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Archbishop Ugorji worried over ‘cash and carry’ judges in Nigeria

Archbishop Ugorji worried over ‘cash and carry’ judges in Nigeria

By Padre Mike Nsikak Umoh, CSN

The President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, has expressed deep concern over what he described as ‘cash and carry’ judges in Nigeria, “who award cases to the highest bidder.” He warned that “by their inappropriate conduct, these “bad eggs” taint the image of the judiciary, shake the confidence of the common man in the noble institution and tempt the citizenry to engage in self-help to vindicate their rights and freedoms.”

The prelate gave this warning in a sermon delivered at the Maria Assumpta Cathedral in Owerri on 16 December 2022 during the Holy Mass to Mark the Official Opening of the New Legal Year of Imo State Judiciary, where he also challenged the gentlemen of the bar to be up and doing in the discharge of their sacred duties to the nation.

Drawing inspiration from the classic judgement of King Solomon, in a case between two women who laid rival claims to a baby, the Archbishop reminded the legal luminaries of the indispensable roles of judges in every civilized society. “In every civilized society, the judiciary upholds and sustains the rule of law. It protects and promotes democracy, ensuring a good, transparent and accountable government. Likewise, the judiciary interprets the law and administers justice.”

Being “the last hope of the common man in his quest for justice, equity and fairness,” the Archbishop of Owerri urged the assembly of learned men and women to “ensure that the judiciary carries out its duties effectively” in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Section 17 (1) (e)[1] which provides for the independence, impartiality and integrity of courts of law.”

In order to be truly independent and strong therefore, the homilist stressed that “the appointment of judges by the executive arm of government … must always be based on the qualification, competence, integrity and ability of candidates.”

Archbishop Ugorji noted regrettably that though Nigeria is blessed with “a dazzling array of erudite, experienced and competent judges of unassailable integrity; highly reputable judges who exercise their duties with extraordinary diligence, courage, impartiality and highest ethical standards,” appointment of such competent judicial officers are often “sacrificed on the altars of nepotism, religious or political affiliation,” thereby causing the entire judiciary to suffer. “It is a scourge for a nation or state to have unqualified, incompetent or corrupt judges,” he averred.

The Archbishop further advocated that Nigeria is in dire need of judges who are not swayed by inducement, pressure or threat and who never pervert the course of justice, as these “constitute the pride of the judiciary and a blessing to our nation.”

Since as it is said that “justice delayed is justice denied”, the prelate expressed the desire for a time in the country, “when cases are despatched expeditiously, when suspects are not detained indefinitely in prison without trial; when justice is not unduly delayed.”

“We greet the learned gentlemen of the Bar as upholders of the rule of law and protectors of the rights and freedoms of the individual against the abuses of power. In order to play your roles creditably as lawyers, you are expected to maintain the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Lawyers should never mislead the court nor be unfair to the members of the public. It is highly desirable that lawyers act diligently and promptly and should not accept cases they cannot carry out competently and with despatch. The principle of fairness is to govern the charging of legal and transportation fees to enable the poor have access to justice.”

He further added that “A lawyer, who is always pleading for adjournment of a case because he or she is not diligent or capable enough to prepare his case file adequately or simply because he or she desires to extract more transport fees from a client, does not show fairness. Likewise, a lawyer who purports to defend a client in a case, where he has a conflict of interest, does not show fairness.”

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