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WE congratulate Justice Walter Onnoghen on his inauguration as the 17th indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) by Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. In keeping with the country’s tradition, the new CJN was also decorated with the second highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).
Onnoghen’s inauguration as substantive CJN brought to a fitting end his tortuous journey to the country’s highest judicial office, which started with his appointment as Acting CJN on November 10, 2016. It took public insistence and a groundswell of goodwill for Onnoghen to be made the CJN. No doubt, he assumed office at a time that public confidence in the judiciary has waned considerably.
Corruption has engulfed virtually every sector of our national life, including the judiciary. This, apparently, explains Prof. Osinbajo’s charge that he restores the people’s confidence in the judiciary. Osinbajo also rightly underscored the fact that “the mere perception of judicial malfeasance poisons the waters of justice, let alone the reality, while delay in the administration of justice often defeats the ends of justice.”
Since the judiciary remains the last bastion of democracy and the hope of the common man, Onnoghen should reform that vital arm of government to deepen our democracy. He should put his best foot foremost in the onerous crusade to restore public confidence in the judiciary. As an arm of government, the judiciary means so much to the public. It is through the instrumentality of the rule of law that societal peace, justice and harmony are assured.
As a first step, Onnoghen should ensure that all the appeals that have been pending in the Supreme Court for many years are quickly dispensed with. We say this bearing in mind the age-old maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. If an appeal takes up to 10-15 years or more to dispense with, invariably, justice has been denied. To clear all outstanding cases, we suggest that he initiates processes to hear such appeals expeditiously.
For quick dispensation of justice, the judiciary must be computerised. Digitalisation of court processes will enhance the speedy trial of cases. That is truly the way for our judiciary to go in a 21st Century world.
It is sad that majority of our prison inmates are awaiting trial. It is a trite law that once a criminal matter has started, it must be dispensed with. Otherwise, some of the facts might be lost, witnesses disappear and the matter suffers from lack of diligent prosecution. Let Onnoghen design policies to reduce the high number of inmates awaiting trial in our prisons to ensure speedy justice delivery to the suspects, and decongest our prisons.
The nation’s judiciary is long overdue for reforms and the expectation is that Onnoghen will reform it. In his bid to rid the judiciary of corruption, all judges must be made to adhere to their oath of office and eschew all corruptive tendencies. Judges must abide by their code of ethics and avoid actions capable of bringing the judiciary into disrepute.
There are things judges should not do. The new CJN must call judges to order. As the chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), he should ensure that erring judges are disciplined. He must also ensure that judicial officers earn good salaries to guard them from the temptation of corruption.
The new CJN should enthrone a new culture of respect for the rule of law in the dispensation of justice in the country, as he promised during his inauguration. He should also ensure that the government obeys court rulings. Nigerians expect no less than a comprehensive reform that will restore our judiciary to its pride of place. We wish him a successful tenure.