From Godwin Tsa, Abuja

A retired Justice of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Buba has blamed politicians for the woes and dwindling image of the nation’s judiciary.

Justice Buba, who bowed out of the court on January 1, 2024, after clocking the 65-year statutory retirement age, spoke on Monday in Abuja.

He came to the limelight in March 2007 with his controversial decision at the Port Harcourt division of the court granting an injunction perpetually shielding a former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, from investigation and prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

At no time in the recent past has the judiciary faced a greater challenge than the one it is currently enmeshed in.

Firstly, the judiciary and its officers are contending with allegations of corruption which readily stick, no matter how frivolous they are or how flippantly they are made.

But in his key note address at Tap Initiative and Open Society Foundation discussion on “Role of Judiciary, accountability and public trust in the legal system”, the retired jurist attributed the problems of the nation’s judiciary to politicians and political actors who did not have their ways in the legal system.

Besides, while underscoring the need for judges to be courageous, Justice Buba said it was not enough for judicial officers to possess “knowledge of the law, case management and integrity.”


He said these qualities would lead a judge “to nowhere if he is a coward,” noting that the greatest attribute of the independence of the judiciary “is courage in the judex (judge).”

He stated that Accountability simply means: –
“The quality or state of being accountable or an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”

Justice Buba submitted that the “impact of Judicial Accountability and Public Trust in the Legal System, underscores justice, fair play, equity, rule of law in the justice delivery sector, members of the legal profession who struggles to see that justice is dispensed in the resolutions of disputes in other to maintain social equilibrium are always working assiduously to understand a simple and yet difficult term call justice.

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When people who are aggrieved approaches the temple of justice for redress, and gets what they want, the judge and by extension the judiciary is good, on the other hand if they failed to get what they want and are aggrieved, the judge and by extension the judiciary is bad.

The justice sector in Nigeria is comprised of non lawyers, the bat and the bench.

In Nigeria legal system, you cannot be a member of the bench in our superior courts of records unless you are also a member of the bar, therefore every member of the bench must first and foremost be a member of the bar, it is a dessiderata constitutionally recognized, therefore the quality of the bar will be a reflection on the bench, a viral bar will give birth to a viral bench.

My conclusion and stake as a Nigerian from a humble background, trained as a lawyer who practiced from 1986 to 2003, and being a judge on the bench from 2004 to 2022, having been a bar man and on the bench, having served in all the geo-political zones of Nigeria, which includes, Katsina, Port – Harcourt, Jos, Lafia, Asaba, Lagos, Enugu and Bauchi, having travelled for seminars, trainings and conferences in almost all the continents of the world, which includes, London, Glasgow, Southampton, Northampton, New York, Singapore, Sydney Australia, United Arab Emirate, Egypt, Bangalore, New Delhi and Mozambique, having interacted with heads of courts and represented Nigeria in special international forum of commercial courts in its first, second, third and fourth meetings, I can categorically tell you, the Nigerian judiciary and legal system is one of the best in the world with all modesty and notwithstanding criticisms.

Being at home, you may think the food of your mum is not sweet and the one cooked outside may be better, again and again, having regards to the conditions and environment of work, with all modesty, I say KUDOS to the Nigerian bar and the Nigerian bench, take away politics, where people differ on opinions and questions of law and both may be right, the Nigerian judiciary has given a very good account of itself.

Justice Niki Tobi JSC of blessed memory in his book titled “the Nigerian Judge” which is a must read by all members of the bar, bench and indeed non professionals will drive from the point on the conditions of how the Nigerian judge serves and how he is treated.
Justice Buba acknowledged the fact that the nation’s apex court is the buysiest in the world with an overload of cases in its dockets.

I know of no country in the world that has the workload of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, we are a jurisdiction where if the judge cough or smiles, it will be a ground of appeal to the Court of appeal up to the Supreme court, we are a jurisdiction that works with epileptic power supply, we are a jurisdiction that sits throughout the day and works throughout the night, the Nigerian judge knows no reat during the day nor sleeps at night, his judgments and facts of his case sa and evidence is and will be debated in media and television he is from the onset when a political case is before him being discussed. The Nigerian judge spends the number of hours answering petitions more than the number of hours he spends writing a judgment.

This later assertion was never the case when they were few judges and few lawyers. Lawyers were lobbied to be judges, judges served in places they were not indigenes or origins. Judges left Supreme Court to become Presidents of Courts of Appeals and Chief Judges of States.

Military junta’s encouraged competitions between heads of courts and their number 2 to destroy the fraternity between the bar and the bench and indeed the legal profession interse.

Politicians and political actors who cannot have their way undermine the independence of the Nigerian judiciary, not only starving it of funds but ensuring an erosion of independence of the judiciary and having friction and try to remove the chief judges unconstitutionally.
Even agencies of government who cannot have their ways would want to have their judges and their courts, so as to act ultra vires their statutory powers and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
The Nigerian judiciary in spite of all odds, have to work with incompetent poorly paid support staffs whose trust cannot be guaranteed, judgments can be leaked to the press before being delivered.
The Nigerian judge, a product of the Nigerian society and not from the moon is still struggling to hold the balance evenly, why wouldn’t we say, the Nigerian judge has given a good account of himself, why would we not say, he is one of the best in the world, Nigerian judges are courageous, very, very courageous, they have dared the military, they have dared the political class, like every society, they have also dealth even with their colleagues who are found wanting.

We have increased in numerical strength, both at the bar and on the bench, it is our duty to carryout checks on our members and the way we do things and stop crying wolf where there is none, God save the Nigerian bar, the Nigerian judiciary and Nigeria.