Global Advocacy for African Affairs
Democracy/Politics Leadership/Governance

IS NIGERIAN JUDICIARY STILL THE HOPE OF THE COMMON MAN?

Barr. Cynthia Anegbe

Programme Assistant; Global Advocacy for African Affairs.

 

The Judiciary as a law enforcement organ of the state, has its functions of interpreting and enforcing the laws. The Nigerian Judiciary has its independence to be protected and its authority to be preserved, however the Judiciary has always been criticised and will always be criticised.  The dependence or independence of the Judiciary always comes as a subject of interest and the judicial power is the least understood branch of power.  When the courts give decisions on legal issues, case laws are established, and only through this medium, justice can be achieved for the best interest of the society.

The Judiciary has always faced challenges in dispensing justice and one of such has always been the ceaseless interference of the Executive in the discharge of its duties.  Over the years, the Executive Arm in its powers has continually been overlooking and overriding the judgments delivered by the Courts and this has always been a matter of concern as the powers and independence of the Judiciary has been called to question in Nigeria. And then there are drawbacks which stand in the way of justice being realised and one of such is Corruption.

Corruption in its entirety has become a cancer that has eaten deep into the fabrics of the Judiciary, thereby endangering the hopes of the common man. The attainment of Justice which can only be gotten through the equity of the Court has become more of a dream than a reality and this should indeed create worries. Corruption has a direct impact on the validity of human rights such as deprivation of important resources that could be used for basic needs and it has direct damning consequences in the functioning of the state in general, and on the administration of justice in particular.

An independent, transparent and accountable judiciary is a cornerstone to the rule of law and of a democratic state. Recommendations have been made for  the Judiciary to be enhanced in its position to deliver its functions. Some of such recommendations are those given by Transparency International which is a global movement that has been concerned about the state of the judiciary in different countries around the world and this movement states that they encourage people and practitioners in demanding the independence and accountability of the judiciary.  Also, this movement engages Justices into making new evidence and practical solutions available and an example of this is the removal of systemic vulnerabilities that allow corruption to affect judiciary itself; such as loopholes which hinder the normal flow of cases through prosecution and leaving the afflicted with no answer and then as a remedy engages Justices into identifying specific causes and formulating appropriate redress to enhance trust in the judiciary and improve its performance. Also, in developed nations of the world, a transparent and merit-based system is applied in the appointment of Judges, and this is made to ensure an accountable, independent and transparent judiciary. And also the interferences from the other Arms of government should be prevented to enable the aims of the Judiciary be fulfilled.

The  court is like a holy sanctuary to the common man where he believes he can seek his freedom from the oppression of the highly influential and mighty in the society as the judiciary is traditionally believed to possess the traits of justice, equity and fair play. In time past, there was quick dispensation of   justice and majority of judgments were decided on merits placed before them and indeed those times where times when one could say with pride without fear or favour that the judiciary was indeed the last hope of the common man.  Unfortunately, the belief is no longer on the minds of people as the judicial system has taken a different turn.  There has been lots of controversies over the quantum of judgments delivered by courts in recent times that the judgments are not commensurate with international standard.

Judge Sanji Monageng, a serving Judge in the International Criminal Court and who has been a member of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights since 2003 stated that, The effectiveness of any judiciary depends upon its perceived legitimacy, especially in the eyes of the public. This perception requires not only that the judges uphold the highest standards of integrity and independence, but also that states respect judicial independence and do not undermine judicial decisions.  Different countries make different constitutions but it is crucial that only the best people are appointed to judicial positions.  One of the best international practices states that the structure, powers and processes of judicial council must be designed to safeguard and promote judicial independence.  Secondly, there must be adequate human and financial resources granted to the judiciary. Also, the judiciary must be allowed to make its decisions without external control and that they should be elected by their peers rather than being appointed by the legislature or the executive.

There are opinions that the kind of judgments seen today are politically motivated and influenced  so some people find pleasure in committing crimes and run to court excitedly waiting to be taken to court  for prosecution because they know it is easier for them to manoeuvre and play their way out of the wrath of the law.  A system of justice where everybody will be equal before the law should be brought up, where credible people shall be appointed to lead, where absolute rule of law is maintained and total dependence of the system upheld.   Whenever the legal battles to protect the rights of the common man was mentioned, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s name looms large and loud. He fought not only for the common man but also against dictatorship and the survival of the judiciary.

Chief Solo Akuma(SAN), Mr Arthur Obi-Okafor(SAN), and other legal luminaries in Nigeria recently spoke on what is expected of the judiciary in 2019 and Akuma, SAN said My expectation for the judiciary in 2019 is that there is need for the judiciary to appoint more judges for quick dispensation of justice. The work load on judges is so much that it takes so long to dispense cases before them. If more judges are appointed, it will be a lot easier to dispense cases, so that cases will not have to stay very long in court before they are dispensed.

The question that keeps being asked is that will the above recommendations after being taken, and the best practices after being applied and with the opinions given change the situation of the judiciary at large and in Nigeria in particular for good? We sincerely hope that the hope of the common man can again be restored with the judiciary taking the expected shape and dwelling permanently in it. And also hoping that the Rule of Law is adhered to for the best interest of the society.

 

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