Judges are exalted Public Officers but they are Public Officers all the same (see Schedule 5 Part 2 S.5 1999 Constitution) Doubtless they are employees of the state and are paid from the public revenue. In reality, it is to society that they owe their allegiance or loyalty. The commodity they trade in i.e – justice, is of primary concern to society and their service can be successful if society expresses approval or satisfaction therewith. Violation or non-compliance with the provisions of the constitution is express evidence of disapproval or lack of confidence. The 1999 Constitution guarantees inter alia fair hearing before courts constituted in such a way as to secure its independence and impartiality. In our peculiar circumstance the prolonged era of military rule has led to the erosion of confidence in the administration of justice in Nigeria.
Throughout the period the rulers chorused the Rule of Law but in practice did everything including the emasculation of judicial authority to violate the Rule of Law. Detailed examination of the treatment of the judiciary is beyond our scope in this article. Suffice it to highlight the most gruesome aspects of the assault on this veritable and indispensable national institution.
Judges in that era lacked security of tenure and were denied facilities to enable them function well. There were also many cases of questionable appointments (and removals) Morale was very low and corruption went on unabated. The net result was the near-total loss of confidence in the judiciary by the Nigerian Society whom it was meant to serve. While the Government (since it always had its way) chorused independence and confidence in the institution the society became, and still is cynical and suspicious. Hence the need for urgent steps to avert the judiciary being left out of the on-going sanitation of the Nigerian society. its battered image needs redemption and its personnel require “re-birth” to use the Governments moral crusade slogan.
The re-birth of the Judiciary started with the setting up of Eso Panel. It is a truism that the realisation of a problem is a substantial progress towards its solution. In spite of its age the Report has refused to die because the problems that gave rise to it (and the personnel concerned) are still with us.
The recent issuance of an interim injunction to abort the National Convention of a Political Party has invoked increased public scrutiny and attention to the work of the Judges and highlights the risks inherent in complacency in these matters. The present level of public confidence challenges the Judiciary authorities to take urgent steps to redress the perennial abuse of discretion to grant injunctive relief. Unless the matter is addressed promptly our hard-won democracy may be scuttled in much the same way the coup plotters bring down constitutionally elected representatives of the people with guns purchased with our tax Naira. Any steps taken thereafter would be medicine after death.