‘Financial autonomy key to judicial vibrancy’
Still bedevilled by myriads of challenges, Nigeria is performing below expectation in almost all sectors of the economy. All indications point to the fact that the country is still far from being the El Dorado we all wanted. It is difficult to imagine that this great and endowed nation is in this sorry state. The judicial sector, which is regarded as the last hope of the common man is not insulated.
As a key arm of government, it has been accused of sluggishness in its bid to dispense justice.
But in order for this important arm of government to move forward and be responsible to the yearnings and aspirations of the common man, The Guardian sought the views of senior lawyers on how to move the sector forward in the coming years.
To the senior advocate and former president, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba said, “for the judiciary to move forward, it has to get over its structural problem, which has remained its major problem since independence. A situation whereby the executive will keep on funding the judiciary cap in hands cannot guarantee its independence and responsiveness,” he stated.
He queried why it has also been difficult for the Chief Justice of Nigeria to ensure the fiscal independence of the judiciary all this while.
He also expressed displeasure over the delay in adjudication of cases. “We have not been responding to this for long now despite the fact that I had personally made recommendations for a new model since 1998. No one identified with this efforts, except Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), when he was the Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice and that is why the State has remained a pacesetter in the judiciary.”
According to him, the current way of handling cases should be changed for a new model for the judiciary to overcome some of the problems that has bedevilled it. This, he said, is what should be done for the judiciary to be effective.
“We must also respect the rule of law. A situation where the executive only respect or obey what they want because they are the ones that fund the sector should be stopped. And that is why I said earlier on that for the sector to get it right and be effective, the CJN must ensure the fiscal independence of the judiciary.
“The idea of wearing wig and gown in courts is no more working. I think we need to be more practical instead of all these old fashion of doing things that we inherited from the colonial master. In the United Kingdom, judges sit in the midst of litigants without wearing any legal paraphernalia and they are making results, adjudicating and concluding cases within a minimal period of time,” he declared.
Agbakoba also canvassed the need for courts to be restructured so as to de-congest the court dockets.
Also responding to question on how to move the sector forward and get speedy trial of cases, another senior advocate of Nigeria, Oluwakemi Balogun, said the delay in justice delivery is caused by lawyers and other stakeholders in the system.
According to him, there is need for a stakeholders meeting of the bar and the bench to get things right. “The moment lawyers are disciplined for filing frivolous applications, when licenses are seized for abusing judicial processes, then there will be smooth adjudication of cases.
“Most people and indeed lawyers do not understand the delay in dispensing justice has adverse effect on the economy because lawyers play a vital role in emerging economy as Nigeria,” he stated.
He also said there is need for an independent judiciary if the present administration is to succeed in most of the challenges confronting it.
“With the challenges the present leaders are facing, there is no way they can thrive without an independent judiciary. Such judicial independence must go beyond lip service. It must be seen in thoughts and actions, such that the monetary allocation that are supposed to go to them are going to them appropriately and in a manner that would aid its independence,” Balogun said.
Dr. Muiz Banire (SAN) said financial autonomy is the most important thing that the judiciary needs. In his opinion, that is the reason judges sometimes cannot resist political interferences.
His words: “I have seen a situation where a judge was sick and his file taken to the governor but because he had given a judgment against the government, he just flung the file away. We have seen a situation where even to buy a paper to maintain their offices is a challenge. We have had a situation where they go cap in hand to the governor for transport funds.
“For me, the fundamental thing that must be addressed as a matter of urgency is the funding of the judiciary. Secondly, there is a need to overhaul the legal framework for the appointment into the judicial service commission. Closely associated to this is the welfare package of judicial officers so as to help them resist temptation.
For the head of Chambers, Afe Babalola & Company, Lagos, Mr. Olu Daramola (SAN) an independent and virile judiciary is central to the sustenance of democracy and good government.
His words: “While it cannot be denied that the judiciary is really independent in Nigeria, a lot still needs to be done to strengthen the institution to discharge its constitutional mandate as the pillar of constitutional democracy.
“First , the rules of the various courts ought to be reformed to ensure speedy and efficient dispensation of justice. The goal of the rules should be attainment of substantial justice and not technical justice. Frivolous applications targeted at delaying or frustrating the hearing of cases should be discouraged. Objections should be heard with the substantive matter to prevent a situation where a matter is held down indefinitely because of an interlocutory appeal.
“Second, the conditions of service of judicial and allied officers should be improved. Courts infrastructure must also be improved. A situation where judges record proceedings through long hand does not augur well for efficient and speedy dispensation of justice.”
According to him, the best and the brightest in the Bar should be encouraged to join the Bench and promotion or elevation of judicial officers should be based on performance and not just number of years spent in the previous position.
Courts, he said, must adopt uniform interpretation to the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) by refusing to grant stay of proceedings in respect of interlocutory appeals.
For Ibrahim Umar, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Bauchi state, the mode of appointment of judicial officers is still a challenge.
“Those to be appointed as judges must have integrity. We need to sieve the wheat from the chaff,” he said, maintaining that financial autonomy is a must.
“You can imagine where a judge will seat in the court, deciding cases and you owe him salaries? How do you expect him to keep his integrity intact? But with financial autonomy, it will at least take away that excuse,” he declared.