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1. Reform The Judicial System Now

April 30, 2024
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1. Reform The Judicial System Now

Judicial

There is a seeming erosion of public confidence in the Nigerian judicial system with widespread allegations of corruption often leveled against judicial officers by those who have cause to approach the famed temple of justice. Although these allegations remain what they are, most Nigerians believe justice in the country is often sold to and bought by the highest bidder.

Judicial
Judicial

In 2021, Anvarie Tech and ResearcherNG and Bincika Insights, non-governmental organizations, conducted a survey on citizens’ perception on governance in Nigeria and found out that about 71 percent of Nigerians lack trust in the Judiciary. The survey revealed that the people’s assessment of access to justice showed a lack of trust in the judicial system with a staggering 71.2 percent of respondents having the notion that the Judicial system is unfair and rarely treats citizens equally.

Unarguably, the survey reflects the views of most Nigerians accentuated by the sort of reactions that trailed the outcome of the 2023 election litigations at the Election Petition Tribunals, Court of Appeal and even the Supreme Court verdicts and even those before then.

But the reason for this waning public confidence in the judiciary can best be situated within the context of the challenges confronting the nation’s justice delivery system which further highlights the urgency required in the quest for a total overhaul of the entire justice apparatus.

At a recent justice summit, stakeholders were unanimous in their call for the restructuring of the Nigerian Judiciary. The system is, presumably, plagued by daunting challenges that have continued to hamstrung the processes of effective and efficient justice delivery.

We are compelled to enumerate some of these challenges and they range from poor judges’ pay, widespread allegations of misconduct by some judicial officers, lawyers and litigants to the vexed issue of nepotism, especially in appointment into the bench. To the average Nigerian, the procedure for choosing candidates for the bench has assumed a next-of-kin hue with sons and daughters succeeding their parents in what ought to be a system guided by merit and integrity.

Arising from the above, the nation’s justice system has failed to effectively serve the citizens well, especially those who appear before it to seek redress. We cite the instance of a senator gloating over his use of his wife’s office as a senior judicial officer to influence election matters.

Fundamentally, there is an urgent need for a holistic turn around through a legislative action to create a justice system that truly serves Nigerians regardless of status. But this, in our opinion, is like asking for the moon considering the situation in which the lawmakers are a major beneficiary of the persisting rot.

In our view, one key challenge of the Nigerian judiciary is corruption a fallout from the society itself. This has eaten deep into the fabric of the judiciary with widespread allegations that senior lawyers conspire with judges to get favourable judgement for an agreed fee. This has led to instances where many litigants complain of getting judgment without justice.

The danger this does to the entire system cannot be emphasized enough. As former CJN, Mohammed Uwais rightly stated, ‘a corrupt judge is more harmful to the society than a man who runs amok with a dagger in a crowded street. The latter can be restrained physically, but a corrupt judge deliberately destroys the moral foundation of society and causes incalculable distress to individuals through abusing his office while still being referred to as honourable”

Undoubtedly, Nigeria needs a functional justice system capable of supporting a rapidly growing economy, guaranteeing basic human and political rights of individuals, and providing security and justice to all. Even more importantly, the judiciary should be able to sustain the nation’s democratic ideals which are rooted in the principles of the rule of law.

Only recently, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) lent its voice to the call for judicial reform as it made a case for the removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) as the head of the National Judicial Council (NJC), the body saddled with the responsibility to discipline erring judicial officers.

The general opinion even among non-legal minds is that the law establishing the NJC confers too much powers on the CJN. By the provisions of the act establishing NJC, the CJN serves as the chair of the council and solely appoints more than 50 percent of the members.

Specifically, the act vests on the CJN the power to appoint as members five retired judges; five Chief Judges of States; one Grand Kadi; one President of the Customary Court of Appeal; and five members of the Nigerian Bar Association who have been qualified to practice for a period of not less than fifteen years.

In our considered opinion, such a power ought not to reside with one person in view of the fact that there is likely to be a tendency to take undue advantage of the process. With such sweeping powers, it won’t be wrong to assume that the NJC, with all the strategic roles it is expected to play in strengthening the nation’s judiciary, is built around the CJN. This shouldn’t be so.

As a newspaper, we believe that beset by a plethora of challenges, some occasioned by the faulty system and others caused, purely by the judges and lawyers, Nigeria’s justice system is indeed in need of critical reforms and the time to do that is now.



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