Law News
A Stunted Judiciary
Mukhtar with President Jonathan

Mukhtar with President Jonathan

The judiciary is one of the three arms of government, whether at the federal or state level. And at all times, whether under the military regime or a democracy, the judiciary stands out as a distinct arm of government. The journey of the judiciary in the country is germane vis the political and constitutional development of the country
Like every other thing, at Independence on October 1, 1960, this all important arm of government was handed over to Nigerians by the British colonialist intact and efficient.
But as time went by, like other sectors in the country, decadence set in due to some atrocious actions of some judges, who rather than discharge their responsibilities, have resorted to playing politics with the profession and desecrating their hallowed chambers with perverse judgments. Not only are judgments negotiated and bought, the common man is often denied justice.
The most frequently asked question today is: Will the judiciary ever regain its lost glory? In the past, the judiciary repudiated technicalities to function at an optimum level in dispensing justice without fear or favour. But in recent times, many judges have been found guilty of corruption and other sordid acts.
The judiciary is grappling with the challenge of defending its independence and integrity. With a few exceptions, corruption, undue political and other influences, flawed process of judicial appointments, poor performance and denial of justice have become the judiciary’s lot. The consequence is a loss of faith in the justice system, leading to more people taking the law into their hands.
In developed democracies, the judiciary is central to effective governance and central element of civil society, the sole adjudicator over the political, social and economic spheres. As the third arm of government, it acts as a check on the executive and the legislature.
But in Nigeria, this statement is fast becoming a mere literary expression and a cliché as the reality appears a mirage. Due to political and other influences, the judiciary is not living up to public expectations. Its integrity is being questioned because of the obnoxious conduct of some of its judges.
Currently, Nigerians see the judiciary in two perspectives. While some have commended it for some landmark cases that have pulled back the country from precipice, with some of its conducts, others have wondered if it is serving other interests other than ensuring justice.
This impression is not misplaced. From time to time, some office holders within the judiciary either through forceful inducement or unlawful enticement have attempted to entangle our judicial system in the abominable vice of compromising justice.
To most Nigerians, one of the worst things that have befallen the judiciary, like other things in the polity, is subjecting it to too much politics, which has not only undermined its performance and perception but threatened its integrity, to the extent that its decisions are now subject of doubts.
To a lot of Nigerians, one of the major problems the judiciary has is its snail-speed of dispensing justice. This has led to a loss of faith in the judicial system and made a mockery of the system widely perceived as the last hope of the common man.
Unfortunately, these are the categories of people in the society that the third arm of government is supposed to serve because of their vulnerability. This set of people either have their cases delayed while they wait in limbo or are out-priced. Like a scholar recently put it: “Court proceedings have now become cash and carry. Justice now goes to the highest bidder.”
Observers have argued that the sustenance of democracy and development is largely dependent on building and maintaining solid structures that guarantee the rights of every citizen; ensure speedy dispensation of justice and provide the framework for peaceful co-existence amongst people irrespective of their socio-political, economic or ethnic backgrounds.  But this is not usually the situation when cases are instituted in courts in the country.
Another area where the judiciary has been scored low is in the fight against corruption. The third arm of government is seen as an indispensable tool in any meaningful anti-graft war. Hence, it is taken for granted that in a society buffeted by corruption, a courageous, independent, unbiased and financially autonomous judiciary is a most needed bulwark against the continued reign of the monster of corruption in the country.
But many have argued that Nigeria has not been particularly fortunate in its drive to evolve functional democratic governance since 1999, which could deliver a just society, principally because of the greed of its political class, and the attendant impunity accentuated by an ineffective judiciary. This has set a lot of analysts wondering if a corruption-ridden institution can actually purge the country of the malaise.
For instance, surveys upon survey on crime and corruption conducted by renowned local and international agencies have revealed that the judiciary in Nigeria is being destroyed by corruption. For instance, a recent revelation shocked many analysts when it disclosed that “Nigerian courts of law receive the biggest bribes from citizens among all institutions in which corruption is rampant.”
But like an institution that is looking for an excuse not to perform, the judiciary itself has blamed it woes on the fact that it is grossly underfunded. It has been argued at different fora that this poses great threat to justice delivery and the much needed independence in the sector. Even the third arm of government itself has on several occasions disclosed that for it to perform optimally, its funding pattern has to change.
It was against this background that two court judgments were recently delivered in Abuja that the judiciary should access its funding directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund like the executive and legislative arm of government.
The judgments had their roots in the doctrine of separation of powers propounded by John Locke (1632-1704) and developed by Baron de Montesquieu in his book, Espirit de lois (Chapter 10), anchored on the presupposition that any man vested with power is likely to abuse it. This makes governmental powers to be classified into three distinct broad categories, namely, executive, legislative and the judiciary.
This doctrine is rooted in the fact that the three arms of government work independently in order or checkmate their excesses.  But in the last 15 years, what Nigerians have witnessed is a justice system that has been blackmailed with what is largely due to it.
While the executive and the legislature enjoy financial independence, the same cannot be said of the judiciary, which has been robbed of its financial independence, leading to frequent strikes due to poor and inadequate salary, poor state of courtrooms and allegations of corruption against judges and support staff.
Though in the last two years, a bit of sanity has been witnessed in the judiciary courtesy of the reforms by the incumbent Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, who is due to retire from service this November, many observers believe that not only is a lot still has to be done, the little done so far needs to be sustained.

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