Law News
Nigeria @54: Delay in dispensation of justice worrisome — CJN

As Nigeria marks its 54th year of existence as a corporate entity, stakeholders in the justice sector have emphasized the need for a holistic reform that would  make justice affordable and accessible to the common man.

Leading the debate was the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, who decried that “the level of delay in the dispensation of justice in Nigeria is disturbing and has over the years yearned for attention”.

Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloma Mariam Muktar,

The CJN who bemoaned the situation while flagging-off the 2014/2015 new legal year, further warned about the rising figures of awaiting trial inmates in Nigeria, a development she blamed on a cyclone of factors both within and outside the judiciary.

She stressed that as the country inch closer to the completion of the second decade of its nascent democracy, it should pay more attention to the issues of judicial reform and financial independence for the judiciary as an arm of government.

She said:  “We cannot afford the degeneration of the Nigerian judiciary. Therefore, attention in the form of an institutionalized pragmatic response must be carried out in several key sectors of the Judiciary”.

The observation of   the CJN is coming on the heels of call by the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, for a review of the yardstick for the appointment of judges in the country.

Lending his voice to the debate, the National President of the legal body, Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN, insisted that, “The current state of affairs whereby the procedures and criteria for the appointment of judges is shrouded in secrecy must give way to a more transparent and open system”.

It was his argument that  “Public confidence in a free, fair and impartial judiciary is improved when the individual is aware of the process by which judicial officers are selected”.

He maintained that merit rather than favouritism should be the basis for the appointment and promotion of judicial officers.

“The quest for an independent and incorruptible judiciary will continue to elude us unless and until there is a complete overhaul of the judicial appointment and promotion mechanism”, the NBA President added.

Meanwhile, the CJN, has advocated the appointment of more Judges and Magistrates, as a way of curbing some of the challenges associated with delay in the dispensation of justice in the country.

“The ratio of remand prisoners or awaiting trial inmates in Nigeria is alarming and to a certain extent can be linked to an inefficient judiciary.

“As with our Criminal Justice System, so also is our civil justice. As the back bone of our legal system the common man in Nigeria should be able to resolve their grievances and obtain remedy in conformity with fundamental rights through institutions of justice.

“In an effective manner Civil Justice requires that the system be accessible, affordable, effective, impartial and culturally competent. Effective Civil justice also implies that court proceedings and judgments are delivered and enforced without unreasonable delays”, the CJN stated.

Meantime, on his part, while conceding that the judiciary has not lived up to expectation, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, called for an urgent reappraisal of the present performance evaluation mechanism in the judiciary which he said tends to emphasize quantity at the detriment of quality.

“A judge’s performance should be measured by a cock-tail of performance indicators including, but not limited to: the quantity of rulings/judgments; the number of decisions upheld or overturned on appeal; the degree to which judges take effective control of their courts; case management skills and sitting as at when due.


Evaluation mechanism

“I am of the respectful view that a more responsive performance evaluation mechanism will better reward hard work, sanction indolence and promote a harmonious working environment in the judiciary”, Adoke added.

He further urged Nigerians to exercise restraint in the way they write petition against judges, “a timid and fearful judiciary comprised of judges constantly looking over their shoulders as a result of palpable fear of unjustified petitions cannot dispense justice in the manner desired by the entire citizenry.

“We must collectively play active roles in reversing this trend”, he argued.

The AGF urged the National Judicial Council, NJC, respective Heads of Court, and the leadership of the NBA to do more than they are doing at the moment, “to protect the dignity and independence of our judicial officers”.

As the debate rages on, the fact still remains that the Nigerian judiciary, though has evolved tremendously within the past 54 years, is yet to meet the expectations of the citizenry.

Sadly, the Judiciary still lags behind in so many areas. At this age, many of the judges are still constrained to take notes in long hand.

It is equally pathetic that in this era, the judiciary is still grappling with the twin plagues of bribery and corruption both within the Bar and the Bench.


General elections

Besides, as Nation marches into what obviously will be a very busy legal year, in view of the coming general elections and the appeals that will certainly   follow, it is imperative that the Judiciary extricates itself from inappropriate connections with, and influence by the Executive and Legislative branches of government.

It is undeniable that judicial independence is a pre-requisite to the rule of law and a fundamental guarantee to a free trial.

More so, a comprehensive modernization of the operational systems of the courts at all levels, has to be given priority in the ongoing judicial reform process in order that we may achieve the desired results in our quest for expeditious and effective administration of justice.

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