Let me welcome you to this event, which has been put together to celebrate the launch of this book, written in honour of one of the leading women jurists of Nigeria and of our time, our very own Honourable Justice Mary Odili, who recently retired from an illustrious judicial career as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

2. As already elaborated by the reviewer, this book captures the extra-ordinary life, times, career, challenges and accomplishments of Hon. Justice Mary Odili, who broke through glass ceilings and used her education and knowledge in law to serve Rivers State, Nigeria and humanity.

3. So much was said about her life, career, discipline, industry, personal integrity, high moral rectitude and achievements during the valedictory court session in Abuja on the 12th of May 2022. Her brother, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR,aptly described her as “an epitome of jurisprudential finesse” and an “irrepressible voice in the temple of justice.”

4. The relationship between Hon. Justice Mary Odili and me is a fairly long story, which would be difficult to exhaust within the time available to me. I will therefore try to be brief, and in the course, respond to some of the important statements made by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, and the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Akpata, regarding the depressing state of the judiciary in Nigeria.

5. As the third arm of government, the judiciary is required to be independent and never to be bound howsoever to any person or authority other than our Constitution in the discharge of its functions of adjudication and delivery of justice.

6. Judicial officers are mandated to uphold the rule of law, protect fundamental rights and dispense justice to all persons without fear or favour, ill-will or affection. This is why every democratic nation craves for an independent and effective judiciary to advance the rule of law as an integral part of good governance.

7. What is generally required is for the country to secure and strengthen the independence and autonomy of the judiciary and judges through constitutional guarantees and provisions on security of tenure, mode of appointment and remunerations and wellbeing of judicial officers. 

8. The 1999 Constitution is not lacking on such fundamental guarantees, yet, after over 20 years of democracy, the judiciary in Nigeria is generally perceived to be practically dependent, intimidated, ineffective and easily given to corruption, pressures and compromise.

9. Accordingly, the problems and challenges of the Nigerian judiciary continue to be topical issues at every formal gathering of lawyers, judicial event or discourse and may remain so until lasting solutions are found to the deplorable state of our judiciary and the system of justice delivery.

10. What then are the issues with our judiciary and justice delivery system, where do we place responsibility and howdo we resolve the recurrent issues as a nation so that Nigerians can have a judiciary they can be proud of and have confidence in the capacity of the largely inequitable system of justice delivery.

11. While speaking for the Body of Senior Advocates during the valedictory Court Session in honour of Justice Mary Odili, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, identified corruption as the bane of the Nigerian judiciary and pointed fingers of responsibility at politicians, lawyers and the Federal Government.

12. According to him, political cases are responsible for the tagging of the judiciary as ‘supermarket,’ just as lawyers engage in despicable forum shopping to secure unmerited favourable court decisions, while the current federal government is guilty of harassment of the judiciary.

13With due respect, the learned Senior Advocate is largely correct with respect to the issues of forum shopping by lawyers and the intimidation of the courts by the federal government; but wrong in his allusion to political cases as responsible for the debasement of Nigerian courts.

14. Like every other case, political cases are conducted before courts throughlawyers who are professionally and ethically bound to denounce and reject the casting of any aspersions on judges by their clients.

15. Now, if I may ask: are lawyers not behind the contemptuous criticisms of judges by clients? How many lawyers have withdrawn from political cases in protest against unwarranted castigation of the court by clients? How many lawyers have withdrawn their services to clients on account of frivolous petitions against the court without their consent? Who are those who advice politicians to reach out to judges? Where are the lawyers that have ever advised their clients against reaching out to judges handling their matters?

16. For me, let us stop the scapegoating and tell ourselves the home truth that as lawyers, most of us are all involved in this despicable conduct, perpetrating the same evil, only at different levels because of our predisposition for success through backdoors without any regard to the damage we are doing to the reputation of the entire judicial system.

17. Also speaking along a similar theme at the same Court Session, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, OlumideAkpata blamed poor remunerations for judicial officers as a major challenge to judicial effectiveness while the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, AbubakarMalami SAN, commended the judiciary for contributing to the sustenance of democracy through its ‘landmark’ judgements.

18. There was nothing not surprising about these comments because it is usually fitting at such occasions for routine speakers to play to the gallery with their speeches.

19. And so the President of the NBA was merely playing to the gallery with his complain about poor remunerations as a problem without making any viable recommendation on what he considersto be a reasonable pay-cheque for judicial officers.

20. At any rate, as a member of the National Judicial Council (NJC), why can’t the NBA President discourage the corrupt practice of allocating more judicial appointments by the NJC to States with less capacity to cater to the wellbeing of judges and less number to the States with the wherewithal and commitment to do so.

21. What is even worrisome on the part of the President of the NBA is his failure to admit that the NBA, including the inner and outer Bar, which he leads, have failed in their responsibility to protect the rule of law and defend the judiciary from punitive intimidation and erosion of its independence by the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government.

22. It is quite unfortunate that the NBA is only good at issuing bland statements of condemnation without more, while the judiciary continues to suffer ferocious bouts of harassment from a Federal Government that has become notorious for its contemptuous attitude towards the rule of law and the rights of Nigerians to an effective justice system.

23. Lest we forget, in 2016, when the Federal Government unleash premeditated midnight raids on Judges’ homes, including the Justices of the Supreme Court,  in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Gombe, Kano, Enugu and Sokoto States the NBA only issued the usual tepid statements without any strong protest action.

24. In 2018 when the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter Onnenghen was harassed and prematurely hounded from office through a kangaroo tribunal order, the NBA maintained a studied silence.

25. Again, in 2020, when the sanctity of Justice Mary Odili’s home was violated by hired members of the APC over the Supreme Court’s judgment that sacked the party’s governorship candidate for Bayelsa State, the NBA just condemned it, without any further follow-up action to forestall a reoccurrence.

26. All across the world, activist-oriented and responsible Lawyers’bodies, such as the Pakistan Lawyers Association, are doing great things with courage and determination to defend the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary through active and radical engagement with the retrograde political powers that try to undermine democracy and good governance.

27. Ours should not be different. The NBA’s lacklustre approach to social change is more of a disservice to the nation and exposes it to contempt as a lawyers’ body that stands for nothing noble. It must take a cue from the activist posture of the Pakistan Lawyers Association and get transformed into a formidably united social forcefor justice and the rule of law for it to be taking seriously as relevant element in the Nigerian legal profession.

28. As I said earlier, it was fitting for the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to have commended the Nigerian judiciary, but this was share hypocrisy as the records show that even the worst of military regimes did not subject the nation’s judiciary to the horrifying and debasing experience of the present Federal Government.

29. The question is what have the Federal Government done to enhance and strengthen the independence of the judiciary and delivery of effective justice in the last seven years? What have they done to improve the working environment and service conditions of federal judicial officers? What have they done?

30. Until it was struck down by the Supreme Court, what they could come up with was the infamous Executive Order 10, which they were to deploy to unlawfully seize State funds under the guise of enforcing financial autonomy for the judiciary at the level of States.

31. However contrary to the their posturing, Executive Order 10 was an instrument of blackmail against the States, and the Supreme Court was right and helpful in cancelling and throwing it into the dustbin of history because it would have caused more harm than good to the States’ judicial systems.

32. We should not also lose sight of the fact that the judiciary is also a problem to itself when it is weak and incapable of asserting and safeguarding its independencefrom the predatory tendencies of other arms of government.

33. When judges are lacking in courage and integrity, they easily giveup to improper pressure, influence and control, and the entire judiciary suffers and retrogression when heads of courts fail to judiciously spend and account for funds released to them to fund their capital and overhead expenditures.

34. By and large, the problems of our judiciary and the solutions thereof, are known. What is needed therefore is a leader with the political will, capacity and courage to ensure they are sustainably resolved and the judiciary strengthened and repositioned to serve the best interest of the nation.

35. Just as we have done in Rivers State under my watch, I will respect and protect the independence of the federal judiciary as co-equal arm of government with the executive and legislature and give practical expressions to its financial and administrative autonomies if given the change to lead our country, come 2023.

36. We will work with the National Assembly to prioritize the welfare of all judicial officers, including the provision of official cars and life-long accommodation as we have done here in Rivers State.

37. We will ensure prompt release of capital expenditures to the heads of courts but not without severe consequences for lack of transparency and accountability in the utilization of such funds as those found wanting will both be dismissed and assets acquired with such illicit funds, seized.

38. As no State government can truly address judicial corruption without first improving the conditions of service for judicial officers, the NJC will not appoint judges for States unless they have made provisions for decent houses with Certificates of Occupancy for all prospective judges.

39. With me on the saddle as the President and Commander-in-Chief, the judiciary in Nigeria shall be in safe good hands and Nigerians will again experience the glorious days of an independent, vibrant and progressive judiciary.

40. Finally, I which to commend the contributors to this book for their well-researched works and the topical issues they so copiously and impressively addressed.

41. There is no doubt that in honouring the great Justice Mary Odili, JSC (rtd) with their intellects they have also contributed immensely to the existing body of legal knowledge, for which posterity would be grateful to them.

42. I therefore join all others to congratulate Justice Mary Odili, JSC (rtd) for this rare achievement and commend the book for all to take and keep as a collector’s item.

43. Thank you for your attention and may God bless us all.

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