In the last two months, two books have been launched on the achievement of the Lagos Chief Judge, Justice Ayotunde Phillips. The first book titled ” A reformatory approach to the criminal justice system in Nigeria” was launched in October. Written by Oluseyi Adetona and Dare Oketade, the book x-rayed the reforms introduced by the Lagos Chief Judge in tackling some of the challenges in the criminal justice system. Just last week, another book titled ” Landmark Judgments” was launched on behalf of the Chief Judge. The book authored by twelve young lawyers chronicled some of the landmark judgements of the Chief Judge.
At the separate launching for the two books in Lagos, several prominent businessmen, lawyers, traditional rulers and top government official graced the occasion.
At the first book launch, business mogul, Jimoh Ibrahim led other dignitaries in launching the book with N10million. Former Nigerian Vice President, Atiku Abubakar who was represented at the event also bought copies of the book for an undisclosed amount. Femi Otedola, Chief launcher of the second book, bought copies of the book for N10 million. Several Senior Advocates of Nigeria, top lawyers, Senators, government officials and traditional rulers who attended the event also bought copies of the book for amounts ranging from N1 million to N100,000. All payments were made to the book publisher, Velma Publishing Ltd.
While the integrity of Justice Phillips is not in doubt following the sound and courageous judgments she has delivered in the past, many are questioning her decision to associate with book launches where huge amounts of money were freely donated by people who daily appear before the Lagos courts which she administers. While some people are of the opinion that the book launch sends a negative signal to the public, others posited that the Chief Judge being a serving public servant should have waited for her retirement before allowing such hefty donations for books written about her.
Speaking on the issue, Cordinator, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACL, Mr. Debo Adeniran said the action of the Chief Judge in associating with huge donations for books written about her, raises moral questions. While not impugning the integrity of Justice Phillips, Mr. Adeniran said that the donations made by rich individuals who already have or may in the future, have cases in Lagos courts, clearly send wrong signal to the public. He said: ” Morally, I believe this is wrong. While no bad motive may have been intended, I can assure you that not many Nigerians will see it that way. Many people today believe that justice is for the rich people. We know that a lot of people buy judgments these and that some judges truly don’t have businesses administering justice. Many of them are corrupt and we known that. This is the notion held by many people and what that book launch seems to be saying is that those people who donated millions for the book are indirectly trying to appeal to the chief Judge. I believe she should have just waited for her retirement by allowing such display.”
Another Civil Right Activists, Nkem Ofordile condemned the action of the CJ saying that the book launched was ill timed and a reflection of corruption. Ofordile said that many known individuals and lawyers of questionable character may have used the occasion to indirectly influence the system.
” I don’t personally know the chief judge but what would you expect to happen when after that book launch, a person who has donated N10million for the book appears before the Chief Judge. It is a moral issue and I believe that it was wrong for the launch to have taken place now. There is no way someone will write a book on a prominent person without some form of agreement. I believe the Chief Judge would definitely benefit from the sales of those books. People who bought those books for millions may have done so because Justice Phillips was involved. Frankly speaking, the entire idea of that book raises big moral issues that must not be left unaddressed,” he said.
Human Rights Lawyer, Bamidele Aturu however sees the matter from a different perspective. Aturu noted that there is nothing wrong in someone writing a book about the Chief Judge. He also pointed out that since the book was authored and published by different people, there are no clear proofs that Justice Phillips benefited directly from the proceeds of the launch. Aturu however noted that the book launch could have been better after the CJ’s retirement as is always the cases with past judges both at the federal and state judiciary.
He said: “Technically speaking, it is not possible to say that the CJ is the author of the book. One cannot also say that the money realized will go to her. Nevertheless, public officials should be very careful in allowing their names to be linked with such public fund raising event. Particularly when when they are still serving because this may raise conflicts of interest and people may begin to question the propriety of such action.”
Another lawyer, Chukwudi Elue who also bought copies of the book for an undisclosed amount said he saw nothing wrong in the chief judge associating with a book written about her. Elue said that those who have closely followed Justice Phillips judgements and ruling in her over 20 years career as a judge in the Lagos judiciary, can readily attest to her integrity and commitment to the transformation of the justice system.
“I don’t see anything wrong with today’s event. These are fine judgments documented for us to read and reflect on. Those of us who have followed the CJ’s career closely, know that she is incorruptible and courageous. If you look at the judgements documented in that book, you will see some judgments she delivered against some people perceived as her friends. Moreover I don’t think there is any law anywhere that says people should not buy books written on a serving judge.”
When our reporter sought the opinion of several top lawyers who attended the event on the issue, many of them were not willing to be quoted. A top Nigerian Bar Association member simply told our reporter that the book launch was an unusual trend. “What we have seen in the past is for judges to launch books after their retirement. I guess this is a new trend,” he said.
Asked if such trend would not portend any dangers to the administration of justice, he said that it is the responsibility of the Nigerian Judiciary Commission to determine the appropriateness of a serving judge to launch books and have people make donations for such books.