Justice as the bedrock of democracy in Nigeria (3)

January 5, 2021
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In continuation of the lecture delivered at the Nigerian Bar Association, Ibadan Branch 2020 Law Week, I now focus on sectoral aspects of justice, having examined the concept of justice, the dynamics of political and economic justice and other related topics, in the last two pieces.

JUDICIAL JUSTICE

The term ‘judicial justice’ as used here may sound tautologous, in that it is the basic expectation of society that the fulcrum of the judiciary is the dispensation of justice to society. Now is there a possibility that the judiciary can dispense injustice or be perceived to dispense injustice? In every civilized democracy, the judiciary exists for the enthronement and dispensation of justice. This arises in the determination of disputes between persons and persons, and between government and the citizens. This is the purport of section 6(6) of the 1999 Constitution.

However, where the citizens of a democratic government lose confidence in the ability of the judiciary to dispense justice speedily and justly, then on a communal level, there is judicial injustice. The symbol of judicial justice to the ordinary man on the street, is the “Judge” who sits over and who judges the affairs of his fellow men. Therefore, there shall be judicial justice, only when men and women, who would always be cautious about the prime place they occupy in society, are appointed to the Bench. For as Sir Gerald Brennan, Chief Justice of Australia puts it while addressing the National Judicial Orientation for new Judges in that Country:

“A judge’s role is to serve the community in the pivotal role of administering justice according to law. Your office gives you that opportunity and that is a privilege. Your office requires you to serve, and that is a duty. No doubt there were a number of other reasons, personal and professional, for accepting appointment, but the judge will not succeed and will not find satisfaction in his or her duties unless there is a continual realisation of the importance of the community service that is rendered. Freedom, peace, order and good government – the essentials of the society we treasure – depend on the ultimate analysis of the faithful performance of judicial duty. It is only when the community has confidence in the integrity and capacity of the judiciary that the community is governed by the rule of law.”

“Confidence in the judiciary is founded not only on the competence and diligence of its members, but also on their integrity and moral uprightness. A judge must not only be a “good judge”, but must also be a “good person”. From the public’s perspective, a judge has not only pledged to serve the ideals of justice and truth on which the rule of law and the foundations of democracy are built, but has also promised to embody them. Accordingly, the personal qualities, conduct and image that a judge projects affects those of the judicial system as a whole and, therefore, the confidence that the public places in it. The public demands from the judge, conduct which is far above what is demanded of their fellow citizens, standards of conduct much higher than those of society as a whole; in fact, virtually irreproachable conduct. It is as if the judicial function, which is to judge others, has imposed a requirement that the judge remain beyond the judgment of others (www.hcourt.gov.au, accessed on November 25, 2020.)

It is pertinent to state that to achieve the judiciary of our dream, one which truly delivers justice to her people, there must be entrenched in the polity, the judicial values of independence, which is more aptly stated in the Judicial Ethics Training Manual for the Nigerian Judiciary, sponsored by the European Commission at page 49 thus:

“The core of the principle of judicial independence is the complete liberty of the judge to hear and decide the cases that come before the court. No outsider – be it government, pressure group, individual or even another judge – should interfere, or attempt to interfere, with the way in which a judge conducts his or her case and makes his or her decision.”

Besides, the issue of autonomy of the judiciary must be sacrosanct, as a judiciary that is an extension or a liaison office of the Executive, cannot deliver justice to its people and only competent persons who have a combination of clear brilliance and a sense of high character, must be appointed to the Bench, properly remunerated and equipped to deliver justice in the democratic experience.

The place of justice in the democratic practice in Nigeria

Nigeria has experimented with the practice of uninterrupted democracy for about 20 years, thus, it has become necessary to interrogate the journey so far, in the light of justice delivery to her citizens. It is the intent of the founding fathers of Nigeria, that justice would form the centerpiece of Nigeria’s democracy. No wonder the preamble to the 1999 Constitution reads thus:

“We the People of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: HAVING firmly resolved … AND TO PROVIDE for a Constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country, on the principles of Freedom, Equality and Justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the Unity of our people.” In the same vein, Section 14 of the Constitution boldly declares thus: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.”

This is equally clearly stated in the last verse of the National Anthem which reads thus: “To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.”

To ensure that the operators of the wheel of democracy in Nigeria give full expression and effect to the enthronement of justice, the 1999 Constitution has made provisions to guide the Country in this regard. Consequently, those at the helm of governance in Nigeria are under a solemn obligation, to imbue the essence of justice in the programs and policies of government. Justice in this regard would be discussed under these categorizations:

Social justice

According to the United Nations document titled: “Social justice in an open World”published in 2006:

“Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth; however, it is necessary to attach some important qualifiers to this statement. Currently, maximizing growth appears to be the primary objective, but it is also essential to ensure that growth is sustainable, that the integrity of the natural environment is respected, that the use of non-renewable resources is rationalized, and that future generations are able to enjoy a beautiful and hospitable earth.”

Social justice in simple terms represents a fair policy which distributes and redistributes the wealth of society, in a manner that caters for the needs of all in society. Section 17 of the Nigerian Constitution gives an elaborate expectation for the enthronement of social justice in Nigeria. Section 17 (1) provides thus: “The State social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice.” In subsections 2 and 3 of the said section, the Constitution lists the ingredients which must guide our nation in the path of ensuring social justice in Nigeria to wit:

  1. Equality of rights, obligations and opportunities.
  2. Protection of the sanctity and dignity of the human person.

iii. Ensuring that government actions are humane.

  1. Exploitation of human and natural resources shall be for common good only.
  2. Independence, impartiality and integrity of the courts of law shall be maintained in addition to easy accessibility to the court.

Economic justice

The Center for Economic and Social Justice, Washington DC while elucidating this position submitted thus:

“Economic justice, which touches the individual person as well as the social order, encompasses the moral principles which guide us in designing our economic institutions. These institutions determine how each person earns a living, enters into contracts, exchanges goods and services with others and otherwise produces an independent material foundation for his or her economic sustenance. The ultimate purpose of economic justice is to free each person to engage creatively in the unlimited work beyond economics, that of the mind and the spirit.”

(https://www.cesj.org/learn/definitions/defining-economic-justice-and-social-justice/, accessed November 25, 2020.)

Economic Justice entails the following:

  1. Participative Justice: It stipulates creating equal access to all, to put in reasonable effort in the productive process and earn commensurate income therefrom. This concept abhors monopolies and exclusionary measures that deprive a segment of society from actively engaging in the economic sector.
  2. Distributive Justice: connotes that persons who have adequately participated in some economic activities, enjoy the fruits of such participation without hindrance.

Section 16 of the Constitution has placed a burden on government to ensure the promotion of economic justice through the following:

  1. Harnessing of the resources of the nation and promoting national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self-reliant economy;
  2. Control of the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity;
  3. Without prejudice to its right to operate or participate in areas of the economy, other than the major sectors of the economy, manage and operate the major sectors of the economy;
  4. Protect the rights of every citizen to engage in any economic activity outside the major sectors of the economy.

It is therefore a great economic injustice on the Nigerian people, if the resources of the State are not properly harnessed for the benefit of the people. It is great injustice wrought on the Nigerian people by the ruling elite, that though Nigeria is an oil-producing country, having discovered oil in 1956 at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta region, it continues to export crude oil and import refined petroleum products at a high cost to the Nigerian people. It is great economic injustice indeed, that some 60 years after independence, the ruling elite has refused total liberalization of the power sector, so that bright minds with the requisite expertise can fully play in this sector and free Nigerians from the incessant power blackouts, which continue to cripple economic lives, thereby increasing the misery index in the Country. The same goes for the oil and gas sector, which has been hijacked by the ruling elite, which is apparently unwilling to let go, going by the experience of the Petroleum Industry Bill, which has been the longest pending Bill in the history of mankind. We shouldn’t continue in this way at all.

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