The Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), than “Nigeria will not have the kind of judiciary it desires, unless the government begins to adhere to the rule of law and obey court judgments.”
He spoke during the 2018 Annual Lecture of the Faculty of Law, UNILAG at which he was the chairman.The lecture, entitled, “The Rule of Law as Panacea for Peace, Security & Good Governance in a Democracy”, was delivered by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen.
Babalakin, who agreed with the CJN’s position that “it is quite discouraging that the rule of law has overtime been disregarded in Nigeria and successive administrations have continued to show total disdain for its development”, said the rule of law cannot thrive in the absence of an independent judiciary.His words: “We are still struggling to convince the entire society that it is to our mutual benefit that we have adherence to the rule of law. I am relatively young in the system, but I have seen successive governments pay lip service to the rule of law. They emphasise the rule of law when they are in the opposition and capitulate as soon as they are in government. Without the judiciary standing firm under the leadership of justices including the current CJN, only God knows where we would have been as a nation. “We have seen arbitrariness of the highest order. We have seen total disdain for others’ rights that are totally untenable. We cannot have the sort of judiciary we desire unless we make it a collective assignment.”
Babalakin praised the “primas” of the 1999 Constitution, noting that it has placed enormous responsibilities on the judiciary “and has done it explicitly”. He said until the 1999 Constitution was put together, there was no constitution that “expressly” conferred the right to investigate the legislature and the executive to ensure that they were acting in compliance with the constitution besides the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He explained that judicial review, which is being celebrated today, was created by inference and not by express provision in the case of Madbury vs Madisson in the United States.
The businessman, who is the Chairman of The Resort Group of Companies, said: “We have it as an express provision and so we must jealously guard it. Anytime the courts refuse or surrender jurisdiction lightly, the courts are not only violating the intendment of the constitution; they are actually avoiding the express provision of the said constitution. I commend, so far, the federal institutions. We still see that there is a serious semblance of the rule of law, no matter how weakened or threatened. The courts are still standing up and giving decisions, no matter whose ox is gored. I cannot say that about the state governments.”
Insisting that a democratic government must not only obey the law but also obey court orders, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria said: “We have commissioned a study now on cases involving governments that have gone before the state high courts. The reports we are getting are terribly alarming. The state judiciaries are surrendering gradually to the overwhelming presence of the executive and legislature of the states. This is the harbinger of anarchy and totally against the rule of law.“For those of you who will soon find yourselves in power, please do not shout rule of law when you are out of power and abandon it when you become powerful as we have seen with a lot of people today.”
Babalakin called for improved remuneration for judicial officers and a well-funded judiciary. His words: “Having imposed these enormous responsibilities on the judiciary, we lawyers must campaign seriously for a well-funded judiciary. In the 70s, the salary of a judge in the Old Western Region was 3,400 Pounds. The salary of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was 2,700 Pounds. A High Court judge earned far more than the CBN governor because of the enormous responsibilities the country appreciated it had placed on the High Court judge. Today, there is no judge in Nigeria that earns the salary and allowances of the deputy governor of the CBN. The time has come for us as lawyers to campaign for proper funding and proper remuneration since we appreciate the fact that enormous responsibilities have been placed on judicial officers.”
Praising the CJN for “standing firm in the face of serious aggression against the concept of an independent judiciary”, Babalakin said the rule of law can only thrive, if the judiciary is independent, courageous and well-funded.
“Justice Onnoghen has, from the pedestal of his office, created a thought, a pace, an idea that we will all go and spread, and say it categorically that Nigeria shall be governed by the concept of the rule of law. I assure you that UNILAG will continue to invite those who can enlighten us substantially, refresh us and illuminate ideas because we are determined to turn every stumbling block to a stepping stone for the attainment of greater heights”, he added.
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo was represented at the event by the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye. Also present were the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Prof. Adedeji Adekunle (SAN); Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Lagos State, Mrs Funlola Odunlami; Justice Funke Oluyemi; UNILAG Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Toyin Ogundipe; Dean, Faculty of Law, UNILAG, Prof. Ayodele Atsenuwa; Prof. Taiwo Osipitan (SAN) and Prof. I.O. Smith, among others.