– As Courts Resume New Legal YearTHISDAYLIVE – THISDAY Newspapers

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As the courts resume for the 2021/2022 legal year, Alex Enumah highlights areas where many Nigerians want judges to urgently focus attention on to improve the general image of the judiciary
After about eight weeks of vacation, courts all over the country at the federal and state levels have commenced sitting for the 2021/2022 legal year. Like every other resumption, the judges who used the period of the vacation to cool off, have come back to face their daunting challenges.
Apart from the numerous applications and motions awaiting their attention, the judges are again returning to work at a time the image of the entire judiciary is abysmally low.
There are a number of cases that need to be urgently resolved, and the resolution of these cases rests squarely with how fast the courts can expeditiously determine them.
Over the years, many Nigerians have lost confidence in the courts, not only because of their slow pace of justice delivery but the illogical, incoherent and sometimes the incongruous decisions, orders and judgments they dispense.
First, as the new legal begins, many Nigerians would want to see a situation where judicial authorities led by the National Judicial Council (NJC), tackle the incessant conflicting and contradictory orders and judgments especially by courts of coordinate jurisdiction. Not only have these orders and judgments cause Nigeria huge embarrassment, they have also posed danger to the country’s jurisprudence and democracy.
A few months ago, Nigerians were thoroughly embarrassed with the way and manner some state High Courts handled the case involving the embattled National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus and those concerning the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State.
Incidentally, the next one year will be very crucial for the third arm of government as the country prepares for the 2023 general election. During this period, Nigerians would want to see a judiciary that is not partisan and will not tolerate the excesses and desperations of politicians.
As the courts resume for the new legal year, many analysts would wish to see a situation where judges will expeditiously determine cases before them. Currently, it is believed that it takes over 10 to 15 years for a case to go from the High Court to the Supreme Court.
Apart from political cases that are often treated with utmost dispatch from the High Court to the Supreme Court, other cases such as criminal, commercial and other civil matters take up to a minimum of 10 years to get to the apex court and be concluded.
Checks revealed that while it takes four to six years to conclude a case at the High Courts whether at the state or federal level, it takes almost the same number of years for the same case to go through the Court of Appeal upon appeal. At the Supreme Court, it could take far up to seven to 10 years.
To quicken justice delivery and reduce the pressure on the justices of the Court of Appeal in the country, a lot of lawyers have called for the subdivision of courtrooms at the Federal High Court particularly in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt where there are more cases into: Political, criminal, business/commercial, probate and land as it is done at the Lagos State High Court. They believe that this would enable each of these subdivided courtrooms to know the cases to hear and handle them with dispatch.
In Lagos, analysts have also called for an increase in the number of courtrooms at the Court of Appeal from the two that are currently sitting to four or five to cope with the volume of appeals emanating from the federal and state High Courts.
Therefore, as another legal year begins, they want judges to show Nigerians that they are not responsible for the slow and frustrating judicial proceedings in the country. They advised the judges to always stand up to counsel, especially those for the defendants who are in the habit of employing delay tricks to frustrate trials. For instance, a cursory look at the Federal High Court in Lagos showed that there are hundreds of cases filed over five and six years ago that are still at the preliminary stages. This, according to analysts, is one of the challenges facing the judiciary in Nigeria today. While some believe that most of these cases are stalled by frivolous applications mostly by the defendants in the suits, others put the blame on the judges who do not stand up against counsel who are in the habit of frustrating trials.
Sometimes, if it is not application to challenge the jurisdiction of the court, it is for stay of proceedings or other interlocutory applications. In some cases, it could even be an outright petition or complaint for the case to be transferred from a particular judge to another. All these are aimed at delaying
or frustrating justice delivery and give the Nigerians judicial system a bad image and reputation.
For instance, it took over seven years to convict a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Farouk Lawan of corruption due to the tactics of his lawyers some of which included series of petitions against the judges handling the case. Due to the tricks, the case went through five judges before judgment was finally delivered.
So, as the courts resume for a new legal year, many analysts would want to see a situation where judges would demonstrate to Nigerians that indeed it is possible to get quick justice in the country.
While some Nigerians have acknowledged the difficult environment and conditions under which some of the judges operate, including the poor condition of service and infrastructural facilities, they nevertheless want them not to be dissuaded to uphold truth and justice always.
Particularly worrisome are allegations of corruption which have destroyed the image of the third arm of government. It is taken for granted that in a society buffeted by corruption, a courageous, independent, unbiased and financially autonomous judiciary is a most needed to overcome.
Many have argued that sadly, Nigeria has not been particularly fortunate in its effort to evolve a functional democratic governance since 1999 that has been able to deliver a just society, principally because of the greed of its political class, and the attendant impunity accentuated by an ineffective judiciary. This has left a lot of analysts to wonder if the corruption-infested institution can actually purge the country of the malaise.
Two independent surveys on crime and corruption once conducted in the country revealed that the judiciary is being irretrievably destroyed by corruption. The survey shocked many Nigerians when it named the judiciary as one of the institutions where there is massive corruption. According to it, “Nigerian courts of law receive the biggest and highest bribes from citizens among all institutions in where corruption is rampant.”
Though the survey particularly revealed that bribery in the third arm of government was less frequent than in many other agencies and organisations, it however noted that most of the respondents admitted that they have paid the biggest bribes to the courts in huge transactions.
The survey also revealed that among public officials, police personnel were most frequently alleged to request for bribes, thus making criminal justice administration difficult.
Also, many analysts have argued that since corruption has been identified as one of the greatest problems confronting the country, the judiciary needs to play a critical role to eradicate it and not add to menace.
They believe that the general lack of courage in the Nigerian judiciary to deal with corruption frontally is responsible for the upsurge of the malaise.
This perhaps, is why the issue of corruption in the third arm of government took centre stage as Lagos State Judiciary marked the beginning of the 2021-2022 legal year. Both Christian and Islamic clerics looked Lagos judicial officers straight in the face and reminded them of the consequences of a corrupt justice system.
At the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, Lagos, Bishop Akin Atere admonished judges and lawyers to be just in all their dealings and to shun corrupt practices while interpreting the law.
Atere, the Lord Bishop of Awori Anglican Diocese, in a sermon titled: “The Joy of the Lord is Our Strength”, said the soul of Nigeria is in the hands of the judges because they determine almost all the key affairs of the nation. Quoting Nehemiah 8: 9-12, the Bishop said there is going to be God’s judgment for all insincerity, perversion of justice and for all the vices in the Bench and Bar.
Bishop Atere also decried some of the corrupt practices of lawyers which has clogged the wheel of justice in the country.
At the Islamic service, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, Lagos State University (LASU), Dr. Ustadh Kabir Paramọlẹ, who spoke on the topic “Essence of Effective Administration of Justice ìn Nigeria” at the Central Mosque, Lagos stated that it would bẹ difficult for the country to move forward without Justice.
Paramọlẹ admonished judges to have the fear of Allah and deliver justice with fairness. “Those of you who are just and fair when delivering justice, on the day of resurrection, you shall ṣee the face of Almighty Allah”, he said.
At a time the country is seriously yearning for foreign investments, many Nigerians want the judiciary to sit up and assist the government by fast-tracking justice delivery and embarking on confidence-building with the required zeal.

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