My Lord, the Honourable Justice Mahmud Mohammed, GCON Chief Justice of Nigeria; My Lords Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria; My Lords Retired Chief Justices of Nigeria and Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria [here present]; My Lord the President of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria; My Lords Justices of the Court of Appeal; My Lords Retired Presidents and Justices of the Court of Appeal; My Lords Chief Judges, Heads and Judges of various Federal and State Courts; the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Honourable Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN; Attorneys-General of various States of the Federation; distinguished members of the inner and outer Bar; respected Members of the Body of Benchers; Royal fathers here present, members of Hon. Justice M.S. Muntaka-Coomassie’s family; members of the fourth estate of the realm; invited guests; distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
It gives me great pleasure and honour to present this address on behalf of the Nigerian B ar Association [NBA] at this valedictory Court session in honour of Honourable Justice M.S. Muntaka-Coomassie JSC, CFR as he graciously bows out from the Supreme Court of Nigeria after having served the judiciary creditably well since his appointment as an Associate Magistrate in Kaduna State in 1978.
My Lord. Hon. Justice M.S. Muntaka-Coomassie JSC, CFR can best be described as a quintessential gentleman, a legal colossus and a jurist per excellence who has contributed immensely to the development of the legal profession through a plethora of landmark Judgments and Judicial pronouncements on topical legal matters.
Prior to My Lord’s sojourn to the Judiciary, My Lord had, in the early 60s ventured into the academia as an Arabic tutor at Sultan Bello Primary School, Anguwan Sarki, amongst other
Schools in Kaduna State. He rose above the ranks to later become the Principal of Provincial Arabic School in Fada, Zaria, Kaduna State. He worked briefly as a Pupil State Counsel in the Ministry of Justice, Kwara State and later at the Ministry of Justice, Kaduna State before his elevation to the Bench as an Associate Magistrate.
A cursory analysis of My Lord’s profile which has been eloquently reeled out by My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria depicts him as a thorough bred jurist and gentleman per excellence for whom integrity, hard work, fairness and a desire to do justice at all times were articles of faith.
My Lord, Hon. Justice M.S. Muntaka-Coomassie JSC, CFR is a recipient of several awards of excellence from distinguished bodies and associations in recognition of his outstanding achievements and invaluable contributions to the growth and development of the legal profession and the promotion of the rule of law.
In recognition of his selfless service to the Nation, My Lord, Hon. Justice M.S. Muntaka- Coomassie JSC, CFR was conferred with the National Honours of: ‘Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR); Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON); And Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR)’ by the President and Commander in -chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2008, 2009 and 2014 respectively. My Lord was also appointed a Member of the Body of Benchers in the year, 2004.
His firm belief in the dispensation of justice in accordance with law can be easily discerned from several of his Judgments;
In M.W.T (Nig.) Ltd vs. P.T.F. (2007) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1058) 451 at 482, My Lord commented on the duty imposed by law on a part claiming the award of special damages. He opined thus:
“The law, I think it goes without saying, is whoever wants special damages must endeavour to prove it strictly and specifically. There must be evidence in Court to establish clearly that he suffered such damages as he claimed. In other words, the person claiming such special damages must establish his entitlements to that type of damages by credible evidence otherwise the general acceptable law of evidence as to proof by preponderance of weight usual in civil cases operate. I am fortified by the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Oshinjinrin v. Elias (1970) 1 All NLR 153 at 156 per Coker JSC.
In fact, what is required is qualitative and credible evidence in order to establish entitlements to special damages. Proof however of general damages does not require the strictness in proof of special damages. The only requirement in the award of general damages is that such award shall not be manifestly too high or manifestly too little or not erroneously assessed.”
Furthermore in ONAFOWOKAN vs. WEMA BANK PLC (2011) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1260) 24 at 53,
My Lord while considering the attitude of the Court on a finding or Order of Court not appealed against stated pointedly thus:
“It is trite that the finding and Order of a lower Court not appealed against remain valid and subsisting, and without a ground of appeal challenging the finding and order of the lower court this Court would lack the jurisdiction to interfere with the said findings or Order.
It is significant to state here that none of the grounds of appeal contained in the Notice of Appeal challenged the above stated findings and Order of the lower Court. It is trite that a finding not challenged by an appellant in any grounds of appeal remains, rightly or wrongly, the settlement of that issue as between the parties to the appeal. It follows that in the absence of any appeal against the finding and Order of the lower Court this Court would have declined jurisdiction to consider and determine such an issue.
Though the appellants raised the issue of sufficiency of the pleadings in Ground 1 of the Notice of Appeal, the proper thing for the Appellants to do is to first appeal or file a ground of appeal challenging the findings as to the competency of that issue. The lower court had found the issue to be incompetent, this Court could not hold otherwise unless and until there is a ground of appeal challenging the lower Court’s finding.”
Similarly in INSTITUTE OF HEALTH, A.B.U UNIVERSITY TEACHING HOSPITAL vs. ANYIP (2011) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1260) 1 at 17, the opportunity presented itself for My Lord to comment on the power of the Supreme Court to correct error in judgment of the Court of Appeal. In a most illuminating manner, My Lord posited as follows:
“I must say, with tremendous respect, that the judgment of the lower Court is a little bit confusing, and as it is, it may be very difficult
for the Respondent to execute the judgment and Orders of the Court of Appeal. That being the case and this Court being the final court of the land, something must be done to correct the situation. I invoke my powers under Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to correct the judgment of the lower court thus….”
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE BAR
My Lord, Hon. Justice M.S. Muntaka-Coomassie JSC, CFR has always maintained a pleasant and cordial relationship with the Bar. He was, on 31st January, 2009, presented with an Award of Excellence by the Nigerian Bar Association, Kaduna Branch in recognition of his immense contributions to the development of the legal system. The Bar remains eternally grateful to him for his fatherly role and constant advice to Counsel who have had the privilege of appearing before him.
I want to place on record the profound appreciation of the Nigerian Bar Association to My Lord, Hon. Justice M.S. Muntaka-Coomassie JSC, CFR for his invaluable support to the Bar at all times.
WELFARE OF JUDICIAL OFFICERS
The Nigerian Bar Association wishes to seize this opportunity to commend My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria for his tireless efforts towards improving the working conditions of Judicial Officers in all Courts.
The giant strides so far taken by My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria to introduce the use of Information Communication Technology in our Courts is highly commendable. At the special session of the Supreme Court to mark the 2015/2016 Opening of Legal Year, we were informed by My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria that the entire event was b eing streamed live online. This innovation is first of its kind in the annals of our Judiciary and we must all join hands to ensure that our Courts are revamped to meetup with the demands of modern legal practice.
The NBA wishes to reiterate its appeal that the practice of providing a befitting house and vehicle for retiring Chief Justices of Nigeria be extended to ALL retiring Justices of the Supreme Court. We believe that this gesture accords with good conscience and fairness in light of several years of hard work and distinguished service by My Lords, Justices of the Supreme Court.
Our Government has an obligation to provide an enabling and secure environment for Judicial Officers to work. Our Courts must be adequately fortified and made safe for both Judicial Officers and the litigants. Instances where Judicial Officers are threatened in open court by litigants or Counsel are highly regrettable and condemnable. The NBA will not hesitate to take disciplinary steps against Counsel who engage in this show of shame.
Our Judicial Officers must be protected from such negative criticisms and should not be targets for violent attacks whatsoever in the course of discharging their judicial duties.
JUDGMENTS & APPEALS
The NBA wishes to commend the Supreme Court the recent decisions/Judgments on Election Petitions. We note with pleasure that My Lord CJN personally sat on some of these appeals and on one occasion sat until about 10pm. It is sad to note that some persons who commend the Supreme Court when decisions favour them deride the same Court when the decisions go against them. My Lords, the NBA will continue to defend the Supreme Court which remains the highest Court of our land as the Court has always dispensed justice in accordance with law.
In a similar vein, the NBA notes with concern the worrisome issue of conflicting decisions of some of our lower Courts. Equally worrisome, is the failure to apply laid down judicial precedents by some of our lower Courts. We believe this should be stopped immediately. We restate our position that failure to follow laid down judicial precedents should be taken as serious misconduct for which there should be sanction.
MANPOWER IN THE JUDICIARY
The NBA wishes to reiterate its position on the issue of the present composition of the Supreme Court in view of the provisions of Section 230 (2)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended).
It is pertinent to note that it is impracticable for the Supreme Court as presently constituted to be able to timeously and expeditiously deal with matters brought before it. The further reduction of the number of Justices of the Supreme Court to 15 today is a clear indication of this fact. We appeal that there should be full compliance with the law and that the number of Justices of the Supreme Court be increased to complete the constitutional quota of 21.
The NBA urges the National Judicial Council (NJC) to give full meaning and eff ect to the provisions of the Constitution , 1999 (As Amended) by ensuring that the Supreme Court has its full complement of 21 Justices at all times.
We further advocate that the Supreme Court should consider setting up special Court sessions in various regions to deal with matters from that region. This step if implemented will help reduce the litany of appeals and workload of this Honourable Court.
The NBA condemns in its entirety the generalization and/or categorization of the Judiciary as being corrupt and an impediment to the zero corruption policy of the present administration. Whilst acknowledging that there may be a few bad eggs in the system, the NBA restates unequivocally that the categorization of the entire Judiciary as corrupt is a misconception and will stand solidly behind the Judiciary in any attempt to intimidate or harass its personnel.
The NBA however wishes to sound a note of warning to the few bad eggs in the system to desist from further causing untoward embarrassment to the Judicial arm of Government and will henceforth petition any Judicial Officer involved in or suspected to be involved in any corrupt or fraudulent transaction to the appropriate quarters for action.
We believe that a word is enough for the wise and that wise counsel will prevail in this regard.
The NBA is totally and fully committed to the war to rid our country of the scourge of corruption. We have demonstrated our capacity to regulate the profession and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee is regularly dealing with erring lawyers. We also support the efforts of the FGN to combat corruption aggressively. We have offered our full and total support in this regard. However, this war must be conducted within the ambit of the law and with due respect to the rule of law.
We have noted recently certain unsavoury steps and infractions of the law by some overzealous operatives of Government who try to hide under the guise of fighting corruption. Only last Friday, 8 operatives of a Government Agency were alleged to have invaded a Court Room to arrest a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and his clients. We beli eve that this is an unfortunate desecration of the temple of justice. It has long been settled that arrests within the precincts of a Court is an affront to our judicial and legal system.
What would it have taken for these operatives to wait outside the Court premises? We condemn this infraction in very strong terms.
We wish to stress that we do not condone any act of corruption, obstruction of the course of justice or perversion of the course of justice. Our point here is that the war against corruption can be conducted within the ambit of the law and with civility. We will work with all willing agencies of government to draw attention to how the war against corruption can be won without breaking the principles of rule of law on which our democracy is based. We hope that these incidents are isolated infractions which would not reoccur in future.
My Lords, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, today is not a day for goodbyes and tears, but one of jubilation and thanksgiving to God for years of meritorious service to one’s fatherland. My Lord, as you dance gallantly to the fine beats of retirement, the NBA thanks you for your uncommon passion and dedication to duty throughout your years as a Judicial Officer. As is our practice and in line with the fine traditions of the Bar, we will be hosting a Dinner in honour of My Lord, Hon. Justice M.S. Muntaka-Coomassie JSC, CFR tomorrow, Thursday, 11th February, 2016 at the Congress Hall, Transcorp Hilton, Abuja at 7:00pm.
We commend the invaluable support and affection My Lord must have enjoyed from members of his family in the course of discharging his judicial assignments in various parts of the country. We trust that you will now be able to spend quality time with your family devoid of constant and unscheduled trips.
We charge you to take pleasure in the finer things that God has put in place for you and pray for God’s continued blessings as you enjoy the rest that is long overdue. May you be blessed with good health and peace of mind. May the Almighty God continue to increase you from strength to strength.
Happy 70th Birthday, My Lord. We wish you many more years of joy and happiness. Thank you all for your attention.
Augustine Alegeh SAN, FCIArb. [UK] President, Nigerian Bar Association