Navigating Pressures And The Imperative For Health Support For Judges, Magistrates Facing Public, Media Challenges, And Scrutiny

By Prof John Egbeazien Oshodi
L-R: Late Hon. Justice Shagbaor Ikyegh & Late Hon. Mr. Justice Chima Centus Nweze
L-R: Late Hon. Justice Shagbaor Ikyegh & Late Hon. Mr. Justice Chima Centus Nweze

Advocating for a Comprehensive Evaluation System: The Need for Physical, Psychological, Psychiatric, Financial, and Drug/Alcohol/Gambling Screening for Potential Law Students, Aspiring Lawyers, and Entrants to Judicial Roles

The recent passing of Justice Chima Nweze and Justice Joseph Shagbaor Ikyegh highlights their legal legacies and the potential toll their roles may have taken on their mental and physical well-being. While the specifics of their health issues remain unknown, a common thread among these men is the controversies, pressures, and possible inner stress that marked their careers.

Justice Nweze's legacy is notable for his role in the Ahmad Lawan case, where a 3 to 2 panel decision declared Lawan as the authentic candidate of the All Progressives Congress for Yobe North Senatorial District. In this case, Lawan was concurrently involved in presidential primaries and faced defeat, while Bashir Sheriff Machina won the Senate primary. The Supreme Court's intervention, overturning the outcome in favor of Lawan, met with criticism. On the other hand, Justice Ikyeghled the panel that upheld the reelection of Governor Dapo Abiodun amid accusations of accepting cash bribes. The public and media scrutiny on Justices Nweze and Joseph Ikyegh for their involvement in controversial cases, such as the Lawan and Abiodun cases respectively, likely contributed to the stress and pressure they experienced in their roles. Justice Ikyegh, death occurred amid controversy. Before his passing, he was not included in the final list of justices recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) for appointment to the Supreme Court.

The veracity of these suspicions remains unclear, but there is an apparent similarity in the circumstances surrounding these high-stakes cases, highlighting the human aspect of the individuals involved.

High-profile cases inevitably attract intense public scrutiny and media attention, placing justices under constant observation from the public, legal experts, and the media. This situation adds an extra layer of pressure to their responsibilities. Such cases, often involving political elections, constitutional matters, or allegations of corruption, bring about legal complexity. Justices are required to navigate intricate legal arguments, statutes, and precedents. The decisions made in controversial cases pose ethical dilemmas as justices strive to balance upholding the rule of law, interpreting the constitution, and ensuring justice is served. This delicate balancing act can sometimes lead to mental and emotional taxation on the individuals involved in the legal proceedings.

Unfortunately, many Nigerians will remember Justice Nweze for his involvement in the controversial Sen. Lawan's case. His family has not officially addressed his passing, but reports suggest he died in July after a brief illness. The Supreme Court's intervention, overturning the outcome in favor of Lawan, sparked substantial criticism, underscoring the contentious nature of high-stakes cases and drawing considerable public scrutiny and media attention. Justices, including Justice Ikyegh, faced heightened observation from the public, legal experts, and the media, intensifying the pressure accompanying their responsibilities.

Such cases, often entailing political elections, constitutional interpretations, or allegations of corruption, entail legal intricacies, demanding justices to navigate complex legal arguments, statutes, and precedents. Maintaining a high level of professional integrity becomes a significant burden as judges weigh the impact of their decisions on lives and communities, acutely aware that their rulings can have real-life consequences, contributing to emotional challenges. Furthermore, the awareness that their decisions often set legal precedents, guiding future cases, adds an additional layer of stress as justices grapple with the long-term implications of their rulings. In some instances, judges may face security concerns, especially when their decisions are contentious and polarizing, leading to heightened stress and the necessity for increased personal security measures.

In recognizing the multifaceted challenges faced by judges, it becomes imperative to advocate for holistic support that addresses their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Creating an environment that fosters such support is not just a matter of individual welfare but is crucial for maintaining a fair and effective judicial system.

Addressing the challenges faced by judges, especially in controversial cases, calls for a proactive approach to safeguard their mental and physical well-being. Rather than stigmatizing judges, the goal is to acknowledge the weight of their responsibilities. In cases garnering public and media attention, discreetly encouraging judges to seek stress relief or treatment is crucial to prevent mental strain from escalating into sudden physical health issues.

The stress of dealing with high-profile and contentious cases in the legal profession can be immense. Justices like Nweze and Ikyegh, by virtue of their roles, faced the challenging task of interpreting the law and making decisions that carry significant consequences for individuals, political entities, and the broader society. While I do not have specific information about the causes of death for Justices Nweze and Ikyegh, it's worth noting that the stress associated with their roles in handling high-profile and controversial cases could potentially contribute to various health issues. Stress, whether physical, mental, or emotional, can impact overall well-being and may manifest in different ways.

Recognizing the interconnectedness of inner stress or general stress with physical health, it is crucial to address these issues promptly to prevent potential adverse consequences, as prolonged stress can contribute to or exacerbate various physical health issues. Conditions such as cardiovascular problems, digestive disorders, and compromised immune function are commonly associated with chronic stress, underscoring the need for comprehensive health support in the legal profession. The stress associated with these aspects of the legal profession underscores the importance of supporting the well-being of judges and legal professionals, ensuring that they can navigate their responsibilities in a healthy and sustainable manner.

Judges' stress, whether acute or prolonged, can lead to physical manifestations, affecting various body systems and potentially causing conditions like cardiovascular issues and weakened immune function. The mental toll of handling contentious cases, public scrutiny, and ethical dilemmas may result in challenges such as anxiety or depression. The demanding nature of their work, coupled with the responsibility of making impactful decisions, contributes to work-related stress. It is crucial to comprehensively address these aspects for the sustained well-being of judges in the legal profession. As recent events in the judiciary spark discussions, the urgent need for proactive mental and physical health support for judges facing challenges becomes evident. Implementing these services promptly is essential, considering the potential consequences in a legal landscape fraught with complexities. Supporting judges in navigating their responsibilities in a healthy manner is crucial for the overall well-being of legal professionals.

It's crucial to acknowledge that, without specific information on the health conditions of Justices Nweze and Ikyegh, any discussion about the potential factors contributing to their deaths would be speculative. Various factors, including personal health histories, genetic predispositions, and lifestyle choices, can influence an individual's health.

The imperative for mental and physical health support for judges facing adversity and challenges goes beyond individual well-being; it is fundamental to sustaining a fair and effective judicial system. Services such as counseling, confidential support networks, and stress management education are invaluable in mitigating the negative effects of the inherent stressors in their roles. Fostering a culture that prioritizes mental and physical health and destigmatizes seeking support is essential to creating an environment where judges feel empowered to address their well-being.

These services should begin promptly, as we know these types of deaths could happen if not soon, in a troubled judiciary and society like Nigeria. In conclusion, the recent events surrounding Justice Nweze and Justice Ikyegh underscore the critical need for acknowledging and addressing the mental and physical health challenges faced by judges, especially those facing adversity and challenges in the aftermath of controversial cases. By embracing a proactive and supportive approach, we can contribute to the overall resilience and effectiveness of the judiciary, ensuring that judges facing adversity can navigate their roles with strength and well-being.

The nature of their work, balancing legal principles with public sentiment, can take a toll on judges' mental and emotional well-being, underscoring the importance of supporting the judiciary in handling high-profile cases. While judges, as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Kayode Ariwoola rightly said, that public opinions, sentiments, or emotions can never take the place of law in deciding the cases that come before them, to pretend that many and current embarrassments, controversies, and suspicious judgments that are now common in the judiciary, then Ariwoola is not only living in fantasy, self-deception, he is actually indirectly making himself and other judges continue on the path of self-induced stress and mental and physical consequences that come with these issues.

The demand for mental health services among judges is evident due to the unique stressors tied to their roles. The weight of high-stakes decision-making, public scrutiny, legal complexities, and the emotional toll of cases can lead to mental and emotional strain. Judges may experience isolation, security concerns, and the challenge of maintaining impartiality. Providing mental health services, including counseling and support networks, is essential for mitigating these stressors and fostering a healthier judicial environment. Prioritizing judges' mental well-being not only benefits individuals but also contributes to a fair and effective judicial system.

Providing mental health services for judges can help mitigate the negative effects of these stressors. Services may include counseling, confidential support networks, and education on stress management. Fostering a culture that destigmatizes seeking mental health support is crucial for ensuring judges feel comfortable addressing their mental well-being. Ultimately, supporting the mental health of judges is not only a matter of individual well-being but also critical for maintaining a fair and effective judicial system.

The necessity for mental health services for judges is paramount, given the distinct challenges and stressors associated with their roles, especially those handling high-profile or contentious cases. Judges bear the weight of high-stakes decision-making, facing pressures that can significantly impact their mental and emotional well-being. Operating under constant public scrutiny, navigating legal complexities, experiencing professional isolation, grappling with security concerns, managing emotional impacts from cases, and upholding impartiality all contribute to the mental strain judges endure. Offering mental health services, including counseling, confidential support networks, and stress management education, is crucial in mitigating the negative effects of these stressors. Creating a culture that destigmatizes seeking mental health support is essential to ensuring judges feel comfortable addressing their well-being. Ultimately, prioritizing judges' mental health is not only a matter of individual well-being but also critical for maintaining a fair and effective judicial system.

Safeguarding the mental health of judges, especially in the face of heightened public and media attention, is essential. Encouraging judges to seek stress relief or treatment discreetly can prevent the escalation of mental strain into sudden physical health issues. Providing support, including access to mental health resources and fostering a well-being-oriented culture, is crucial for maintaining a healthy and effective judiciary. Given the demanding and high-pressure nature of judicial roles, the establishment of a specialized Employee Assistance Program (EAP) becomes necessary. This program should be tailored to address the unique stressors faced by judicial staff, offering targeted support, counseling, and resources to cope with challenges related to contentious cases, public scrutiny, and ethical dilemmas. By recognizing the potential impact on both physical health and mental well-being, such a program can provide confidential counseling, stress management techniques, and resources to promote a healthy work-life balance. Implementing a specialized EAP underscores the commitment to the overall well-being of judicial staff, creating a supportive environment that acknowledges and addresses the specific stressors inherent in their roles.

However, it is crucial to note that such specialized EAPs are not yet common in many African contexts. Acknowledging the unique challenges and high-pressure environment faced by judicial professionals in Africa, there is a pressing need to initiate and implement these programs. Introducing specialized EAPs can proactively address the mental and emotional well-being of judicial staff, providing tailored support to cope with the specific stressors associated with their roles. This initiative not only promotes a culture of well-being within the judiciary but also acknowledges the importance of mental health in sustaining a fair and effective legal system. As the discourse around mental health gains prominence globally, fostering the establishment of specialized EAPs can contribute significantly to creating a supportive and resilient judiciary in the African context.

In fact, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), home of professional lawyers, including judicial officers, should consider establishing a special unit for EAP services manned by a staff with a bachelor's or master's degree in psychology or social work. This unit could encompass preventive, nutritional, physical, counseling, and referral services, with the inclusion of periodic physical fitness exercises, such as group walks and other activities, to enhance overall well-being.

In conclusion, the imperative for mental health services for judges is undeniable, considering the distinctive challenges and stressors inherent in their roles. Judges, especially those presiding over high-profile or contentious cases, grapple with an array of pressures that can significantly impact their mental and emotional well-being. The weight of their decisions, which carry far-reaching consequences for individuals, communities, and the nation at large, imposes a substantial burden of stress and emotional strain. In my various writings, I have consistently advocated for the implementation of a mild form of psychological, psychiatric, financial, and drug screening for aspiring judicial officers. This proactive measure is crucial, particularly given the prevalent socio-economic challenges and endemic corruption in Nigeria.

I propose a system akin to the screening processes undergone by law/medical students in certain countries, ensuring a comprehensive evaluation of students entering law schools before assuming judicial roles. Moreover, to fortify the moral integrity of individuals entering the ranks of judicial officers, it is imperative to provide them with adequate salary, benefits, and housing support. These measures serve not only as deterrents against potential temptations of dishonesty but also contribute to the overall well-being and resilience of the judiciary, fostering a system built on ethical foundations. As we navigate the complexities of justice, let us stand united in our commitment to fortify the pillars of our judiciary, ensuring that those entrusted with the weighty responsibility of dispensing justice are fortified, both mentally and morally, to uphold the principles of fairness and integrity.

We aspire to see positive outcomes through these proactive measures, envisioning a decrease in controversies and a judiciary less vulnerable to fear, intimidation, political pressure, and bribery. Our heartfelt condolences go to the souls of those who have passed, and we strive to prevent further tragedies by addressing the mental and physical health needs of our judges. May the souls of those who have passed rest in peace, and may we work towards preventing further tragedies by addressing the mental and physical health needs of our magistrates and judges.

Psychologist John Egbeazien Oshodi

Professor John Egbeazien Oshodi, who was born in Uromi, Edo State, Nigeria, to a father who served in the Nigeria police for 37 years, is an American-based police and prison scientist and forensic, clinical, and legal psychologist. A government consultant on matters of forensic-clinical psychological services in the USA; and a former interim associate dean and assistant professor at Broward College, Florida. The Founder of the Dr. John Egbeazien Oshodi Foundation, Center for Psychological Health and Behavioral Change in African Settings. In 2011, he introduced state-of-the-art forensic psychology into Nigeria through N.U.C. and Nasarawa State University, where he served in the Department of Psychology as an Associate Professor. He has taught at various universities and colleges including Florida memorial University, Florida International University, Broward college, Lynn University, and a contributing faculty member at the Weldios university in Benin Republic, Nexus International University, Uganda, Nova Southeastern University and Walden University in USA. He is a Human Rights Psychologist with a focus on African related environments. [email protected]

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