Independence of Judiciary My Watchword…CJ

Independence of Judiciary My Watchword…CJ

…Says I’ll Uphold it Until My Last Breath …Amidst Calls to Check Sexual Harassment, Bullying of Female Lawyers The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, has expressed his readiness to ensure that the nation’s Judiciary is independent of other arms of government. He vowed not to be intimidated or cowed to undermine Judiciary’s

…Says I’ll Uphold it Until My Last Breath

…Amidst Calls to Check Sexual Harassment, Bullying of Female Lawyers

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, has expressed his readiness to ensure that the nation’s Judiciary is independent of other arms of government. He vowed not to be intimidated or cowed to undermine Judiciary’s independence or allow it to buckle under.

The CJN made the assertion while speaking at the on-going annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Lagos amidst strident calls to stem sexual harassment and bullying of female lawyers.  

Justice Muhammad assured that the Judiciary under him will continue to dispense justice without fear or favour.

Asserting that the theme of the conference: “Facing the Future,” was apt, the CJN noted that though some, out of pessimism or timidity, might describe the future as bleak, “for the Judiciary under our watch, I can assure you that, by the grace of God, the future looks bright.”

“Since my appointment as Chief Justice, my focus has been on reinventing our processes, providing speedy and quality administration of justice, strengthening our structures from the Supreme Court to other courts of records and stamping out corruption from the system.

“By the grace of Almighty God, I will tenaciously hold onto that, even until that very moment of my last breath on earth.

“Let me assure this assembly, we don’t look at anybody’s face or feelings before making our decisions.

“If there is any deity to be feared, that deity is the Almighty God. We will never be subservient to anybody, no matter how highly placed.

“One of the fundamental issues affecting the independence of the Judiciary is funding, particularly at the state level. I therefore appeal to stakeholders in the country to allow the Judiciary enjoy its independence by adequately funding it.

“Budgeted allocations to the Judiciary must be deducted from the first line charge so that heads of courts would not have to go cap in hand to beg for fund from the Executive,” the CJ said.

Addressing the gathering, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), said the Buhari administration will continue to sustain the independence of the Judiciary.

While declaring the conference open on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, the CJ maintained that the Federal Government has demonstrated its respect for the Judiciary by “not dictating to the Judiciary and accepting adverse court judgements without questions.”

He added that government was also committed to strengthening institutions in the country.

“We have had to disrupt the age-long wrong assumptions and historical narratives of the presumed immunity of sacred cows in our society, simply to demonstrate that, henceforth the law will be used as a potent instrument to regulate the activities of all persons and institutions in our country in a fair and transparent manner,” he said.

The AGF also revealed that his office has been mandated by the President to launch an enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the arbitration award of $9.5 billion in favour of a British firm, P&ID, over failed power project.

On this, he said: “It is a sad testimony with potential for national economic disaster when legal issues are handled ether in a compromised, ignorant or incompetent manner.

“Let me inform that without prejudice to our right to challenge this award, Mr. President has already directed the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to take steps to ensure that all issues related to negotiation, signing, formation and obvious frustration of the purported contract are duly investigated and all persons and institutions, whether in the private or public sector, who acted in ways that have now made our dear nation face potential economic adversity and widespread opprobrium, are made to face the law and prosecution in the law court,” Malami said.

In his speech at the event, Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, lauded the conference’s theme, saying it seek to address today’s realities and impact on the future of the country.

The deputy governor who stood in for Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, expressed government’s resolve to obey the rule of law and substance of democracy by collaborating with the Judiciary.

He noted that with the new trend of having robots playing the role of lawyers in some climes, lawyers need to step up in their knowledge of adopting the gains of technology in the delivery of their services to the nation and the people.

On his part, the President of NBA, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), tasked government at all levels on protection and preservation of the rule of law.

He was of the view that obedience to the rule of law is needed for the sustenance of peace and justice in Nigeria.

The NBA president assured that the conference would not only set agenda for the legal profession and the country, but will also provide opportunity for lawyers to discuss contemporary issues affecting the country.

In his address, the President of the International Bar Association (IBA), Mr Horacio Bernardes Neto, noted that the legal profession is going through a period of innovation and that challenges that did not exist in the past are now common place.

In a related issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mrs Mia Essien, on Tuesday decried sexual harassment of female lawyers by their senior colleagues, urging that lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) should condemn sexual assault and bullying.

Essien, the Chairman of the NBA Section on Legal Practice (NBA-LP), made the call at the Showcase Session of the 59th NBA Annual General Conference (AGC) in Lagos.

The session had the topic: “Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Community”.

“There are situations where senior lawyers travel with junior female colleagues and make no hotel reservations for such females,” she said, noting that such females ended up in the rooms of their principals, who deliberately did so to sexually exploit them.

According to Essien, while the RPC talks about ethical conduct for legal practitioners, it says nothing about sexual harassment or bullying of lawyers.

“I urge the NBA to ensure an amendment of the RPC to reflect these issues,” she said.

Essien said that lawyers were expected to know that sexual harassment and bullying were condemnable and thus, should conduct themselves in the most ethical manner.

The senior advocate said that there was a difference between bullying and correction of a junior colleague, which she described as a key element of legal practice.

“It is important to be courteous as a lawyer; courtesy demands that you offer your seat to a senior colleague who is standing up in court, and also to speak with respect to seniors.

Another panelist in the session, Mr Ogaga Emoghwaren, described sexual harassment as an unsolicited, unwelcomed and unexpected sexual advance to elicit unwanted sexual relationship.

He described bullying as the act of intimidating a weaker person to make him to do something against his will.

Ogaga said that although sexual harassment of lawyers by their seniors in courtrooms was not common, there existed sexual harassment in law firms.

“I encountered a situation where a young female lawyer ran out of her principal’s office crying; when I interrogated her, she described her principal as a beast who just raped her,” he said.

According to Ogaga, unwillingness of victims to open up, made sexual harassment and abuse to be increasing.

He noted the young female lawyer who was allegedly raped, refused to formally lodge any complaints for fear of sack.

Ogaga also blamed the situation on poor enforcement of laws against sexual abuse.

“Although there is a law criminalising the offence of rape; more proactive measures must be put in place to tackle the menace,” he said.

Another panelist in the session, Mrs Awulika Osuigwe, said that sexual molestation in workplaces had been going on unnoticed due to poor reportage.

She advised that females should report acts such as slapping of their buttocks by men.

On bullying at workplace, she claimed that it was mostly done against females, most of whom were not afforded opportunities like their male counterparts.

She described it as gender discrimination.

“Sometimes, a principal will prefer to take a trip with a male colleague, and the excuse is that the female may not be intellectually capable.

“In some places, married women are given specific periods for pregnancy, if they must keep their jobs,” she said.

Osuigwe described the acts as gender bias, calling for a change of attitude by employees and superiors.

Chief Assam Assam, also a panelist in the session, said that bullying also thrived in courtrooms and among judges.

“I encountered a scenario where two members of the bench sitting on appeal, engaged in a face-off and rained abuses on each other before a full courtroom,” he said.

According to him, some judges bully lawyers appearing before them.

“For a person to be appointed a judge, he must be psychologically checked,” he said.

In his remarks, the NBA President, Mr Paul Usoro (SAN), gave the assurance that in the next one year, his administration would take steps to adequately address the issues.

He advised lawyers to make complaints about sexual harassment for measures to be taken.

The International Bar Association (IBA) Report was launched during the session by its President, Mr Horatio Neto of Brazil.

About 10,000 people are participating at the six-day conference slated to end on Thursday.

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