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‘CJN must ensure speedy dispensation of justice’

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Ibrahim K. Bawa

Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen recently assured Nigerians during his screening exercise at the Senate, that he would bring some reforms to bear on the judicial sector. The reforms will ensure accelerated dispensation of justice, eradication of corruption, as well as, achieving independence of the judiciary. Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ibrahim K. Bawa in a chat with BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE believed that while quick dispensation is key, the three identified areas are intertwined and must be addressed holistically.

On speedy administration of justice
When you look at issues being identified as being key to the administration of justice, first, justice must not just be done; it must be seen to be done. To ensure it is done, any case brought to court must be determined expeditiously. When justice is delayed, some rights could be trampled upon. Every person that is accused should know his or her rights early enough, so that the interest and benefits that ought to come from that case is not lost. So, speedy dispensation of justice is key to every other aspect of reform. To achieve this therefore, the CJN should ensure that judges live above board. Also, it should be noted that corruption is not limited to the judges, a lot of people are involved in judicial corruption, from filing of processes to serving it, people are involved. So, to have a fair dispensation of justice, every person involved in the judicial system needs to be cleaned up.

For the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen to clean up the system as promised, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) must be involved, all officials of the judiciary beginning from the court clerk, the registrar, bailiffs, everybody, must be involved. After doing this, we can then say we have a system that is near perfect, so that if you bring your case to court with facts, you will know the likely results you will get based on the principle of judicial precedents. However, before any criminal matter is filed in court, the prosecution ought to have concluded investigation into the matter. What I see in most of the cases is that there is no investigation done before the accused is arrested. The security agents ought to have trailed the person, get most of the evidences needed, so that when the person is invited, all the evidence must have been on hand. So, the executive must assist in this area by ensuring that investigating authorities are strengthened with necessary gadgets to do their jobs. By our laws, an accused person is supposed to be charged to court few hours after arrest, but it takes days and months, while the investigators will tell you they are making investigations. That is why I said earlier that the CJN must ensure that everybody involved in the judicial processes is up and doing. By the time he aggregates all the lapses in the system, he will know what to proffer for people manning every step. Above all, he should make lawyers understand that they must not win by all means. Rather, they should supply the facts and allow the judge do what is fair in the circumstance.

How CJN can achieve independence of the judiciary
Independence is a relative word. There is no way you can have total independence. In being independent, you have inter-relationship. When you want judicial independence, you want the courts to be able to sit without interference. It does not mean there should be no collaboration between the judiciary and other arms of government. But then, the CJN can now look at independence in terms performance of the judiciary to see if it enjoys financial independence or judicial officers have interference in the discharge of their responsibilities. Then, he can look at the appointment of judges. The National Judicial Council appoints judges, even though certain appointments have to go to the executive for approval. That is normal in ensuring checks and balances. But the major thing is how they are paid to ensure they don’t get interference.  Is the judiciary paid directly from the consolidated revenue? I know the salaries of judicial officers are from the consolidated revenue, but how much they are paid is another thing. Is it sufficient to take care of their needs? These are some other issues to be looked at. Some people have argued that for judges to be fully independent, their salaries should be able to take care of some basic things that they need, because if they cannot buy food with their salaries, send their children to school, then something is wrong with the system.

We have three arms of government, what is the salary of the other arms of government compared to that of the judiciary? Are they at per? If not, what can the CJN do to bring them at per? If he is able to tackle that, he will know that if a judge is corrupt, it is not because he is not well taken care of, but because he has the tendency to be corrupt. Then, you also look at the staff because when you are looking at judicial reform, you don’t focus only on judges. The other people working in the court sit from morning till night, processing papers. When you give them stipends, they can easily be influenced. He should also look at their working conditions to see how favourable it is. A judge posted to a state has no accommodation, no good courtroom; somebody has to come to his assistance to settle down. How can he guarantee that those who assisted him in settling down will not come tomorrow for help? For the CJN to achieve judiciary independence, he has to look holistically at its operations.

Time at his disposal
Government is a continuum. If he cannot complete the reforms during his tenure, the next CJN will continue from where he stops, but I believe he has enough time to put in his own best. He has assured Nigerians that he will put in his best and he is somebody that I trust to carry out his words. The problems in the sector are intertwined. If he decides to take independence of the judiciary first or the issue of corruption or the issue of accelerated dispensation of justice, they are all intertwined. One cannot go without the other. If you concentrate on making the judiciary independent, but cases are not going on, you have failed. You may have succeeded in getting the judiciary to be independent, but in some other areas failed, because cases are stagnated. They are issues that must be taken simultaneously and government will do well to assist him in ensuring that judicial officers are well taken care of, because if the interest of judicial officers are well addressed, he would indirectly be solving other problems already. People will come to work well motivated and be willing to discharge their duties effectively with full confidence and satisfaction.



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