A group of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) have expressed “deep concern” over the events surrounding the suspension of Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).

The SANs — 20 of them — have formed a group that will focus on reforming Nigeria’s judicial system.

A statement made available to SaharaReporters on Saturday, noted that the decision came as a result of the recent suspension of Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).

Onnoghen was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 25, 2019. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad was sworn in to take his place, although in acting capacity.

According to the statement, the SANs resolved to work on restructuring the judiciary for two reasons: “(i) a recognition that the events which have resulted in this debacle is in fact a manifestation of and response to a deeper malaise in the administration of justice and justice delivery in Nigeria; and (ii) a concern that the crisis of confidence that is currently shaking the judiciary and the legal profession in Nigeria is unprecedented.”

The 20 SANs are: Mr. Ebun Sofunde, Mr. Kayode Sofola, Mr. Kola Awodein, Mr. Ademola Akinrele, Dr. Eyimofe Atake, Mrs. Olufunke Adekoya, Mr. Oluwafemi Atoyebi, Mr. Yemi Candide -Johnson, Mr. Olasupo Shasore, Dr. Babatunde Ajibade.

Others are Mr. Osaro Eghobamien, Mr. Babatunde Fagbohunlu, Mr. Wemimo Ogunde, Mr. Jibrin Okutepa, Mr. Olumide Sofowora, Professor Ernest Ojukwu, Mr. Olatunde Adejuyigbe, Dr. Adewale Olawoyin, Mr. Adeniyi Adegbonmire and Mr. Oyesoji Oyeleke.

The statement read: “We are a group of Senior Advocates of Nigeria who feel embarrassed and deeply concerned by the recent events surrounding the suspension of Honourable Justice W.S.N. Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“In making this intervention, we do not propose to delve into the merits or demerits of the respective positions that have been taken by the different actors regarding the suspension of Justice Onnoghen.

“Our focus in making this intervention given the context of the unfolding events is to examine the underlying factors that have engendered or perpetuated the undoubted loss of confidence in the judiciary and the legal profession and to proffer suggestions for a much needed reform.”

According to the lawyers, certain facts on the judiciary made the intervention necessary. The “hardly contestable” facts are listed as: “Widespread perception that there is corruption in the judiciary and this perception is supported by anecdotal evidence”, as well as “unscrupulous litigants and some complicit lawyers, including some Senior Advocates, procure judgments and orders by corrupt means.”

The SANs also noted that it was beyond dispute that “the system for self-regulation in the judiciary and the legal profession has failed”, while also adding that “lack of transparency and a deep appreciation of the basic ethos of governance in the processes and procedures of the relevant institutions lies at the very heart of the challenges the Bench and the Bar are currently facing”.

The statement continued: “There is a perception that the National Judicial Council (NJC) has been ineffective in exercising discipline where high-ranking judicial officers are involved and that its proceedings and internal processes are unduly opaque. Similarly, the Nigerian Bar Association is notorious for its inefficacy in respect of disciplinary issues. Petitions filed by litigants and members of the public linger for years on end without resolution.

“The Nigerian legal profession and justice system have known better days. We recall the golden era of our judiciary, when judgments of Nigerian courts were cited with approval in foreign courts. Sadly, this is no longer the case.

“In our view, the incessant examples of contradictory decisions that have afflicted Nigerian jurisprudence in all facets of law further fuel the perception of incompetence and corruption by the Nigerian judiciary and the legal profession.

“It must be obvious to everyone that the time has come for urgent self- introspection and evaluation with the ultimate aim of a robust systemic reform of the Nigerian judiciary and the legal profession.”

According to the lawyers, the group has been established “to collaborate with stakeholders in an effort aimed at achieving broad consensus on, and implementing a process that will lead to the review and reform of the following critical aspects of our justice delivery system.”

Aspects of the judicial system the group will focus on are as follows:

1. The composition, constitution, functions and internal controls of the National Judicial Council.

2. The process for the appointment, continuing education and promotion of judicial officers.

3. The process for the discipline and regulation of judicial officers.

4. The terms and conditions of service of judicial officers.

5. Judicial ethics, values and the relationship of the Bench with the Bar.

6. The process for the appointment of lawyers to the Body of Benchers.

7. The composition, constitution and internal controls of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee.

8. The process and criteria for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

9. The roles and responsibilities of Senior Advocates of Nigeria as leaders of the Bar.

10. The regulation and discipline of Legal Practitioners.

11. Ethics, values and standards of legal practice.

12. The composition, constitution and internal controls of the National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association.

Noting that the “need for action is urgent”, the statement added: “We will commence our work immediately, and we will operate on the basis of transparency, objectivity and inclusiveness. We will soon publish details of how we propose to engage and collaborate with all stakeholders, especially the Nigerian Bar Association.”

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