By Kola Onifade
MOST State Governors, in exercise of their privilege of Prerogative of Mercy go round the various prisons in the country from time to time and grant pardon to some inmates who are serving various terms of imprisonment, some awaiting trial for various offences.
A recurrent observation during these Prison tours is that many inmates have stayed in the prison for much longer than the term of imprisonment they would have served if convicted. A very unfortunate situation. The congestion in various Police cells and the Prisons is one of the various problems of our legal and Judicial System. Why are many inmates awaiting trial for unnecessarily long periods?
One even wonders why many of these awaiting trial inmates stay longer than the terms of imprisonment they would stay on conviction. Is the society fair to these people? Questions, questions and more questions? This sad situation is even attributed to the Nigerian factor, a euphemism for cutting corners, not following due process and obtaining even undeserved favours through connection with men at the top. For instance, the relations of a well connected person may not experience this ‘awaiting trial’ ordeal for too long. Strings will be pulled and they have their days in court. But for the ordinary and poor man, our “common man” only God is his helper and saviour.
A Government which cares about the welfare of the generality of the people should not allow this situation to continue. The President Muhammadu Buhari administration with its Change Mantra should take up this challenge immediately. Something should be done to ensure that even handed Justice is dispensed to all and sundry within reasonable time frame as Justice delayed is Justice denied. In this wise, one praises the concerned agencies of the Federal Government that acted swiftly on the recent appointment of Judges of the National Industrial Court. These Courts now have Judges to handle cases and dispense with them expeditiously.
However, one wonders why this is not the same situation with the Judges of the Federal High Court. A close observation shows that the Court is in dire need of Judges, to replace those who have died, retired, or will soon retire.
Several vacancies exist in the Court and reliable information reveals that all the States have submitted names of recommended Judicial officers to be appointed Judges. The list has also been reviewed and the shortlisted candidates invited and interviewed by the State Security Service, SSS, and the Nigerian Bar Association in the usual screening exercise.
However, the result of the screening by these two bodies has long been awaited.
It was only a few days ago that the NBA released its list. That of the SSS is still being awaited. How long this wait will last is now the issue. During the recent face off between the SSS and the National Judicial Council, NJC, the latter was accused of not taking timely and appropriate action on Judges accused of corruption.
In this instance nobody will blame the NJC for this delay, as the final list of lawyers to be appointed Judges has not been sent to them. What is the cause of this delay? When will the vacancies be filled? When will the numerous cases in the Federal High Court that have not been attended to due to shortage of Judges receive attention? These questions need answers by those concerned
This is a humble request to all the persons and institutions involved in taking appropriate action on appointment of Judges including the Chief Justice of the Federation, the NBA, The State Security Service, the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the National Judicial Council to do the needful and ensure that on resumption from the present annual vacation, all available vacancies in the Federal High Court would have been filled.
The Federal High Court is one of the most strategic and significant arms of our Judiciary and it should be empowered with its required human capacity to continue the good job it is doing.
*Mr. Onifade, a political analyst, wrote from Abuja.