Lawyers, AGF

By Henry Ojelu & Onozure Dania

As we enter 2022 tomorrow, Vanguard Law and Human Rights in this edition, sought the views of lawyers on what would pose as the major challenge(s) for the judiciary in the year. 

They also gave reasons for their positions.

Excerpt:

Independence — Agbakoba, SAN

Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, former Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, President, said: “The major challenge for the judiciary will remain its potential to be truly independent and deliver just decisions with speed. The solution is transformational amendment of the Constitution to make the judiciary efficient, bold and effective.”

Credibility — Candid-Johnson, SAN

Yemi Candid-Johnson, SAN said: “The major challenge of the Nigerian judiciary is credibility which is the foundation of effectiveness. A succession of absurd and inconsistent decisions from the highest court questions both the competence and integrity of judicial administration in Nigeria.  Such decisions impugn its fitness for purpose. The solutions are obvious and often simple but there will be neither philosophy nor political will to correct this unless the users force it into being.

Funding, poor remuneration — Hon, SAN

Sebastine Hon, SAN said: “Funding is one of the main challenges facing the Judiciary. This encompasses funding its capital and recurrent expenditure and payment of adequate salaries and emoluments. Even with the increase in the number of justices and judges, the annual budget of the Judiciary keeps plummeting. This affects the quality of justice delivery in unimaginable terms.

“Related to that is the fact that our judges are poorly paid. A few years ago, I rolled out statistics to show that even a magistrate in the United States of America earns more than the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Closer home, even judges of the Ghanaian Judiciary earn more than ours. What a shame! No less a personality than the President of the Court of Appeal, Dongban-Mensem, PCA, also made this public, recently.

“Next, is Executive interference in the running of the Judiciary. That day security agents invaded the homes of some justices of the Supreme Court in the dead of the night and arrested them like common criminals, marked one of the darkest moments in the body polity of Nigeria. No country ever does, or has ever done that. The forceful removal from office of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen and the recent invasion of the private home of Justice Mary Odili show that the Executive Arm of Government is up in arms against the Judiciary. That’s not the way to go. It’s simply despicable and totally condemnable. We are a laughing stock in the comity of nations; and I strongly condemn this smouldering attitude by the Executive. Where is due process, which is the hallmark of democracy and the rule of law?

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“Then, we have self-inflicted injuries. There are far too many conflicting judgments delivered by our Bench. On a good number of topical issues, there exists at least one contradictory stand taken by the Judiciary. This not only clogs the wheel of justice, it also makes rendering of legal services most difficult and uncertain. It also takes a dig on the respect for our Judiciary, both locally and internationally. The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal should better straighten these rough edges; and the earlier they did this, the better for everyone.”

Enforcement of judgments, orders – Ojo

Gbenga Ojo said: “The biggest challenge would be the uncompromising obedience and enforcement of the judgments of the courts particularly that of the Supreme Court. I wish that the Judiciary will have its mechanism for the enforcement of its judgments without involving the Executive arm.  Litigants would be in court against government or its agencies. The matter may linger on for 30-40 years in the court. At the end of it all, the government or its agency will not only disobey the judgment but will frustrate the enforcement of the judgment.

“Strange that government in Nigeria picks and chooses which order of the court to comply with. Some of the Attorneys-General at the state and federal levels are involved in all these. In addition, it is a nightmare to file a new suit in Lagos State. The state introduced e-filing, which is now counterproductive. It sometimes takes one week to get a permanent suit No for a new suit. We are not talking of assignments of the cases. It is extremely frustrating. The Chief Judge of Lagos State has to do something about this in the New Year.

“The NBA can be of assistance here. The body should take action against the AG of the government that disobeys orders of the courts.  NJC must not spare any judge that violates his oath of office. The impunity is just too much. A judge will give an order and another judge wills a contrary order in the same issue. It undermines the integrity of the courts. That should not be all.

“The lawyers involved should also be punished. Some judges would give judgments contrary to the evidence before the court in a manner that is suggestive of taking sides and desecrating the temple of justice. The best is that the judgment will be set aside on appeal and that is the end. Such judges continue with the impunity. There is crisis of justice in Nigeria.”

Interference, intimidation by executive — Edun

Kunle Edun said: “The Nigerian Judiciary is yet to appreciate its importance to the country and to Nigerians. Most Nigerians are losing hope in the nation’s justice system. 61 years after independence, we are still retrogressive and primitive in the way proceedings are conducted in our courts. Judges, including the Supreme Court Justices still write in long hands. The appointment process into the bench is still very concerning. The best hands find it difficult to get to the bench unless they can get someone to help them. Merit seems not to play much role again.

“The courts are grossly inadequate and ill-equipped. Of course, the Judiciary needs more judges and justices to be able to quickly conclude hearing of cases. Also important is the issue of low pay for judges. Nigerian judges are being over-worked with no commensurate pay whereas the members of the Executive and Legislature smile home every day with scandalous remunerations and allowances. This is why the two other arms of government will continue to look down on the Judiciary. The President and the state governors must stop interfering in the affairs of the Judiciary and intimidating them with EFCC. Their refusal to allow full autonomy for the Judiciary is unpatriotic and no country can grow without a virile and independent Judiciary.”

Judges’ welfare — Awe                Babatunde Awe said: “The most challenging thing for the Judiciary in my view continues to be that they are heavily overworked. As a litigator, I am in court at all levels almost daily and I sincerely weep for our judges and the burden they bear daily.

“It is probably the reason many judges are just pretending to be fine. Many of them suffer huge work-related illnesses which will be compounded as long as they remain on the job in these circumstances.  As a journalist, just imagine writing 20 to 30 articles daily using longhand. Judges sit in one spot for up to five or six hours at a stretch under a hot courtroom without air-conditioning or sufficient lighting.

“We need to employ more than double the number of judges for every cadre of court and make automation of our courtrooms and court processes a fundamental priority. We need to remunerate them better. The salary of a judge is embarrassing. How can they survive and live a dignifying life with such a paltry earning? The time to act is now. Otherwise we will wake up to a complete collapse of the system. And once the Judiciary is broken down, there goes the hope of the common man and complete anarchy.”

Politically motivated trials — Asemudara

Ige Asemudara said: “In 2022, the polity will begin to experience extra heat that will be generated from the build-up to the 2023 elections. First, political parties will begin to do their primaries and pre-election matters will also begin to trickle in tens and hundreds. Yes, a new set of corruption-related criminal cases will prop up mainly because elections are near. The incumbent government peopled by conventional politicians will begin to open can of worms for their perceived opponents even within the same party. Some of these will result in criminal charges in court. Of course, many will be meritorious but some will just be trumped up to witch-hunt or taunt their opponents to surrender. So, the courts have to be wary of cases merely instigated against political opponents without any merit and should deal with them with judicial dispatch.

“As for pre-election matters, the courts are urged to save our democracy and the rule of law in their rulings and judgments. The year is going to be interesting. I also foresee many cases of human rights abuses to be occasioned by the dynamics of the inhuman politics at play in Nigeria. There are some provisions of the Constitution especially the amendments and the Electoral Act that will come up for interpretation before the courts, we hope and pray that justice is accordingly dispensed according to law and conscience.”

E-filing – Ogedi

Ogu Ogedi said: “Filing at the Lagos State High Court has shown the worse experience in the practice; their so called e-filing is killing the legal practice, a situation where filing and uploading takes weeks to be concluded makes no sense at all. The High Court system must increase the number of staff attending to that e-filing or jettison the need for uploading of filed processes.”

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