The word judiciary takes one’s mind to the law courts,the judges and lawyers with their flowing gowns and curly wigs on their heads.
According to the English dictionary,judiciary refers to the collective body of judges,justices etc;meaning the court system,inclusive of clerical staff.
The Nigerian government is made up of the Executive,Legislature and of course our subject matter,the Judiciary (the third arm of government).
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The judiciary, a supposedly independent arm of government,is said to be the last hope of the common man.Indeed,it is the common man who is often most adversely affected as a result of the lingering problems of the judiciary in Nigeria.
This makes me remember a conversation between a renowned judge and a cab driver in England. The judge had mistakenly told the driver to take him to the “court of justice”,but the driver told him he does not know of any such place but eventually drove him to the “court of law”.
On arrival,the driver proclaimed;”here is the court of law”.This innocent word got the clever judge pondering thus,realizing that as much as judges try,justice is not always guaranteed in the court of law.What a shocker!
The judiciary is the custodian of the law.A law in the strict sense refers to rules and of conduct imposed by a state upon its members and enforced by the courts.
We can therefore imagine the resulting horrors of a problematic judicial system.
Ten problems of Nigeria Judiciary and possible solutions include the following :
The Buhari/Osinbajo administration is well known for its anti-corruption war.Such a campaign will only be effective and won if the judiciary successfully prosecutes offenders,
but how would a corrupt judiciary judge righteously when fund looters are ready to part with billions of currencies to oil the hands of judges.
Let us hear from the horse’s mouth. Here is a quote by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN),Justice Walter Onnoghen:
“We must not loose sight of the indispensable role of the judiciary in the fight against corruption.
Corruption continues to place the judiciary in the eye of the storm, but we cannot allow that to deter us or weaken our resolve.
It is regrettable that the image of of the judiciary has been tarnished by the notion that the Nigerian Judiciary is bedeviled by corrupt elements, hence the need for an image building parade.”
Definitely the above statement confirms that our judiciary is deeply corroded by corruption.However it is not all judicial officers that are corrupt.The misconduct of a few rub off on the rest of the judiciary.
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Members of the public should stop giving bribes to judicial officers and the full weight of the law should decend heavily on both the givers and takers of bribes so as to eradicate this evil menace.
Furthermore,judicial officers should avoid in totality every activity or utterance capable of eroding integrity and confidence in the judiciary.
A corruption free judiciary will ensure fair hearing and justice in other cases aside corruption cases.
2. Backlog Of Pending Cases
If the prevailing information about the inadequate number of judges in Nigerian
courts is anything to go by,cases will certainly take longer time to be finalized and verdicts passed unlike in a case where there are adequate number of judges to reduce the average workload per judge.
In Nigeria today,many cases usually take too long due to a relatively few number of judges presiding over so many cases at a time thus,leading to adjournment upon adjournment.
Moreover,delay tactics and unethical practices on the part of both prosecution and defence counsels prolong criminal cases and make such cases drag through ages.
I once heard a legal luminary say some cases(especially land and chieftaincy title cases)are deliberately made to drag on until parties from both sides have passed on as a result of old age and ofcourse,natural death.
More judges should be appointed for speedy dispensation of justice while relevant authorities such as the heads of courts should promptly report counsels guilty of unethical practices and delay tactics to the National Judicial
Council (NJC) for necessary disciplinary action.
Moreover the Rules of Court,the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and Practice Directions should be strictly complied with to further improve on delivery of justice.
3. Personnel Problems
This is the most daunting challenge facing the judiciary and has been found to be the single most important problem threatening the sanctity of the judiciary as the bastion of justice in Nigeria.
The judiciary is made up of judicial officers who are human beings with the fallibility of the human nature. While there are good, intellectually sound and upright judicial officers of impeccable character and integrity in Nigeria, a significant high number fall below the expected standard and this reflects in the poor quality of judgements delivered by the various courts and the growing problem of contradicting judgements and the attendant confusion it generates in the legal system in Nigeria.
There is urgent need for constant training and re-training of judicial officers in the form of workshops,seminars and symposiums for judges to update and keep abreast of international standard practices.
The appointment process of judicial officers should be restructured to ensure that only persons of acceptable intellectual capability,character and integrity are appointed to the bench.
4. Opposition To Judicial Independence
The primary objective of the judiciary is to ensure that the Executive and Legislative arms of government function within the ambits of the constitutional provisions accorded to them.
This means the Judiciary ought to stand isolated while performing her constitutional duty without interferance from the other two arms of government.
The Judiciary should operate independent of any external disturbances and should function with constitutional powers vested in its office.
Alas;in Nigeria,the Executive,Legislature and even political parties influence decision-making in the Judiciary
The Executive and Legislature should respect the constitution and stop meddling in judicial activities.It is mandatory that judges should be appointed from proven members of the bar based on the advice of a body of knowledgeable persons forming the Judiciary Advisory Commission.
Moreover judges should enjoy the security of tenure and may only be removed on grounds of ill-health or gross misconduct.Judicial officers should be well paid and their remuneration should not be subject to executive or legislative manipulation.
Judges should have no political affiliations except after retiring and having nothing to do with a judicial office so as not to be influenced by political considerations. Judicial officers’ lives should be adequately secured.
5. Inadequate Court Buildings
According to the Justice Onnoghen,the Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN),we continue to face challenges of accommodation in the courts as well as residencies for our judicial officers.
More should be done in the on going efforts of the Judiciary to address this critical element of her independence by building new courts where there is none as well as expanding quarters and building more houses to meet the accommodation needs of judicial officers.
6. Conflict Of Interests During Cases Or Disciplinary Proceedings Within The Judiciary
It has been severally argued that the CJN as a judicial officer himself whose conduct is subject to the NJC(National Judicial Council) should not be made the head of the NJC before which his conduct may be scrutinized.
In such instances,as it has played out in the past,the influence of the CJN cannot be overlooked, more so seeing that some of the members of the NJC owe their membership of the body to him.
The membership of a body established to supervise the judiciary and judicial officers should not be dominated by serving judicial officers to avoid interests conflict.
Therefore,the chairmanship and membership of the NJC should be dominated by retired judicial officers and complimented by notable persons of integrity from the bar and related disciplines to ensure unbiased supervision of judicial activities.
7. Flouting Of Court Order
An example is the non-compliance of the Executive with the ruling of a federal high court on the enforcement of Judiciary autonomy.
A former CJN,Justice Muchtar had noted that the impunity of public office holders went beyond indifference to courts rulings,to levels in which courts were shut down due to political squabbles between politicians.
Even in this present dispensation in Nigeria,the Executive has been accused of disregarding some court orders.All these happen because judicial appointments come from the Executives and must be sanctioned by the Legislature and of course this will one way or the other make the Judiciary sentimental in judgements as well as embolden public office holders to flout court orders.
There is need for Judiciary independence and consistent efforts made to curb the impunity of public office holders who have over time denigrated the temple of justice.
The traditional news media (the press)will do well to cry foul each time court orders are flouted.The citizenry should employ the social media to condemn such denigrating acts.
8. Low Input Of Computer Technology
According the CJN,Justice Walter Onnoghen,the conventional method of the of justice delivery in Nigerian courts today is cumbersome,time consuming, susceptible to loss or theft of court documents and there is difficulty in filing processes hence,the need for information technology assisted justice system.
This information and technology(ICT) will enhance justice by ensuring that information is adequately captured and passed on digitally.Data exchange will not be disintegrated and court processes will be finalized and ready on demand.
With e-justice, case management will be automated,payment of fees made via dedicated websites to reduce corruption and forms that simplify and streamline court proceedings will be accessible to users online.
However,such measures must be accompanied by enhanced capacity of personnel and investments in cyber security. (Justice Walter Onnoghen,CJN).
Although the Supreme court has been moving towards complete utilization of information technology,there is need for all law courts in Nigeria to be ICT compliant.
The services of more ICT savvy guys should be employed to assist the judiciary and of course,consistent power supply is essential.
9. Law Enforcement Apathy
I was wondering why a particular family,after winning a land dispute case in court and armed with a copy of the court verdict,still had difficulty accessing their land due to occupation of the land by land grabbers(thugs).
The family secretary told me the police will not honour the court verdict if they cannot give the police heavy funds to enforce a court order which is constitutionally the police’s responsibility.From all indications, the family was quite poor.
This is a pointer to the fact that after the rigours of going through court sittings and finally obtaining judgements, ordinary people still find it difficult to obtain justice because they cannot wet the hands of the police.
The Executive and Legislature must ensure that they uphold and defend the constitution by closely monitoring law enforcement agents as to whether they sincerely enforce court orders without bribe.
Culprits should be dismissed and prosecuted.This will restore public confidence in the Judiciary and the government at large.
However, good remuneration and incentives should be used to encourage our law enforcement agents and appropriate bodies must ensure such benefits get to the officers and not cornered or decimated by ‘ogas’ at the top.
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10. Public Distrust Of The Judiciary
Many ordinary citizens and even many elites do not trust the judiciary and only appear in court after all other means such as taking laws into their hands have failed or when forced by court summons to do so.
This is due to the myriad of problems embattling the judiciary.
I believe that by applying the solutions outlined above,public confidence in the Nigerian judiciary will be restored and more citizens will promptly seek redress in the temple of justice.
In conclusion, the Judiciary arm of government is responsible for interpreting the law of the land,while applying it in situations where they are necessary; this makes the job of the Judiciary a very critical one.
The law of the land constitutes the bases upon which judgements are ruled;it is therefore fundamental that its interpretation and applications be performed with absolute alacrity and meticulousness.
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