From: Okey Sampson, Aba
Eminent businessman and former governor of Abia State, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu has rated the Nigerian judiciary as the best in Africa.
Kalu, stated this yesterday while delivering a lecture titled “Role of Bar and Bench in fight against corruption” at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual Week 2017, Aba branch, Abia State.
He said despite the conditions under which it operates, the Nigerian judiciary has performed wonderfully well by not only helping to sustain the nation’s democracy, but by saving democracy at many critical times.
“While I do not deny the fact of corruption in the judiciary, I also affirm that our judiciary is one of the best on the continent. I want to state that Nigerian judiciary is not as bad as being portrayed sometimes. Considering the conditions of their operations, they have been performing wonderfully well. The judiciary has not only helped to sustain our democracy, but has saved democracy at many critical times,” he said.
Kalu said no matter the kind of system of government practiced in a country, the judiciary remains the bedrock of survival of that country. “Our judiciary is trying very well, and I believe if it is allowed to operate with zero interference, that will be the beginning of the turn around of our democratic process.
“As a governor, I came in contact with one hallmark of our judiciary – courage. I had squared up with former President (Olusegun) Obasanjo over what right should come to Abia State. We went to court and I had feared that the judges would fear federal might and sway justice. But, they stood their ground to uphold the law as it should be.”
Quoting President Muhammadu Buhari, the former Abia State governor harped on the need for the judiciary to take steps to ensure it is not seen as being partisan, but exhibiting high sense of integrity.
He, however, said for the integrity of judicial officers to manifest, the judiciary must be independent and self-funded.
“You may not be able to succeed in ridding the judiciary of influence and intimidation of strong political players like governors, but when the Chief Judge of a state sees his appointment and funding as favour from the governor, justice remains what the governor wants.”
Kalu, whose lecture received standing ovation, said it was integrity exhibited by some Nigerian Justices, such as Bola Ajibola, Egbert Udo Udoma and Teslim Olawale Elias that made them get appointments into the World Court at The Hague and head the judiciary of some African countries, including Botswana, Sierra Leone, Namibia and Zambia.
The governor, who said he was not against the anti-corruption war in the judiciary, opined that in doing so, due process must be followed. He insisted that without due process, a system that fights corruption corruptly would have been enthroned.
“We cannot achieve anything if we corrupt the system that fights corruption. And I am aware that you all have been following the judicial developments in some of the cases brought to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over corruption.”
Kalu, therefore, urged organs of government responsible for the fight against corruption to go back to the drawing table and see the need to be more thorough with investigations, and also engage lawyers who are well trained in such areas.
Chairman on the occasion, Justice R.C. Agbo, the presiding Judge at Court of Appeal, Owerri, harped on the need for the Bar and Bench to close ranks to be able to fight corruption in the country effectively.
The Chief Judge of Abia State, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, in her keynote address titled, “The role of the Bar and Bench in the fight against corruption”, said although the functions of the Bar and Bench are separate, there should be a synergy for them to fight corruption effectively.
She blew hot against corrupt lawyers and described some of them who purportedly collect bribes from their clients to give judges as people who diminish the integrity of the profession, in particular, and the nation, in general. He described such lawyers as liabilities in the fight against corruption.
“Stories are rife of members of the Bar who claim or take it upon themselves to collect bribe from their clients for remission to judicial officers. In many of the instances, the bribe, as condemnable as it sounds, never get to the claimed recipients; they end up in the lawyers’ bank accounts.
“Members of the Bar with questionable characters, pedigrees and integrity, who are notorious amongst peers as persons who specialise in subverting justice or colluding with others to subvert justice, diminish the integrity of the profession, in particular, and the nation, in general. They are liabilities in the fight against corruption. Unfortunately, some of such lawyers are celebrated as senior lawyers who win awards and privileges,” the Chief Judge lamented.
Earlier in his welcome address, chairman of NBA, Aba, Ken Nwakamma, said the branch chose the theme of this year’s lecture, “The role of the Bar and Bench in the fight against corruption” due to the burning issue at the moment.
While giving vote of thanks the immediate past chairman of NBA, Aba, Mr Chidozie Ogunji, gave kudos to Kalu and all those who honoured their invitation with their esteemed presence.
He said his colleagues who attended the event would have added to what they already knew on the issue of synergy between the Bar and Bench, and how it could be applied in fighting corruption.