Ritman University (RU) proffered solutions to unethical practices currently plaguing the nation’s justice delivery system during its Fourth Public Lecture delivered by Prof Nsongurua Udombana on Restoring Public Confidence in the Nigerian Judiciary. Event was chaired by former Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Idongesit Ntem Isua on Friday 12 April 2019.
Vice Chancellor Celestine Ntuen in his welcome address announced that RU – in addition to earning accreditation for all its academic programmes – has received full license to operate as a private university. He said RU public lecture topics are selected from emerging and controversial issues to engage the community in open discussions and bring about ideas for development.
Udombana, a Professor of International Law at Babcock University, asserted that people who sit in the hallowed Temple of Justice are expected to live on a higher moral level than the society they seek to preserve. In his words, “Judicial independence assumes that those who sit in the Temple of Justice know the truth; are guided by reason; and are of unquestionable integrity” and that judges are assumed to be free of pride, envy, avarice and possess capacity to act out of duty, which enables them to transcend the worldly impulses or passions that affect our sentiments and tempt us into excesses.
He expressed hope that the Nigerian judiciary could emerge from its present mire to become a beacon for justice and the common man’s last hope.
Explaining the judiciary’s role, he said that courts exercise wide powers over mortals and organs of government, and have powers to ensure that other branches of government stay within ambits of their constitutional or statutory functions. Lawyers, like the Levite Priests in the Old Testament tabernacle – he said – minister with judges in the Temple of Justice and so must stand as a shield in defence of rights to ward off wrongs; and like judges are expected to demonstrate a high sense of honour and strict observance of fiduciary responsibility in accordance with law.
Prof Udombana, who is Pro-Chancellor of Ritman University, reminisced that the Nigerian judiciary was once the pride of Africa, exporting incorruptible legal jurists to serve in other climes. Justice Udo Udoma was made Chief Justice of Uganda, undertaking a complete reorganization of the justice administration system in that country; Justice Akinola Aguda was Chief Justice of Botswana, and performed so well that Botswana’s President sent an appreciation letter to the Nigerian Head of State; Emmanuel Ayoola served as Chief Justice of Gambia; Charles Onyema was made a Judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ); and Teslim Elias became President of the ICJ, all justifying Udombana’s assertion that “The Nigerian judiciary was known for its integrity, for refusing to be compromised by the mighty and powerful”.
He noted that judicial corruption, though not new in Nigeria, were mostly limited to the lower bench, until after the 1999 elections. As a study revealed, judges now lobby to be put on election tribunals and violate judicial ethics in handling election petitions.
Udombana admonished judges to embark on a rigorous process of self-examination, using the mirror of judicial ethics because “A judge’s integrity is his defence; his nobility is his honour”. He disagreed with the notion that poor remuneration of judicial workers aids corruption, averring that “there is no necessary connection between poverty and stealing” and “those of them who succumbed to the lure of corruption did so because of greed, not need”.
He advised the National Judicial Council (NJC) to set up mechanisms for detecting greedy tendencies in judges, exercise administrative oversight over election petition tribunals, ensure prompt disciplinary action against judges who pervert justice, prepare and publish annual reports detailing investigations as well as actions taken against corrupt judges, impose stiff sanctions on erring judges and partner with anti-corruption agencies to receive confidential reports on judicial officers’ financial transactions. He also urged the Nigerian Bar Association to discipline erring lawyers and publicize sanctions imposed on them.
The lecturer advocated review of the Legal Education Curriculum to make it more ethical-oriented. He said the Council of Legal Education should make Professional Ethics a compulsory course in law faculties, while Jurisprudence and Legal Theory taught to final year law students should be replaced with African Philosophy of Law. Moreover, Eurocentric topics like Analytical Positivism, Sociological and Anthropological Schools should give way to the African spirit of humanity (Ubuntu), that speaks to our interconnectedness and the responsibility that flows from that connection. He stressed that our students should be taught accountability, and learn that one can build a great life without stealing, granted that what they need for success are intelligence, hard work, discipline, courage, integrity and – above all – faith in God.
He concluded that “There can be no good law without morality and no morality without religion. True religion is to do justice, practice kindness, and walk humbly before God; and if religion perishes in the land, so will truth and justice”.
The lecture was followed by an interactive session in which participants discussed ideas on how to develop the nation through proper justice delivery. Among those who spoke were Professors Akaneren Essien, Ahaziah Umanah and a former Ikot Ekpene Branch Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association. In attendance were Senators Emmanuel Ibok Essien, Anietie Okon, Effiong Bob; Justice Philomena Etim, Surv David Essien, Engr Etido Inyang and many others.
Edidiong Esara 15/04/19