The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, has advised judges to remain impartial in delivering judgements, saying that the duty of a judge is different from that of the public servant whose duty is to give effect to the policy of government.
Justice Mohammed gave the advice in a lecture delivered on his behalf by a lawyer, Mr. Boniface Igwe, at the 2nd Justice Anthony Aniagolu Memorial Lecture held at the Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu, South East Nigeria.
He said: “the duty of a judge is to administer justice according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill will and without regard to the wishes or policy of the federal, state or local government. Judges, by their decisions, may give effect to the will of the legislature as espresso in statutes, but their duty is to be impartial in conflicts between a citizen and the state. In doing this, there may be a divergence between the will of government and the laws and rights of citizens. Here, the judge acts as the umpire to decide which side has prevalence over the other.”
The CJN, whose lecture was entitled: “Bridging the legal, moral and social interpretation of law,” said the topic “acts a confluence for the three primary motivations that propel and sometimes challenge the interpretations made by judges in court” and was imperative “as the nation strives to define a new paradigm for law and order as well as restructure itself to meet the desire for justice.”
Justice Mohammed reminded Nigerians that “a judge is still a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who shares the same fears, concerns, optimism or otherwise about the country in general and the actions of criminally minded persons in particular. They are liable to be kidnapped, robbed and indeed murdered as several global and local examples have shown.”
Judiciary on trial.
Former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, who also spoke at the lecture, said the Nigerian judiciary was on trial, pointing out that it was an aberration.
“It is not a question of who is right or who is wrong, giving judgement on the judiciary. No. But the very thought that the judiciary is on trial is unfathomable. Judges are deities on earth,” Duke said, imploring the judiciary to purge itself of the problems that had bedeviled it in recent times.
Mr Duke also extolled the virtues of the late Justice Anthony Aniagolu, in whose memory the lecture was held.
He said: “Today, we celebrate Justice Anthony Aniagolu. I need not say too much about him. All that needs to be said has been said, but I wonder what he would feel about the judiciary today.
Others who spoke to eulogise the late Aniagolu, who retired as the Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, were Deputy Governor of Enugu State, Mrs Cecilia Ezeilo, former Minister of Information, Nnia Nwodo, and the Vice-Chancellor of Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu, Professor Christian Anieke.
For Mrs Ezeilo, the late jurist was a household name in the legal profession and “represents legal sagacity, moral soundness and social intelligence.”
Nwodo said the late Justice Aniagolu, who was also the Chief Judge of the old Anambra state before he was elevated to the Supreme Court, explained the principle of natural justice clearly in his judgements.
Professor Anieke, a catholic priest, who said the late Aniagolu remains the spiritual foundation of the Godfrey Okoye University, said “he represents an all round understanding of what is called the legal profession,” adding that there was “so much to learn from him, especially the sense of morality and fairness.”