Nigeria’s Judiciary Fast becoming First Among Equals Globally – Malami
Posted: 30/Sep/2020

In this interview with AHURAKA YUSUF ISAH, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), maintains that the nation’s judiciary is waxing stronger and has become one of the most vibrant justice system in the world.

How would you access Nigeria at 60?

Well, a fair assessment of the Nigerian situation and the Nigeria state at 60 is an assessment that we have to consider from multidimensional dynamics associated with governance, leadership and administration. Looking at it from institutional sense, the fact remains and indeed established that all the governance and leadership institutional framework expected of a state are there. The institutional framework is only there but indeed they are up and doing and the country has indeed recorded significant progress as far as governance is concerned.

Nigeria is being governed presently by constitutional provisions. There’s in place a National Assembly comprising of the senate and the House of Representatives. There’s the House of Assembly at the state level and indeed the councils at the local Government level.

These are the components products of legislation and then arising from the legislation, the legislative framework by which the terms of democratic institutions are established. So, within the context of legislation and legislative frame work, within the context of institutional frame work, Nigeria has attained a great feat in having in place a democratic structure at the federal, state and local levels. The laws are put in place, just as the structures are put in place.

Now, coming to the second organ of the government which is the judiciary, the judiciary as well has succeeded in having in place a legal framework by way of having constitutional provisions that establishes Judiciary as an institution, and an Institutional framework of the judiciary. You have in place the Federal Courts such as the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the federal high Court, the National industrial Court, Customary Court of Appeal among others and all these institutions are the Products of Legislations and you equally have others at State Level, such as the State high Courts and others. So in terms of legal, legislative and indeed judiciary framework also Nigeria has indeed achieved a lot in terms of structure that stands the test of time.

If you are talking of the executive as well, we have succeeded in not only establishing structures that are befitting of an executive framework but indeed structures that are not only vibrant but viable. There are structures that now address the National issues as they arise. We have the office of the president, the vice president and the ministers at the Federal Level; we have the Governors, the Deputy Governors and indeed the Commissioners at the State Level. We have the Chairmen, the Counsellors, at the Local Level. Within the Context of the collective   framework, we have now seen a development that is now establishing some level of Collaboration among the institutions. Some level of Cooperation that translates into enhanced Governance Structure.
We have in place Infrastructural development that is unprecedented; we have in place development of technology for the purpose of enhancing the quality of leadership. We have in place general policy framework that is now by the day taking us to the next level as far as development is concerned.

By way of policy for example let us take the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari into Perspective within the Context of development. This Government for example imbibed a culture of domesticating our development. It’s a Government that considers for example at a whole, revival of agricultural development of the Nation which with singular policy has now proven can assist us as a people, as a Nation to stand on our own in terms of food security. Imagine what this Nation could witnessed in terms of food security, if Agriculture has not been revived taking into Consideration the Covid-19 Pandemic situation whereby we rely on India, Thailand among others for the provision of rice which is more or less Nigerians’ staple food. With the set in of the Covid-19 pandemic, it made it impossible for the importation of food stuff from these countries. Certainly I think it would have been a very disastrous situation facing our Nation.

Imagine what President Buhari has done in terms of leakages associated with corruption, the International Community as it is had indeed demonstrated a clear readiness to work with Nigeria as far as the blockage of loopholes and leakages are concerned. Within the Context of the fight against corruption, we have succeeded in recovering enormous resources that were looted across this country border. We have the confidence of the international Community that are now Committed to Nigeria on account of transparency and accountability among others.

In terms of security, I think we are equally evolving, taking measures that translated into effective enhancement of our security situation. As at 2015, when Buhari came on board as the President of the Federal republic of Nigeria, what was on ground was a situation whereby about 14 to 17 LGAs in the North east were in the hands of BOKO Haram, today as I am speaking to you, there is no single local government that is effectively in the hands of Boko Haram. As of the time when President Buhari came on board, the security situation was so bad that Boko Haram could come in from Sambisa down to Kano and create enormous security challenges, and at a point, it translated into a loss of over 200 to 300 lives at a time. That was when a person going to the Church or Mosque is always apprehensive; he can hardly be sure of coming back home, a situation where bombings across the land was became more of an order of the day than indeed an exception. But today we are living witness to what is unfolding in term of changes in the security situation.

This is a government that came when Nigeria was at the verge of going into recession but unprecedentedly, this government succeeded in reversing the trend, we had our economic misfortunes revived and then we got ourselves out of recession.

Democratically, if you are to access what was on ground, an election took place about a week or so and it was adjudged as one of the freest election in the history of the nation, so this is a government that is taking us to the next level, both in terms of fighting against corruption, in terms of restoration of security, in term of food security in economic sense. So 60 years down the ladder, this government has indeed brought about a greater level of sanity, stability, a greater enhancement of our institutions, our infrastructure and we have a good cause to celebrate.

If you were to assess the judiciary in the last 60 years, how would you score it?

The system generally is evolving; it is evolving for the better. Now take a look for example at a situation whereby at a time, pre-election matters takes over ten years to conclude. As I am talking to you, I am certain there are some pre-election matters that dates back to 2011 that are still pending at the supreme court awaiting determination but the system realizes they need to peg time for the determination of election matters and the story is changing, changing in the sense that as I am talking to you, the 2019 election matters were handled, was concluded. Again you would recall very well, there were high profile corruption cases that were pending in the system before 2015 when this government emerged,  that remained stagnant without moving an inch, as it is now today, the story is changing ,we have in place laws that now ensure speedy determination  of cases. By way of evolution, I think we are positively evolving in all dimensions inclusive of the judicial aspect of it. I can say without hesitation that Nigerian judiciary is fast evolving; and indeed becoming among the best in the world, although there is room for improvement.

Nigeria inherited laws from the colonial masters and most of such laws appear to be obsolete. As the number one law officer of the country, what are your efforts to review them?

Well, the major effort that I think is of significant consideration has to do with the fact that our legislative frame work has indeed evolved, has developed and is up and doing in term of addressing problems as they arise.

Generally speaking, we are not only  changing/amending the obsolete laws, but we are coming up with new ones that are dynamic, that can stand the test of time, that  factor in the dynamics associated with developments involved both technologically and other-wise. So as much as we have laws that are archaic and obsolete, the fact remains that we are now addressing the dynamics of our development by way of ensuring that new laws are created, by way of ensuring that amendments of those laws that deserves to be reviewed are indeed reviewed. So indeed, as far as laws are concerned, we realized the dynamism associated with the laws and we have been working round the clock to ensure that our laws reflect the true position of our existence as a nation.

If you are talking of hate speech for example, they were not so much give consideration before now, but we are now looking at it and doing the needful. If you are looking at the technological development that are unfolding, we have as well factored them into our laws, electronic evidence for instance are equally being considered; just as our electoral process are transforming 100 percent technologically. We are doing the needful in terms of ensuring that our laws are amended in there is the need for it.

We have noted that there is judicial reform ongoing, but how about the judges’ stagnant salaries?  The last time the judges’ salaries were reviewed was in 2007, about 13 years ago. What are you putting in place to halt this trend, especially to have a periodic time for judges’ salary review?                

I think the issue of welfare of judge generally is a function of law among others and a function of policy, but I think, within the spirit of realization of the need for enhanced welfare for the judges, we have equally done or rather we haven`t done badly with that consideration in mind. If you can recall, section 21 of the constitution was indeed altered to bring about the financial autonomy of the judicial system and that has the implication of making the judiciary independent, to have its own budget item as far as appropriation is concerned.

The implication of independent budgetary arrangement for the judiciary gives them the opportunity to determine their welfare arrangement and ensure at the end of the day that adequate appropriations are made for the welfare of the judiciary. So the legislative component of it which is the independence of the judiciary has been addressed constitutionally and yet we are equally working with the judiciary to ensure at the end of the day that certain welfare packages are indeed accommodated by way of creating a welfare approach to the existence of the judiciary. President Buhari has put in place a committee that is saddled with the responsibility of working out appropriate salary figures and other incentives for the judges in the country.

The committee is also enjoined to agree agreeing on sustainable arrangement vis-a-vis periodic review timetable for the welfare of the judges. So if the committee comes up with its report and then modalities for enhanced welfare arrangement for the judges, either by way of executive orders or of other subsidiary legislations, the President would implement it without hesitation. That would translate into a sustainable welfare arrangement for the judges.