Address By His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, President, Federal Republic of Nigeria to the 2013 All Nigeria Judges’ Conference, National Judicial Institute, Abuja, 9th-13th December 2013
It is rare privilege and personal honour for me to address you on this auspicious occasion of the 2013 All Nigeria Judges’ Conference holding at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja. I congratulate the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Alooma Mariam Mukhtar, GCON, for her effective leadership of the Judiciary and all our Judges, who have through their reasoned judgments, contributed immensely to the development of our great country and its democratic consolidation.
2. I also commend the theme of the Conference titled “Towards Labour and Industrial Harmony in the Judiciary” which I consider quite apt and topical given the country’s antecedents with organized labor and current circumstances. Nigeria’s geo-political history has been characterized by incessant labour disputes and industrial actions. While views may differ on the utility of industrial actions as a means of advancing the collective interests of workers in the polity; it is an unassailable fact that labour and industrial harmony is sine qua non to the socio-economic development of any Nation, including Nigeria.
3. It is the imperatives of industrial harmony to nation building and Government’s commitment to the transformation of critical sectors of the economy that has informed current efforts to resolve and quickly bring to an end, the lingering strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU). This administration recognizes and respects the rights of workers, including the right to embark on industrial action to press home their demands and has taken concrete steps to address the grievances of ASUU.
4. I therefore want to use this occasion to further renew Government’s appeal to ASUU, to call off its industrial action and return to work. This clarion call is made in the realization that education is key to the economic transformation of our great country. Indeed, Nigeria’s quest to be one of the worlds’ 20 largest economies by the year 2020 cannot be achieved under an atmosphere of industrial disharmony.
5. My Lords, although, the judiciary may not be as afflicted with the bane of labour and industrial disputes as witnessed in other sectors such as health and education in recent times, the import of the theme of this Conference on the judiciary is manifest. This is more so as the Judiciary is an important arm of government whose constitutional functions impact heavily on the effective workings of all arms and tiers of Government, as well as, the well being of the people.
6. The Judiciary must therefore be commended for taking the initiative to examine issues germane to the fostering of labour and industrial harmony at this Conference. Inference can be draw from the theme that ‘labour standards’ and the ‘working conditions’ necessary for the proper and efficient functioning of the Judiciary will predominate your discussions. It is expected that the Conference will focus on factors that promote efficiency in the discharge of judicial functions, the balancing of the demands for judicial accountability and independence to ensure outcomes that advance the yearnings of the people for institutions of government to be accountable to the people without sacrificing the integrity and independence of judges.
7. To achieve the needed labour and industrial harmony in the Judiciary, Government is of the firm view that the National Judicial Council and Heads of the respective Courts have a duty of ensuring that Judicial Officers are not only given the tools necessary for the proper discharge of their functions, but also, the enabling environment that enhances the dignity of Judges and their independence. This is important in view of the allegations of undue trial delays, abuse in the grant of ex parte/interim injunctions, inconsistency in judicial reasoning, politicization of the Judiciary, infrastructure inadequacy and corruption in the judiciary.
8. It is instructive to note that these perceptions/allegations do raise genuine concerns among investors (local and foreign) and the Business community in general about the conduciveness of our environment for doing business with attendant negative consequences on Government’s effort to attract foreign direct investments needed for development. Quite apart from its effects on the economy, allegations of corruption, sometimes emanating from the top echelon of the Bar and the Judiciary or perceptions that the Judiciary is increasingly being dragged into the murky waters of partisan politics have grave consequences on its image and the resultant lowering of public confidence in the institution.
9. My Noble Lords, dealing with labour standards and ensuring industrial harmony in the judiciary also calls for the interrogation of pertinent issues such as the occupational health and safety of judges-the conditions under which judges work and the personal security particularly in the light of the present security challenges in the country; the relationship between the various Heads of Court and the judges they supervise-how cordial they are with their judges, their management acumen and how involved, judges are, in the decision making processes that affects them; the dichotomy between Federal and State Judges especially with respect to welfare packages; the competitiveness of the compensation and reward system against the expected output from judges and the existence of a realistic and credible performance evaluation system that acknowledges and rewards hard work, while, effectively sanctioning indolence and ineptitude in the system.
10. It is gratifying to note that the Judiciary is making concerted efforts to tackle these institutional challenges. Most prominent of the measures being implemented include: the review of the Rules of Practice and Procedure and the issuing of Practice Directions to eliminate trial delays; performance evaluation based on key performance indicators to enhance efficiency; rigorous enforcement of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers to address ethical concerns and the prompt discipline of erring Judges. Let me assure you of my administration’s support for these measures and our determination to working closely with the Chief Justice of Nigeria in addressing these challenges.
11. Permit me to observe that as we gradually edge towards another General Election in 2015, there is need for increased vigilance on the part of the Judiciary in order to consolidate on the gains of the past, especially the rich jurisprudence that has evolved from the resolution of electoral disputes. Our judges must remain impartial arbiters at all times; resist the pressures, often associated with fierce competition in the political space; and the temptation to pander to the whims and caprices of political gladiators that bestrode the political landscape.
12. My Lords, Distinguished Conferees, Ladies and Gentlemen, Government is optimistic that given the firmness with which, the Chief Justice of Nigeria is enforcing the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers, there is every indication that with the support of the other Heads of Court, the identified challenges especially the ones that relate to judicial ethics would be effectively addressed. Our Judiciary still remains one of the best in Africa and it is important to acknowledge this fact. There may be bad eggs in the system, but these few bad eggs, cannot be truly representative of the quality of our judiciary.
13. Our judicial officers have performed creditably well in the face of daunting challenges. Nigeria remains one of the jurisdictions where Judges record proceedings in long hand. This has caused untold hardships for judges and the unnecessary delays in the adjudicatory process. Time has come for the judiciary to take appropriate steps to commence the process of equipping our courts with the necessary information technology infrastructure to ameliorate this challenge.
14. Lawyers, court users and the general public must also play their respective roles to enhance respect for the judiciary. Government has on its part; taken steps to mainstream the observance of the rule of law, respect for court Orders and independence of the judiciary in its governance structures and processes. Nigerians are however concerned about the reckless manner, some litigants take advantage of the grievance remedial processes in the Judiciary to author frivolous petitions against judges, without a care, as to the damaging effects of such petitions on the integrity and careers of such judicial officers.
15. The Judiciary must therefore evolve a system that effectively screens out frivolous and malicious petitions from meritorious ones that require attention. The Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee may also wish to consider sanctioning legal practitioners who lend their name to such malicious or frivolous petitions as a way of protecting upright and diligent judges who refuse to be willing accomplices or do their bidding. Government believes that while Nigerians expect the highest standards of performance and integrity from our judges; commensurate efforts should be made by all and sundry towards the enthronement of the culture of respect for the courts and the judicial pronouncements that emanate from them. Wanton disregard for the integrity of judges and their independence can only lower pubic confidence and efficacy of this important institution.
16. My Lords, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I cannot end this address without acknowledging the cooperation my administration has enjoyed from the judiciary since my assumption of office as President. In this regard, I want to express my administration’s profound gratitude to Hon. Justice I. A. Katsina Alu, GCON, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Dahiru Musdapher, GCON, the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria and Hon. Justice Alooma Mariam Mukhtar, GCON, the current Chief Justice of Nigeria for the harmonious relationship we have enjoyed as a Government.
17. It is my fervent hope that the Almighty God will continue to strengthen the judiciary as an institution and imbue individual judges with the wisdom and courage to discharge the heavy responsibilities of their exalted office.
18. I thank you for your kind attention.