The president of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Paul Usoro, has accused President Muhammadu Buhari administration of undermining the independence of the judiciary.
Usoro, who made the accusation at an event to mark the beginning of the 2019 judicial year in Abuja, blamed the executive arm of government and its agencies of plotting to “teleguide the activities and decisions of the courts.”
The NBA president, who is facing trial on allegations of fraud, was one of the strong voices against the removal of former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen.
Onnoghen was forced out of office, following allegations of false asset declaration.
His removal, weeks before Nigeria’s General election in February, was condemned by critics as a move by the executive to gag the judiciary.
Attack on judiciary
In his speech, Usoro said: “The mental and physical disposition of judges was instrumental to the attainment of justice in any society.”
He also said the independence of mind and thoughts by judges in the determination of matters before the courts was under severe attack, adding that the executive arm of government and its agencies were increasingly and unceasingly critical of the judiciary and its decisions, particularly in matters the government and its agencies might be interested in.
“It is not unusual these days to hear high officials of government talk down the judiciary and ridiculously and rather ill-advisedly dump all the ills of society on the judiciary.
“Decisions by Your Lordships are sometimes brazenly denigrated and attributed to ulterior and ill motives – and these on social and traditional media platforms.
“Veiled and sometimes open and, in all cases, audacious attempts are made to tele-guide and program the decisions of courts.
“These are very dangerous practices that destroy the independence of the judiciary and by extension the rule of law and indeed the fabric of our society,”the NBA president said.
Usoro said the success of a democracy was largely dependent on a free judiciary, adding that denigrating the judicial sector was an invitation to anarchy.
He added: “The society needs and can only survive if we have independent-minded judges who are empowered to dispense justice to all manner of men, including government departments, without fear or favour.
“We can only survive as a nation if the independence and vibrancy of the judiciary, particularly the non-interference with the thoughts and decision-making processes of Your Lordships, are guaranteed and protected.
“Self-help and anarchy ultimately become the available remedy. Of course, our economy suffers in the process: the investing public, both local and international, lose confidence in our justice system consequent upon these denigrations of our judiciary and there follows a consequential downturn in our economy with the attendant fallout on the socio-economic well being of our people.”