NBA: Nigeria now very unsafe for all

•Says FG is intimidating judges

THE Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has alleged that the Federal Government has been intimidating judges, just as it decried the rising insecurity in the country.

Addressing the association’s National Executive Committee meeting held in Abuja late on Thursday, the NBA president, Paul Usoro (SAN), said three members of the NBA were murdered by abductors even when ransoms were paid.

He said the government was failing in the protection of lives and property of the citizens, leaving Nigerians in a helpless situation.

According to Usoro, the abduction and murder of three members of the association from three geopolitical zones of the country showed that no part of the country is safe.

“No region is safe, and no tribe is safe. No one indeed is safe. And yet, we have governments in place, at the federal, state and local government levels and the primary business of governments is the protection of lives and property,” the NBA boss said.

He emphasized that without security of lives and property, everything else grinds to a halt in the country.

The NBA, he said, demands governments at all levels to ensure the safety of lives and properly in the country, even as he observed that the rule of law in the country lies prostrate in some ways and areas.

Usoro also expressed worries about the penchant of the government and its authorities to disobey court orders and the various bottlenecks and glitches that inhibit access to justice by citizens.

The NBA boss noted that the independence of the judiciary “is not only the independence of tenure and control of funds but also the latitude to have an independent and uncontrolled mind to reach decisions and dispense justice fairly to all manner of men without fear or favor.”

He said judges are threatened, intimidated and blackmailed mostly by the executive arm of government and its agencies, both at the federal and state levels.

“There is the pervasive concern that government and its security operatives have dossiers on judges, real or imagined, and could unleash inquisitorial terror on judges if they decide issues against governments and their agencies,” The NBA boss said.

He said judges who are whistle-clean may not be willing to go through the inquisitorial processes of the various security agencies to prove their innocence,

“And so, we have judges walking on egg-shells, notably, where governments and their agencies have interest in matters that they adjudicate.

“This totally undermines the independence of the judiciary and the ability of the judges to act confidently without fear or favour in dispensing justice to all manner of men.

“The irony of all of these is that the men of power today may be the ones who most need the independence of the judiciary tomorrow when they are out of power or are competing for political power.

“Sadly, we are seeing now the manifestations of that spread and, by extension, the denigration of judicial officers and the erosion of the independence of the judiciary.

“In the midst of all of these, it is heartening that a judge of the High Court has again pronounced, within the last one week, that no legislature or executive arm of government has the right to attempt the removal of a judge without first going through the NJC processes.

“It remains for us all to encourage the NJC to rise up to its statutory mandate and protect the independence of our judiciary. The NBA stands ready to work with our judges in that regard. Our Judges cannot deliver justice under a climate of fear and intimidation,” he said, adding that justice thrives where and when there is an independent judiciary.

Usoro said “there can be no such independence when there is no security of tenure for our judges. There can be no independence of the judiciary when judges are intimidated, threatened and blackmailed by state agencies and their officials.”

He said: “There can be no independence of the judiciary when our judges are actively coerced by state officials to think and reason only in the manner that those officials and, presumably, government want them to think.

“The robustness of the judiciary lies, not only in the soundness of its judgments but in the inherent right of judges to dissent even amongst themselves and to make independent judgments. If judges can dissent amongst themselves, then it should be expected and it is a right that inheres in the office for Their Lordships to dissent from the opinions, wishes and thinking of state officials, whether federal or state governments.

“Such dissent should not result in the casting of aspersions on the judges and/or the blackmail and intimidation of the judges. These ignoble and destructive practices must stop.”