‘Inadequate funding hampering efficient performance of the Judiciary’
The role of judiciary as the third tier of government and in dispensation of justice is very important especially in this present administration, where the fight against corruption is the major focus. But the independence of the judiciary and its budgetary allocation is nothing to write home about. In this interview with YETUNDE AYOBAMI OJO, a Lagos based lawyer, Oluwole Kehinde is of the opinion that to make the sector effective in playing its role, those issues have to be urgently considered. He also spoke on ways of reducing the rising incidence of crime across the country among others. Excerpt.
How has the judiciary fared since the inception of democracy in the country?
The Judiciary in Nigeria has multifaceted problems. The first is funding. It is not being properly funded. Take for example the budget for this year, the budget for the judiciary is just about N74 billion, whereas the National Assembly has over N140 billion. This inadequate funding is hampering the efficient performance of the Judiciary, because the necessary infrastructure is deficient and output is dwarfed. Then there is the challenge of interference. Everybody clamours for an independent judiciary, but nobody wants his interest displaced by judicial pronouncement whether fair or not.
You see politicians calling judges unprintable names just because certain decisions do not favour them. Invariably, they want to and do in fact exert unnecessary control and pressure on judges. These affect quality of judgments and certainty of principles of law which are necessary ingredients in legal advocacy. There are also the problems of faulty procedure of appointment and quality of some of the materials on the bench. Many of the players on the bench today are people who rode on the goodwill of politicians or family background. The attention paid to professional standing is more of cosmetic value only. Many merely gather materials from friendly chambers to meet up the requirements and not necessarily because they have sound legal foundation.
Unfortunately, we are all suffering that now in the society, because those are the kind of judges you hear giving absurd decisions without due regard to precedents or available statutes relating to matters before them. Then finally, corruption in the judicial system! This is caused by all of us, litigants, lawyers and judges themselves. It is an eloquent testimony to our societal values, particularly as they relate to corruption. It is either corrupt Judges making the request or litigants, individuals or corporate, private or official, offering bribes. And wherever that takes place, it affects the quality of judgment or cause miscarriage of justice. It kills advocacy, because there is nothing you argue before such judges that would sway them away from their predetermined conclusions.
How would you rate the performance of the present administration in the fight against corruption?
President Buhari has done very well, fantastically fighting his enemies with all his strength. He can send the EFCC to anywhere in this world to look for the loot of his enemies. But he is not interested in finding out whether there is any measure of substance in the allegations against others. Otherwise, why are the anti-corruption agencies closing their eyes to the report of Judicial panel that probed one of his minister’s tenure in Rivers, the bore hole and website contracts in Lagos exposed by APC themselves, which may just be a tip of the iceberg; and the SUPEB funds in Ekiti State under another of his ministers? His presidential body language seems to have dissuaded the anti-corruption agencies from proceeding against his party men.
So, while he has done very well letting us know how reckless PDP was with the finances of Nigeria; he is also oblivious of tendency of corruption growing more in some of the personalities in his government. All his party men suddenly became saints by merely running away from PDP to APC the night before 2015 elections! Several court orders were given against Federal government, but the government refused to obey.
For instance, in the matter of Sambo Dasuki and Olisa Metuh. The posture of this government in that regard is undesirable and condemnable. That is part of the problems challenging the judiciary as I said earlier above. In fact the President himself alluded to that direction when he said he should not be expected to allow “criminals” go on bail. That posture is oblivious of the rules and principles of adjudication. It was the same principles that allowed opposition to stand under unfriendly governments. Whether you like the face of a defendant or not, depending on the nature of crime alleged, there are settled principles governing arrest, detention, bail, trial and sentence or discharge and acquittal.
You do not say because the crime is heinous or the amount involved is huge, then you cannot accede to order of court granting bail or otherwise. That is why people like Boko Haram members and kidnappers are still arraigned, prosecuted and imprisoned if found guilty, notwithstanding the gravity of the crimes they committed against humanity.
What is your view on the recent conflicting judgment given by two different High courts on same day on PDP national convention?
We need to read the facts of each case before we can either condemn or approve the rulings. Facts determine the circumstances of each case. One of the greatest mistakes some lawyers make is to dance to the tune of the public and condemn decisions of courts without recourse to the basis of same. I have not had that benefit in this case. It is either one of the decisions was obtained in abuse of process of court, that is with the knowledge of an earlier order; or that the latter was obtained without knowledge of the earlier one, in which case they may have to apply to set aside the latter order. Ordinarily, the two courts involved are courts of coordinate or concurrent jurisdiction that cannot set aside the order of each other. But the attention of the later court might not have been drawn to the earlier decision. So, it is better to allow the lawyers involved in the two cases take necessary steps to resolve the conflicting decisions.
Giving the high rate of crime in Nigeria, do you think using the stun gun could be a better option for Nigerians?
I think what we need is to give better training, equipment, funding and more personnel to our security agencies so that they can be more professional and also cover more grounds in the discharge of their duties. Although our security men require more equipment, I do not think our orientation in this part of the world would support that kind of an idea for now. Remember the several cases of accidental discharge recorded in the recent past, and the frequent reports of brutality by military men. So, it could be easily abused. Our security men should be more properly trained to do better discreet intelligence work and ultimately reduce crime rate, particularly heinous crimes, crimes against humanity, sexual offences that are now let loose more than ever before, and so on.
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