by ISE-OLUWA IGE

…says failure to respect constitution dangerous
. Vows to descend on erring magistrates

Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmoud Mohammed, yesterday, called on the President- elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, and in-coming governors to respect and obey the 1999 Constitution relating to financial autonomy for the judiciary.buhari

The CJN said funds appropriated to state judiciary must be released promptly by governors to enable the justice system function effectively.

The executive, since 1999 when the on-going Fourth Republic berthed, had refused to comply with relevant provisions of the constitution, which granted financial autonomy to the judiciary in order to control and hamper the independence of the third arm of government.

Although, the Federal Government had, recently, complied with the provisions of the constitution, many state chief executives had refused, a situation which compelled the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, to go to court for an order affirming financial autonomy for the judiciary as spelt out in the constitution.

A Federal high court in Abuja ordered the chief executives to comply, many of them still refused to release fund appropriated for the judiciary.

This development led to closure of courts nationwide for weeks by JUSUN before intervention came from stakeholders, including the CJN.

Speaking, yesterday, at the opening ceremony of the 2015 national workshop for magistrates on judicial ethics and corrupt practices in Abuja, the CJN called on the in-coming state executives to prioritise the issue by releasing, promptly, to the heads of courts, all funds appropriated to the judiciary.

He warned that failure to do that would portend great danger for the nation’s justice system in the next four years. “Without proper funding, no head of court can perform magic.

It is on this note that I call upon all the state chief executives, including those that will be coming on board on May 29, 2015 that they should please respect and obey the Constitution they have sworn to uphold.

“All the funds appropriated to the state judiciary should be promptly released to heads of courts so that they can function effectively.

“When the magistrates feel unsecured by the government, they are tempted to provide the security themselves.

“Financial insecurity is the worst because it exposes the magistrates to some corrupt and ignoble practices.

This must be avoided by all means. “The magistrate must be adequately encouraged to discharge his duties without fear or favour, affection or ill-will,” he said.

Warning against the retention of the status quo, the CJN said the nation’s justice system would suffer.

He said: “I am aware that some of you (magistrates) sit in town halls and other unsuitable venues. Many of you live in rented apartments with co-tenants, some of whom may be or become litigants in your courts.

“The security of your lives and properties are very porous. Many of you have been attacked by hoodlums. Some have been kidnapped and huge ransoms demanded from their families. Some have even been killed by assassins.

All these make the condition of your work so bad and challenging. “These ugly scenarios are occasioned by the refusal of some state chief executives to obey the Constitution and give to your heads of court what belong to the judiciary of your state,” he said.

He, however, warned that the hardship being faced should not be the reason for indulging in unwholesome conducts, warning that any erring magistrate will be properly disciplined.

“But if you carry out your duties very effectively and diligently, your reward surely awaits you. Your destiny is in your own hands.

Many past Chief Justices of Nigeria started as magistrates just like you; if they can make it to the top, why not you? All that is required is honesty, hard work and integrity. If you possess all these, then you are ready to fly,” he added.

Also at the occasion, the Administrator of the National Judicial Institute, NJI, Justice P. Bozimo, admitted that poor funding had affected the base of the judicial system in Nigeria.

She however warned the magistrates that the desecration of the code of ethics for judicial officers would no longer be tolerated.

She said: “This year’s workshop is designed to acquaint the participants with the salient provisions of the Code of Conduct for judicial officers in Nigeria and the basic principles of judicial ethics.

“This has become necessary because there has been gradual but frightening deviation from acceptable conducts by magistrates in all parts of Nigeria. Some magistrates exhibit life styles that are inimical to judicial ethics and Code of Conduct.

“This dangerous deviation can no longer be tolerated as it has caused serious damage to the image and integrity of the Judiciary.

“Such misconducts have led to the erosion of public confidence in the judicial process.”

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