By Sandra Umeh, Chinyere Omeire & Moji Eniola
Lagos – The anti-graft war of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has continued to receive a groundswell of support with a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Wole Olanipekun, urging the bar and the bench to shun corruption and unethical practices.
Olanipekun spoke on Tuesday at the Bar and Bench Forum as part of activities marking the 2017/2018 Golden Jubilee Legal Year in Lagos State.
In a keynote address entitled, “Promoting a Pace-setting and Productive Judiciary in Lagos State”, Olanipekun admonished judges and magistrates to be sober, impartial and God-fearing in the discharge of their duties.
“Your Lordships are not only expected to be impartial, but decent, courteous, fair, sober, reflective and God-fearing.
“In my honest opinion and I want to believe that many Nigerians share this humble thought of mine, a judge has no business being corrupt or corrupted.
“A judge should not be influenced or be compromised by other factors or nuances other than the law and facts of the case placed before him,” he said.
Olanipekun noted that judges and judicial workers constituted the courts and therefore, should maintain high moral standards.
He said:“Can the pacesetter status of the judiciary in Lagos State be enhanced if our judges have to work with miscreants, saboteurs, rogues, infidels, criminals, touts and delinquents as registrars, court clerks, bailiffs, sheriffs, personal assistants etc?
“A judge alone does not constitute the court, but a court is constituted by the judge, counsel, registrars of all cadres, bailiffs, secretaries etc.
“A judge does not know whether any of his aides, registrars of any lawyer has been using his name, title and office to collect bribes purportedly meant for him from litigants.
“Examples are legion, but the fact remains that no judge is a knight-errant and no judge or human possesses the attributes of God, who alone is omniscient and omnipresent.
“Any of these staff of the judiciary who have been caught engaging in any unscrupulous activity aimed at tarnishing the image of the judiciary, or bringing it into opprobrium, should not be treated with kid gloves.”
Olanipekun, however, decried what he identified insufficient judges overburdened with adjudicating thousands of cases in courtrooms in the state compared to their counterparts in the Federal High Courts.
“In 2015, 3,447 civil cases and 337 criminal ones were filed in the Lagos State High Court, making a total of 3,784; in 2016, the number increases significantly, to 3636 civil cases, with 636 criminal cases, making a total of 4,272.
“From January 2017 to Oct. 4, 2017, 2,895 civil cases and 743 criminal cases have been filed, making a total of 3548 cases recorded thus far while the number will exponentially increase before the year runs out.
“At the Federal High Court, Abuja, a total number of 3,963 cases were filed between 2015 to 2017, yet the Federal High Court has about 100 judges as against 56 judges of the Lagos State Judiciary.
“If any state judiciary deserved the sympathy and understanding of both the government of Lagos State and the National Judicial Commission (NJC), it the judiciary of this state which urgently needs more hands,” he said.
Olanipekun also pointed out:“For 56 judges to take charge of well over 12,000 cases pending in the High Courts of Lagos State is unrealistic as that state judiciary does not need anything less than 100 judges for now.”
On the appointment of state chief judge, he said the process of succession as a chief judge should be seamless and charged the State Judicial Service Commission (SJSC) to ensure the early appointment of a successor to the retired Chief Judge, Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade.
“Since the SJSC is aware that the Hon. Justice O. Oke will retire constitutionally on June 10, 2019 and since the chief judge is also the Chairman of the SJSC, the process for the appointment of a successor should begin sufficiently in earnest.
“As Justice Oke retires on June 10, 2019, her successor should be sworn in, not in acting capacity, but in substantive status as Chief Judge of Lagos State on June 11, 2019.”
He also charged Justice Opeyemi Oke, the Acting Chief Judge to be fair and work as a team with her colleagues, hoping that she would take the state judiciary to the next level.
Earlier, Mr Adeniji Kazeem, the Attorney-General of Lagos State and Commissioner of Justice, said the state government had developed a blueprint for reforms in the justice sector.
“We are proud to be partners with the Lagos State judiciary, when this legal year was being organised the synergy between the chief judge and the Ministry of Justice was as it ought to be.
“The Lagos State Government has developed a blueprint for reforms in the justice sector and I’m very confident that with the new chief judge in office, the judiciary will be taken to greater heights.
“The Lagos judiciary has always been a trailblazer and I have been at the forefront of reforms and will continue to fight for the welfare of the staff of the Ministry of Justice, judiciary and the bar as long as I remain in office,”he said.
On her part, Justice Oke said the purpose of the forum was to generate ideas and innovations that would move the judiciary forward.
“This programme is very important, we have to join hands together to improve on the justice delivery system.
“We have to rub minds on ways to make the Lagos State judiciary the pacesetter in the country.” (NAN)