With due respect to you, learned prof, sir, the respected CJN should never ever have made that sort of joke under such circumstances. Such comment is hardly defensible/justifiable when one considers the sensitive office the CJN occupies, the season we’re in, and the high likelihood that matters relating to these parties might ultimately end up on the CJN’s table, to assemble and even preside over, the team that would determine the fate of the parties in 2023 after the polls. Perhaps, indeed I honestly believe the CJN must have meant it to be a joke. But the impression reasonably created, considering his sensitive position, is a huge material factor– indeed matters a lot!
Generally speaking, doing justice (reality) is one thing. Doing it so as to leave a clear reasonable impression that justice has been done (appearance) is a different, more important, question. If the procedure you have adopted in doing justice leaves reasonable bystanders with the impression, however minute, that justice has not been done, then there is a problem with your style and of course, with your brand of justice. Similarly, if as a judex, or potential arbiter, your public conduct or utterances create or leave the impression of a reasonable likelihood that you may not be unbiased when the chips are down, then we have a huge problem in our hands. This is why members of the Judiciary must as far as possible, not only stay away from partisan politics and from hobnobbing with politicians but also, most importantly, from making, authorising or associating with public utterances or conducts that have the likelihood of creating any impression in the minds of the watching public that they’re not nonaligned or could act with bias. Judges should abstain from any action and behaviour that could infringe upon the trust in their impartiality.
Perhaps the insight given by Lord Denning (MR) in R. v. Amber Valley DC, ex parte Jackson  1 WLR 298,  3 All ER 50, gives a clear view of the *determining factor: “The court looks at the impression which would be given to other people. Even if he [the judex] was as impartial as could be, nevertheless if right-minded persons would think that, in the circumstances, there was a real likelihood of bias on his part…”, there’s a problem. This was upheld in several cases, including Nigerian cases: see R. v. Bow Street Magistrate ex parte Pinochet (No. 2)  1 AC 119,  1 All ER 577; R. v. Secretary of State ex parte Kirkstall  3 All ER 304; ZAMAN v. STATE (2015) LPELR-24595(CA); Olve & Ors. vs. Enenwali & Ors. (1976) 1 NMLR; Obadara v The President, Ibadan West District Grade “B” Court (1964) 1 All NLR 336), among countless others.
To use the words of Lord Hewart, the then Lord Chief Justice of England in the case of Rex v. Sussex Justices ,  1 KB 256, “justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done”. Thus, on administration of justice, appearance does matter as it is one of the most important optics that creates the judiciary’s impression of people around it. Perceptions are formed from our actions, utterances, and body language.It is in doing justice that the ordering of society is centered. This could be why George Washington once said that “administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government”. It’s thus essential that the judiciary both be independent and appear to be independent, so that there is public confidence that judicial decisions are made without bias or outside influence. It is the constitutional right of every Nigerian to have his or her legal issues decided by fair and impartial judges. “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality” (section 36(1) CFRN 1999).
Sylvester Udemezue (Udems).
Prof John Egbeazien Oshodi was born in Uromi, Edo State, Nigeria on June 8, 1959. He is one of eight children and grew up in a law enforcement family with traditional roots. He completed his elementary and senior high school years in Nigeria. He came to the United States of America and settled in Miami, Florida in 1982. He started his academic pursuit in April of 1982 at Miami-Dade Community College in Miami, Florida. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees (BS/MS) in Criminal Justice/Criminology from the Florida International University in 1983 and 1987 respectively. He attended the Carlos Albizu University (formally known as Caribbean Center for Advanced Studies, Miami Institute of Psychology) in Miami, Florida, where he received his Doctor of Philosophy (PH.D.) in Clinical/Forensic Psychology degree with utmost distinction in April of 1991.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.