, blamed the seeming low performance of the judiciary on underfunding.
His words: “The constitution prescribes the institutional independence of the judiciary under Section 6 of its provisions. Sections 121 (3) and 162 (9) further guarantee fiscal independence for the judiciary, a fact now acknowledged by the other arms of Government with recent resolutions by the Federal and some State Governments to pay the judiciary its outstanding and future budgetary allocations as and when due.
“However, under the circumstances, the state Judiciaries continue to encounter a further burden of facing difficulties in accessing these paltry funds from their executives in order to function.
“It is this independence that gives credibility to the scales of justice and allows our citizens to rest assured that justice is indeed not for sale.
“For this reason, I call on the heads of other Arms of Government, in the spirit of the cooperation between us, to support the judiciary’s existence and I can assure you that it will flourish and grow”.