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SANs criticize fellow lawyers tarnishing image of judiciary

Top-grade legal practitioners and renowned members of the inner bar including Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN at the weekend advised senior lawyers and politicians tarnishing the image of the nation’s judiciary over certain controversial decisions entered by few judges in certain political cases to desist henceforth in the interest of the country and its citizens.

The lawyers disagreed with their colleagues who join forces with non-lawyers in politics to rubbish the judiciary.

They said those denigrating the bench ought to know that portraying the judiciary as a failed institution amounted to endorsing anarchy to terminate the Nigeria project.

Besides Ahamba, SAN, other lawyers who raised the alarm are a former Abia State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof Awa Kalu, SAN, rights firebrand,  Kunle Adegoke, SAN and civil rights activist, Dr Olukayode Ajulo, SAN.

The quartet said while it is not in doubt that few judges across levels of court lately gave certain controversial judgments in few political cases, demonizing the entire judiciary because of the few errors here and there was not only unfair to the majority of upright judges faithfully discharging their duties but also has the capacity to undermine the legitimacy of the third arm of government which thrives on public perception.

The lawyers had separately said while it is understandable that politicians would eulogize the judiciary each time its verdicts were in their favour and would not stop at anything to set the institution ablaze when its judgments are against them, it is disturbing that lawyers who understand procedure would join the fray and most times sponsor the denigration war against the judiciary.

Although they spoke at separate times with our correspondent, they did not mention any lawyer engaging in the purported misconduct.

They also advised lawyers particularly how to handle the situation where wrong judgments are entered in cases.

According to a Lagos-based top lawyer, Kunle Adegoke, SAN, “Yes, we have few elements in the judiciary that are bad. We cannot shy away from that. It is, however, easier to notice the negative side of any person or any system. The positive aspect hardly registers sufficiently to the good measure of appreciation by the populace. And when in a system, a few bad elements commit some atrocities, the tendency is for the people to register a negative perception against such a system.

“In the judiciary today, I still believe as a practitioner that we have majority of judges that are quite upright presiding over cases. Those ones are doing creditably well. It will now be a form of injustice to rubbish the entire judiciary because of the negative activities of a few of the judges that are perpetrating atrocities.

“Besides, when you look at the judicial system in Nigeria and the Nigerian populace, tendency is for some people to want to blame every other person except themselves for their own failure. There are many cases that I believe have been rightly decided yet generating controversy and attracting negative comments both in the conventional and social media.

“And until you read some of those judgments, that is when you will see that many of such cases are naturally bound to fail as a result of the way they were presented to the judiciary or the inherent failure in the facts presented to the court and the inability of such cases to meet the requirements of the law.

“It is therefore my position that a few wrong judgments here and there cannot lead to a total damnation of the judicial system. In actual fact, the wrongs committed by such judges would be less in severity when compared to the negative campaign against the entire judiciary.

“Many people, however, forget that when you mount a general campaign against the judiciary for its damnation, you are not only sending wrong signals to the rest of the world about your country, you are equally condemning the internal survival of the country itself,” he said.

As if corroborating Adegoke, SAN, erudite scholar and constitutional lawyer, Prof Awa Kalu, SAN, also said: “the lawyers who are making frantic efforts to denigrate the judiciary forget the African proverb: there is nobody who will say his mother’s soup is not sweet. You cannot wake up and say, oh, my mother’s soup is not sweet. If your mother’s soup is not sweet, which one is sweeter?

“I will advise such lawyers to be very careful before you say your mother’s soup is not sweet. That is the best way I can put it. In any event, it takes two to tango. There is no judge who will go directly to politicians to negotiate for hanky-panky business. Most of the times , it is the lawyers who act as the conduit. That is the blunt truth. There is no way we can run away from it.

“My take is very simple on this matter. You cannot dismiss the judiciary because it is a very vast arm of government. You can’t dismiss it,” he said.

Ajulo, who agreed with his colleagues also said: “I don’t think we need to deceive ourselves. Criticism of the judiciary, low perception of the judiciary is universal. That is one.

“However, in Nigeria, it is only rife during election. You will notice that by February, only few of such cases will happen. And the reason for this is not far-fetched. The lawyer handling such controversial matter will never come to tell his client that look I am the one that made a mistake.

“Again, I will still insist that that case of Maina vs Lawal shows how people perceive issues. In that case, what is in the record of the court is different from what is in the public space. Nigerians were simply misled in that case,” he said.

Also contributing, former bar leader and popular silk, Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN, said: “Most of the discussions on the pages of newspapers are facts free and law free. I know that some funny things have happened. But I still maintain that most of those who are discussing the judiciary don’t even know what the law is.

“There is an adage that says one finger can pick oil and spoil the rest of the fingers. I don’t think it is right for them to destroy the judiciary,” he said adding that even where one feels strongly that justice has not been done in a case, the concerned lawyer should not tarnish the image of the judiciary.

“I have been a victim as a lawyer. And my attitude is to write a book on it, exposing all the wrongs that were done against my client. Not to say the judiciary is no longer good. After all, I did a presidential election petition where we scored 4-3. Even though four did not agree with us, were the three other justices not members of the judiciary? In another, we scored 4-1. I again ask that even though four justices went against us, is the fifth judge who dissented not part of the judiciary?

“So, what should happen is that the academics should take time to look at some of these judgments and point out the faults in them. This is it,” he advised.

Adegoke, SAN who agreed with Ahamba, SAN also said that while all lawyers may not have time to write a book to document issues in order to contribute to the development of legal jurisprudence, he said such judgment could be analyzed in academic journals.

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His words: “In my own view, when the Supreme Court is wrong, for instance, the next thing for you to do is to critique that judgment and publish it in law journals. That is how you contribute to the jurisprudence of law instead of going to the pages of newspaper or television to be condemning and lambasting the judges. When you destroy the judges, you are destroying the judicial system.”

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