KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, MUHAMMADU BUHARI, GCFR, PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, DELIVERED BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA AT THE OPENING CEREMONY OF THE 2021 BIENNIAL ALL NIGERIA JUDGES’ CONFERENCE HELD AT THE ANDREWS OTUTU OBASEKI AUDITORIUM OF THE NATIONAL JUDICIAL INSTITUTE, MOHAMMED BELLO CENTRE, ABUJA, ON 15TH NOVEMBER, 2021.
(My Lords, I bring you the warm felicitations of President Muhammadu Buhari who would have been here in person but for his state engagement today in South Africa, which is why I have the privilege this morning of reading his address.)
The President’s address:
My Lord the Chief Justice of Nigeria, thank you for the kind invitation to attend the opening ceremony of this Biennial All Nigeria Judges’ Conference. I note with deep gratitude that this is an honour that you have consistently extended to me since 2015.
As a platform for collective reflection, this conference is coming at a very crucial time; a time when our country, along with the rest of the world is dealing with the massive socio-economic challenges of the COVID 19 pandemic.
As My Lords may recall, in my 2019 address to this gathering, I stressed the need for implementation of measures that will ensure speedy dispensation of justice in the country through the dual-track of removing administrative bottlenecks in the judicial process and adopting modern time-saving technology.
Lessons learned during this difficult period of the pandemic have provided measures for achieving both goals. We have seen how the Judiciary has risen to the challenge. Practice Directions were issued by several courts for remote hearing of cases, electronic filing of court processes, service of hearing notices via email addresses and mobile phone numbers of counsel, and e-payment of filing fees; with relevant devices installed.
These innovative approaches have, in addition to ensuring compliance with the Covid-19 protocols, ensured that the wheels of justice continued to move unhindered – in some cases even faster than what was obtained during physical hearings. Speed, efficiency, and effectiveness were attained. It aided in the decongestion of cases, did away with the obsolete method of physical filing, and ensured structured use of both judicial and administrative time and resources. Travel time to-and-from the court for litigants, counsel, and witnesses was no longer an issue, effectively minimizing the need for adjournments.
I believe that a universal application of these approaches across the country will greatly enhance access to and speedy dispensation of justice. As My Lords are aware, delay in the dispensation of justice coupled with the increase in the number of cases in our courts have remained subjects of grave concern. As someone said, “our problem is not access to justice it is exiting the justice system.”
And I know that delays are not necessarily the fault of judges, lawyers are often responsible. Should we not then as been suggested by some, be evolving a cost-award system that recognizes the court as a finite and expensive public resource? And as such delays and other dilatory tactics are visited with deterrent costs?
We are part of the global marketplace for investment and legal services. The extent to which we can attract business to our country depends in part upon investor perception of the quality of our justice delivery system. If we are seen as inefficient and ineffective, we would lose out to more efficient systems.
The other point that I think must be made is that of judicial integrity. There is, in my humble view, nothing as important than for judges to be trusted for honesty and integrity. Men and women who have the power over the lives and livelihoods of others are not like the rest of us, we must place them on the highest scale of probity. I would like to urge that your Lordships must not allow a few to undermine the respect and trust both local and international that our Judiciary has built up in over a century of its existence.
I am not unaware of the number of challenges slowing the pace of transformation in our administration of the justice system. More needs to be done to strike a sound balance between a high level of productivity, the quality of judicial decisions, and careful consideration of cases.
My administration, through the Federal Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the National Judicial Council, has been working towards the resolution of these challenges. Some of the measures being taken include:
a. Development of strategic infrastructure that will provide ease in case management, including electronic recording of proceedings to replace the tedious longhand recording currently practiced in the majority of our courts. Advancements in courtroom technology (E-Court systems) have increased the level of efficiency in the justice system in the areas of speed of documentation, accuracy, security, and accessibility of records.
b. Enhanced welfare of judicial officers, especially in the area of conditions of service – salaries, allowances, and retirement benefits for Judicial Officers. Provision of comprehensive medical insurance. On this, I wish to commend the National Judicial Council for the institution of the NJC Health Insurance Programme, which provides comprehensive international insurance for all members of the Federal Judiciary as well as comprehensive local coverage within all the States of the Federation.
These and other measures in the works are aimed at standardizing our courts, safeguarding the integrity of the Judiciary, and attracting the best of legal minds to the bench.
The Judiciary remains the last hope of the common man, it exercises powers that affect lives and liberties. A trusted, well-resourced and well-functioning Judiciary is therefore essential to the entrenchment of rule of law.
To maintain this revered position, and retain greater public confidence by the citizens, the Judiciary must be independent from all forms of interference and must maintain the highest level of responsiveness, professional standards, and integrity. We will continue to partner with you in ensuring that the Judiciary is financially independent; and effectively and sustainably retains a preeminent position in the quality of jurists manning our courts and the jurisprudence that develops from their collective premier reasoning.
My Lords, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I cannot end this address without appreciating the proactive stance being taken by the leadership of the Judiciary, My Lord the CJN, in tackling some of the recent issues that emerged, especially in the area of conflicting court orders by courts of coordinate jurisdiction; and My Lord’s disposition in revolutionizing the process of selection and appointment of Judges.
While wishing you successful deliberations, it is my singular honour and privilege to formally declare the 2021 Biennial All Nigeria Judges’ Conference, open.
I thank you all for your attention.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media & Publicity
Office of the Vice President
15th November 2021