By Frank Oshanugor
The announcement on Tuesday May 18, 2021 by His Excellency, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, Governor of Delta State, granting full independence to the judiciary to operate in the State, has been hailed by one of the Governor’s aides; Dr. Michael Nwoko as a pace-setting step in the annals of the Nigerian judiciary as “no State in the country has achieved such feat prior to this time.”
The Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Delta Governor on Health Monitoring, while speaking with newsmen in Asaba on Wednesday noted that for Governor Okowa’s administration to come up with such a policy at a time members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) have been on strike brings to the fore, the mindfulness and sensitivity Okowa as a person attaches to the judiciary as the third arm of government, which statutorily has the major role of interpreting the law without fear or favour.
According to Nwoko, “there is no argument of the fact that over the years, the judiciary in Nigeria at different levels has had a fair share of executive interference in a manner that has bastardized the principles of separation of power among the three organs of government.”
He emphasised that by Governor Okowa’s action, “there appears some glimmer of hope that Nigeria may be on the path to sanity with respect to the enthronement of judicial independence.” In simple terms, judicial independence is the ability of a judge to decide a matter free from pressures or inducements and freedom of the institution as a whole from government or other concentrations of power.
The SSA who is also the Coordinator of Delta State Health Monitoring Team noted that “in other democratic climes, particularly Western industrialized nations where the Rule of Law is well respected, the independence of the judiciary is usually upheld thereby ensuring that the system performs well in every sector.”
Regrettably, he said “over the years in Nigeria beginning with the military era, the country has not experienced a true autonomy for the judiciary. While the military can be excused for its own aberrant tendencies on issues of law because of its regimented background; such excuse is not tenable in the post military era like now when democracy is in place. Hence, it is extremely worrisome that political leaderships at different levels seem not to be conscious of the great danger absence of judicial independence could precipitate in a polity like ours.”
Short of mentioning any particular incident, Nwoko posited that there have been many incidents of interference or manipulation of the judiciary by those in the executive arm of government to suit their personal interest.
He has therefore urged that “our political leaders need to be reminded that lawyers and judges play essential role in securing access to justice and should never suffer or be threatened with arrest, intimidation, prosecution or other sanctions for action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethnics.”
The SSA pointed out that, “obviously mindful of all these, Governor Okowa went ahead to set the pace in righting the wrong of the past wherein judicial independence may have been breached.” He added that “by such landmark action, Okowa who hosted 16 other Governors of the Southern States a few days ago, has clearly demonstrated that he truly believes in the Rule of Law and he is ready to walk the talk.”
“His doggedness in initiating populist policies and identifying with the aspirations of the people at a time our country is passing through the most turbulent era socially, economically and politically stands him out as a man on a mission to create a Nigeria which is better than what he met it.”
Dr. Nwoko stressed that the Governor’s pace setting posture particularly this declaration of unfettered judicial independence is highly commendable as Deltans and other Nigerians look forward to see its actualisation in the days to come.
“All things being equal, it is expected that other state governors should borrow some leaf from Delta Governor with respect to granting full independence to their judiciary with a view to enthroning a people oriented society driven by the Rule of Law with no institutional or leadership inhibitions” Dr. Nwoko concluded.