ENUGU, Nigeria (VOICE OF NAIJA)- Renowned South-South leader Edwin Clark has called on Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, to urgently initiate a comprehensive reform of the judiciary.
Clark emphasizes that the alleged corruption, malpractices, and misuse of office within the judiciary cannot be tolerated any longer.
In an open letter to the CJN made available to newsmen, yesterday, in Abuja, Clark highlights the need for a substantial overhaul, drawing parallels with the reforms led by Justice Dahiru Musdapher in 2011.
He suggests empowering Justice Mohammad Uwais, former CJN, to head a high-powered committee to address challenges, including restructuring the National Judicial Commission (NJC) and Judicial Services Commission.
Clark urges the CJN to investigate both judicial and non-judicial officers, including Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), involved in alleged corrupt practices.
He advocates for amending laws and rules of procedure to shift the burden of proof to the accused in corruption cases, requiring them to prove the legitimacy of their wealth or assets.
The elder statesman expresses concern about the perceived disinterest of the current CJN and encourages him to follow the example set by his predecessor.
Clark believes that addressing these issues is crucial to restoring the image of the noble profession and safeguarding the integrity of the judiciary.
In his letter, Clark reflects on recent events in the judiciary, particularly the treatment of former CJN Justice Walter Onnoghen, and calls for accountability.
He emphasizes the need to address conflicting judgments, socialization between the judiciary and politicians facing criminal charges, and the constitutional implications of presidential actions regarding the suspension and appointment of a Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Clark said: “It has also been reported in the news media that the current CJN appears disinterested even when there is the report with which he can institute the reform. I gathered from the media that Your Lordship dislike public opinion and demonstration by civil right organisations, and that other respected public opinions should not influence the judges in their deliberation, which is contradictory to the views held by the former CJN, Justice Musdapher.
“This is the main reason I have decided to write this open letter to Your Lordship because I believe and am confident that Your Lordship can do it as it was done by your former predecessor in office.
“I have the honour to be your most obedient Minister of the Temple of Justice.”
“My Lord, I hope my letter will not come to you as a surprise but if it does, I sincerely apologise for any inconveniences and embarrassment it may cause you.
“Even though I am 96, and as I always said, I have collected my boarding pass waiting for the Almighty God to call me home. But in my usual character as a senior citizen of our great country, hence, I have decided to address this letter to you.
“I am an old member of the Bar for about 59 years now, most of which I devoted serving the nation in various capacities.
“As a result of recently painful event in the judiciary and in the bar, I am compelled to write this second open letter to your Lordship in my usual character to sound a note of warning to the judiciary and the Bar.
“The humiliation and inhumane treatment meted to the former CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, remains a black spot on the judiciary and the Nigerian Bar. A public boycott of the courts by NBA which would have been total was ineffectively done by a few lawyers for few days. The President of the NBA at the time, Mr. Paul Usoro, was confronted by me at the time for not speaking out on behalf of the NBA.
“He was either afraid of the outcome of the consequences of the criminal charges he was facing in the Federal High Court at the time, and many of us lost interest in the NBA that time. Indeed, I believe that it was a conspiracy between the former Federal Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, and the Presidency because they did not want Justice Onoghen to be responsible for the nomination of Judges for the various Tribunals that will be set up after the 2019 Presidential election, whereby an exparte motion was filed by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami SAN, at the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.
“Thereafter, Justice Onoghen was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari, and nominated Justice Tanko Muhammed to act as CJN without the involvement of the NJC. Justice Muhammed immediately nominated and screened several Judges of the High Courts as proposed members of the Judicial Tribunals to try all the cases after the Presidential election. Unfortunately, the NJC did not challenge the action of Mr. President, why Justice Onoghen, was shamelessly humiliated out of the service. Still agitating in my mind is whether under the amended 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the President can alone suspend a Chief Justice of Nigeria or he can appoint an acting CJN without the participation of NJC. Is it constitutional?
“On concern is the socialisation between the judiciary and some Senators, who are facing criminal charges in their courts. One of the easiest way that the judges could be influenced when some of these Senators facing trials in the court freely meet with the CJN and other judges at parties, occasions or at government functions and other public gatherings.
“Also is embarrassing, conflicting and contradicting judgment by the same court sitting in various states in the country have now become the order of the day which have now extended to the Court of Appeal.”