Nigerian Judiciary and the Concept of Social Justice: Why the Judiciary seem to have gradually been Losing its Status as the Last Hope of the common Man By Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.
The judiciary in the democratic Nigeria is the third arm or one of the three arms of government. The main purpose of the judiciary is to settle disputes between litigants and to interpret the laws. Citizens have been conferred the Constitutional right of access to court to champion their cause before a competent court for remedy.
Also, the judiciary represented or symbolized by the Nigerian courts have thereby become or perceived as the last hope of the common man as every litigant is mandated or under the obligation to respect and obey and or abide by whatever the Court decides regardless of whether the decision of the court is right or wrong or perceived as such. However, there comes the gradual loss of the status of being the last hope where common man resorts to for settlement of disputes.
This paper aims to share some pieces of reasoning perceived by the writer or author as the cause or reason for this sudden gradual loss of the status of the Nigerian judiciary.
The socio-economic right of every Nigerian citizen to social justice has been guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)-herein after referred to as the Constitution, which is the social objective provided by section 17 of the Constitution thus ‘17.—(1) The State social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice. (2) In furtherance of the social order— (a) every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law ; (b) the sanctity of the human person shall be recognised and human dignity shall be maintained and enhanced ; (c) government actions shall be humane ; (d) exploitation of human or natural resources in any form whatsoever for reasons other than the good of the community shall be prevented ; and (e) the independence, impartiality and integrity of courts of law, and easy accessibility thereto shall be secured and maintained.’. (Underlining is mine for emphasis).
Also see Articles 3 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 1990, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (2004 as amended).
From this provision, it is clear that the door to approach a court of law in time of need is open to every citizen of Nigeria without any discrimination.
Also, this right to access Nigerian courts are also conferred on even a foreigner whose country is a member of the African Unity, as the words used in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 1990, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (2004 as amended) is ‘individual’ and not ‘citizen’ as used in the Constitution to only cover only Nigerian citizens.
This right to access Nigerian courts in compliance with laid down procedures is also conferred on every individual who is a member of the United Nations as conferred by Articles 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Resolution 219A (III) of 10, December, 1948, to which Nigeria is a member. To this point being made by the above referenced laws, it is clear that the right of every citizen of Nigeria to access the court of law for remedy is sacrosanct.
Nevertheless, here comes the challenge of citizens departing from the path of approach to court for judicial determination rather, they engage in self-help, jungle justice, vengeance, retaliation, among others.
It must however be clarified that it is not really that those citizens or individuals do not know that court of law exists or that the court is to be approached for redress, but because, the trust that majority of citizens have in the judiciary is dying though in a gradual process.
Citizens no more have faith in a just determination of disputes by the impartial umpire- the Court- and in the court’s system rather they prefer to do their things or decide their matters in their own ways, the situation which if allowed to stand, would lead to anarchy and chaos making things to fall apart and forbidding the center to hold itself together.
It is important for the reader and the government to be bothered by this sudden gradual loss of judicial status as the last hope of the common man and to investigate the likely causes of this great challenge. In my humble view and with my respectful reasoning, I have observed some of these causes which I would like to share.
I understand that though, there might be contrary view from the reader, this view remains mine as I reason.
One of the causes is the alleged judicial bribery and corruption which has had its way into some judicial officers. Members of the public no doubt, do not forget these allegations so easily.
It remains in their memory and forms parts of their considerations in dealing with the judiciary or the way that they perceive the judiciary. The National Judicial Council which is the symbol of the judiciary and the Courts must continue to do its best by ensuring that allegation of corruption against any judicial officer is duly investigated and the perpetrator should be disclosed and not to be covered to be allowed to escape disciplinary measures/punishments. Also, the National Judicial Council should keep sensitizing members of the public on the courage to report any suspected corrupt practices against any judicial officer as judges are also not exempted from discipline by the National Judicial Council.
Another cause in my humble view, is compiled cases in court which is experienced in the Nigerian courts starting from the lower courts to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
The court is becoming very difficult to have a quick determination of disputes, despite that justice delayed is justice denied.
Due to the number of adjournments in even tenancy matter in court, a landlord is compelled to tolerate recalcitrant or stubborn tenant to remain on his premises for many years more in addition to the tenant’s refusal or inability to pay his rent.
I personally have a tenancy matter that has been lingering for two years now. The tenant remains on the premises and has not paid his rent for about three years. Is the landlord not frustrated by the court’s process, which gives rise to why some landlords resort to self-help or use the police to eject the tenant or remove the roof or disconnect social amenities entitled to by the tenant rather than approaching a court, in addition to his litigation expenses.
There is no doubt that a court system will not effectively work where a judge has to sit to hear about not less than twenty (20) cases a day and will have to record proceedings in his hand written, give ruling and or judgment as the circumstances determine, etc.
Even at the Court of Appeal, adjournment is a curse! I had got an adjournment in a matter at the Court of Appeal in the month of June, 2019 adjourned to the month of June, 2020. Even at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, it has been reported that no date for a fresh matter earlier than the year 2023 (though, I do not know how true this fact is). So, how will a litigant believe in a crawling judicial process?! These adjournments have occasioned a compilation of cases in court as cases keep approaching the courts for determination.
This overwhelming cases in court awaiting judicial determination have caused a setback in the relationship between the bench and the bar as both now engage in confrontation at some occasions even though they are all Ministers in the Temple of Justice.
Judges no more have the relief to have time to converse and communicate with the bar. Some Senior Advocates of Nigeria too, with due respect, make narrations that also take away the time of the court. Judges now function as personnel undergoing pressures. Another pressure is that National Judicial Council must not query them, so, they have to just do their best!
Furthermore, judges are human beings. They undergo all natural characteristics of human beings. So, they could not work as a robot. No matter their passion and dedication to hear matters, they have to relax and prepare for their official duties. So, there is the need for them to also not over burden themselves with compilations of cases.
Also, executive interference in the independence of the judiciary is another challenge. Executive arm of government at both the Federal and State Governments, have been alleged to disobey validly made court’s orders.
This situation annoys the trust of the members of the public in approaching a court of law, especially the poor and the less privileged. Poor budget allocation to the judiciary is another cause.
Finally, it is my recommendation that the National Judicial Council and other government’s arm must deliberate on these observations that I have made in this paper and other likely causes of the gradual loss of the judicial status of being the last hope of the common man. This status must be regained in no time in the interest of justice and that of the public.
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