Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to stand before this esteemed assembly today as we mark the commencement of the 2023/2024 Legal Year of this honourable Court of Appeal. It is with profound gratitude that I address you, reflecting on my previous participation in this august event in 2021 and 2022 and acknowledging the fleeting nature of life and positions in our journey. I sincerely thank the President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice M. B. Dongban-Mensem, CFR, and all the Justices for extending this invitation to the Nigerian Bar Association.
The tradition of celebrating the legal year is rooted in the English common law system, which has significantly influenced our legal structure. This ceremony recognises the pivotal role that Judges and Justices play in administering justice, an endeavour closely associated with divine attributes. It offers a moment of reflection on the past year’s challenges and successes, aiming to chart a course for the year ahead with divine guidance and wisdom. As you return from your well-deserved vacation, we beseech the Almighty to continue to guide the court and endow you with knowledge, boldness, and unwavering courage in discharging your constitutional duties.
In this period, we also remember with heartfelt sorrow the passing of Honourable Justices Ayobode Olujimi Lokulo-Sodipe and Raphael Chike Agbo, JCA, and extend our deepest condolences on behalf of the Bar.
Bench and Bar Relationship
Last year, during the 2022 Legal Year Ceremony, I pledged the commitment of the Nigerian Bar Association under my leadership to maintain a robust Bench and Bar relationship. This stems from the understanding that the Bar and the Bench are agents of the same principle: Justice. Over the past year, we have diligently pursued this commitment, emphasizing the importance of safeguarding the judiciary’s integrity and independence and promoting judicial officers’ welfare. In a significant step, the NBA partnered with the Court of Appeal to organize a two-day Virtual Training Workshop for Justices of the Court of Appeal and Judges of the Tribunals Appointed for the 2023 Post-election Disputes on the Electoral Act 2022, held on June 20 and 21, 2023. This workshop aimed to ensure that the Bar participates in the 2023 elections conscientiously and lawfully.
Central to our support for the Bench has been our advocacy for reviewing salaries and allowances for judicial officers. It is with great pleasure that I report that the NBA engaged with the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and aligned with the National Judicial Council (NJC), which submitted a proposal for a 300% upward review of basic salaries for all judicial officers. Additionally, I am pleased to inform you that President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, has directed a presidential working group to harmonize recommendations from RMAFC, NBA, and NJC, with the intent of including the outcome in the 2024 budget appropriation.
In our pursuit of comprehensive reform, we have proposed a set of new allowances to recognize the unique demands faced by judicial officers. These include Lifestyle Allowance, Dual Responsibility Allowance, Frequent Transfer Allowance, and Long Service Allowance. We have also recommended delinking judicial remuneration from that of the civil service, underscoring the importance of judicial independence. To substantiate this change, we have advocated for a separate legislative framework governing salaries, allowances, conditions of service, and retirement benefits for judicial officers.
An essential aspect of our quest to ensure the independence of the judiciary involves addressing the demands put forth by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN). This union plays a critical role in the functioning of the court. Recently, JUSUN issued a 21-day ultimatum demanding the full implementation of judicial financial autonomy. I have personally engaged with JUSUN leadership to resolve this matter, recognizing that a strike by the Union would paralyze the entire judicial system and adversely impact our nation’s economy. We are actively reaching out to stakeholders to facilitate a resolution for JUSUN’s demands.
Attacks on the Judiciary
Ladies and gentlemen, the responsibility of the Bar goes beyond ensuring the welfare of Judges and Justices; it also extends to showing the utmost respect for the judiciary. Unfortunately, some of our colleagues have publicly criticised judges and the judicial system when decisions do not align with their expectations.
The words of Honourable Justice Abdu Aboki, JSC, from his 2017 address to the Nigerian Law School Class of 1977, echo our sentiments on this issue. His Lordship rightly pointed out that media and legal practitioners’ attacks on the judiciary undermine the justice system’s development. Witnessing legal professionals castigating judges on media platforms without due cause is disconcerting.
We must exercise restraint in our public statements and adhere to objective, law-focused discourse when granting interviews or addressing the public. Our role is to educate the public on legal matters and provide guidance based on law, free from emotions and sentiments. To paraphrase SIR CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER SAPARA WILLIAMS, our duty as legal practitioners is to lead our people and advance our country’s cause through objective guidance.
It is essential to emphasize that the court’s decisions are shaped by the engagement between litigants, counsel, and the court within the framework of legal processes and evidence presented. Until a matter is officially brought before the court, following the established rules and laws, the court cannot act upon it. As members of the Bar, it is our duty to educate the public in this regard, aligning societal expectations with legal procedures.
A harmonious alignment of expectations, facts, and the law leads to civil reactions to judicial decisions. Anything short of this fosters self-help attitudes and invites chaos. Misinforming the public through sentimental or emotional comments about court judgments incites hostility toward the judiciary and endangers the stability of our nation.
Conversely, Bench members are responsible for ensuring their conduct is beyond reproach. The appearance of impartiality is of paramount importance. Upholding integrity and capacity instils confidence in the rule of law.
In the words of a former Chief Judge of the United States District of Columbia, the objectives of courts in a democracy should be twofold: accomplishing justice and convincing the public that justice is being served. This emphasizes the necessity for courts to be responsive in interpreting and applying the law to bring about change as required.
In conclusion, I am grateful for the warm goodwill message extended to the NBA by My Lord, the President of the Court of Appeal, during our recently concluded 63rd Annual General Conference. I also extend congratulations to the Justices of the Court of Appeal who have retired over the past year, wishing them a joyful retirement marked by good health and happiness.
As we commence this new legal year, I welcome My Lord, the President, and the Justices of the Court of Appeal back from your well-deserved vacation. I offer my sincerest wishes for a year filled with divine strength, guidance, and unwavering commitment to the principles of justice. May the Court of Appeal enjoy a productive and fruitful legal year ahead.
I thank you all for your attention.
Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, OON, SAN
For Advert Inquiries & News/Article Publishing