Informed opinions on the judiciary in Nigeria vary between the rather equivocal comment by a senior member of the bar that “The judiciary is dead”, or the view that it is “on trial” and the more compassionate view that it is a “beast of burden” or a “sacrificial lamb”. These remarks derive from observations of the (alleged or actual) behaviour of the judges, and their independence, impartiality and integrity. While the metaphors quoted above may be subject to various interpretations, they do raise considerable curiosity and interest as to why any judiciary should attract such comments, and perhaps to what extent the comments are justified. This article, in attempting to answer these and similar nagging questions concerning Nigeria's judiciary, examines the truly multi-faceted question of judicial independence by assessing the Nigerian situation in the light of the factors that are considered vital to ensuring or guaranteeing an independent judiciary.
Interestingly, although section 17(1)(e) of the Nigerian Constitution provides that “The independence, impartiality and integrity of Courts of Law, and easy accessibility thereto shall be secured and maintained”, this provision is under the chapter titled “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy”, whose provisions are non-justiciable by virtue of section 6(6) (c) of the Constitution. Thus the high-sounding declaration of section 17(1)(e) has no bite, and what could have been a constitutional guarantee of judicial independence is no more than a slogan.
* LL.B.(Hons) Lagos, B.L., LL.M., PhD. (London): Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, and Lecturer in Law, Liverpool Polytechnic.