I am happy to accept your kind invitation to address this Assembly of the learned minds and to declare this conference open.
The conference organizers have chosen a very important and apt subject for this year’s conference namely; “Strengthening Judicial Integrity and the Rule of Law”. A democratic system such as ours can not survive or prosper without strict adherence to the Rule of Law.
My Lords, Distinguished delegates, the prime purpose of any government is to regulate social relations within its territorial jurisdiction. Without the rule of law the government will degenerate into dictatorship or anarchy.
The theme you have chosen this year keys in with our Administration’s resolve to strengthen the three arms of government to effectively fulfill their constitutional obligations.
For the judiciary, the public expects fairness, impartiality and speed in the administration of justice. Regrettably court cases can drag on for years and years, sometimes decades without resolution. I need only mention land cases in Lagos to illustrate my point.
Furthermore, there are huge backlogs of cases waiting to be dispensed especially at the Appellate levels. Reform of the judiciary should start at eliminating these seemingly endless delays in settling what to the layman are apparently simple cases.
Again, litigants expect that higher courts should endeavour to harmonize their rulings. There are contradictory decisions of superior courts on the same subject matter in cases where facts are substantially the same without a clear attempt in subsequent cases to distinguish the earlier cases. This lack of clarity leads to serious confusion to the lower courts.
The knock-on efforts of these delays and dis-continuities range from loss of confidence in the judicial system to over-crowding of prisons. This is an area Your Lordships should pay close attention to in your efforts at reforming the system.
Last month I wrote to all State Governors urging them to make special visit to prisons in company with State Chief Judges and release prisoners unnecessarily detained without due process.
My lords, as all of us are aware one of the objectives of this Administration is to combat graft and other forms of corruption so endemic in our public life. The executive can not achieve these objectives alone. We require the close cooperation of other arms of government.
My lords, earlier this year the Judiciary came under investigation. Let me again assure the judicial community, this action taken by the Executive was in no way a prelude to usurping the powers of the National Judicial Council or aimed at intimidating the Judiciary as wrongly portrayed in some sections of the media. Executive and legislative officials were also investigated.
I am aware that the majority of judicial officers are learned and incorruptible and day in day out acting in the best spirit of their oath of office.
At the same time, I am quite aware of the problems besetting the Judiciary including under-funding, inadequate personnel and absence of modern technological aids.
Bearing these in mind, this Administration increased allocation to the Judiciary from N70 billion to N100 billion in the 2017 Budget. A similar figure has been proposed for 2018.
Mr. Chief Justice, our Administration’s commitment is to accord the Judiciary its constitutional rights. I therefore commend your recent decision to ask all judges at lower courts to provide you with a comprehensive list of all corruption and financial crimes in order to designate special courts to handle them. I support your action and the public is awaiting the results of this initiative.
My lords, Distinguished delegates, it is now my singular honour to formally declare the 2017 Biennial All Nigeria Judges Conference open.
I thank you all for your attention and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.