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Access to Justice bemoans state of Judiciary over rumblings in Supreme court

By Ameh Ochojila, Abuja
28 June 2022   |   2:41 am
Access to Justice (A2J), a civil society group, has lamented the judiciary’s lack of reform, blaming it for the current state of crisis at the Supreme Court.

Access 2 Justice project director, Deji Ajare

Access to Justice (A2J), a civil society group, has lamented the judiciary’s lack of reform, blaming it for the current state of crisis at the Supreme Court.

The group expressed worries that there are interwoven concerns over the “welfare” of the judiciary and the overall administration of justice, in addition to issues relating to the current well-being of Supreme Court Justices.

In a statement signed by the convener of the group, Joseph Otteh, it said: “It is deeply unfortunate that Nigeria’s Judiciary, in spite of the upheavals it has undergone since 2016 when the Department of Security Services first invaded the homes of many Judges, has not undergone any fundamental shifts of its business model, to win back respect and public confidence in the institution.”

The group further said: “The Judiciary’s ethical and political capital continues to nose-dive, with its leadership presenting no vision for transformation. along the bottom.

“Its current leadership has largely drawn a blank on the expectations and exigencies of rebuilding the judicial system that will serve Nigeria’s 21st-century justice needs, even as many areas of the judicial system remain out-moded and inefficient.

“It has not overseen the acceleration of technological solutions into the justice delivery process, to quicken justice delivery, and ultimately, ensure the judiciary will not again be caught napping in the event of another pandemic.

“It has not fixed the broken system of judicial appointments to reduce the nepotism and the arbitrariness characterising judicial selections; it has done very little to strengthen judicial oversight and its disciplinary system, particularly in view of the upcoming elections in 2023 and it has hardly fought for judicial autonomy over its funding.”

A2J said the allegations of ineptitude and nepotism against the ex-CJN by the 14 Supreme Court Justices are arguably unprecedented in the annals of the Supreme Court.

According to A2J, these charges are very serious and implicate questions about the ability of the holder of that office to effectively discharge the functions of the office.

They, it said, must not be overlooked, swept under sheets, or simply reduced to “in-house squabbling” given that they raise fundamental questions of how the apex court functions and its capacity to act as an effective bulwark for sustaining constitutional democracy.

“This is why a resolution of this matter must go beyond reconciling the ex-CJN and the authors of that letter – as some have sought to do.”

“The letter by the Justices of the Supreme Court shows that, even at basic ‘house-keeping’ levels, the Judiciary’s leadership is inert and unresponsive. Additionally, aspects of the letter raise important questions of governance, transparency, budgeting and expenditures, and these go way beyond personal grievance.

“Given the parlous state of the judiciary, allegations that anyone, not least the head of the judiciary, is contributing to the judiciary’s deterioration or dissipation must be taken extremely seriously,” it charged.

Noting that the letter raises questions of accountability for the use and management of Judiciary appropriations, A2J tasked the ex-Chief Justice and the National Judicial Council (NJC) to “open the audited accounts of the Judiciary for public scrutiny as a way of setting the records straight and further invite relevant anti-corruption agencies to also conduct reviews of its expenditures as a way of further demonstrating its openness.

It warned that If the federal Judiciary cannot demonstrate transparency, it cannot be in a position to hold other Judiciaries accountable for their own expenditures and conduct.

It, therefore, urged the ex-CJN to rebuild trust, firstly between him and his “brother” Justices of the Supreme Court, and secondly rebuild trust between the Judiciary and the Nigerian people.

“That trust has been badly shaken over the course of many years. He must Improve working conditions of Justices and Judges of our courts, and reform Nigeria’s Judiciary to restore respect and dignity to courts and Judges nationwide,” the group demanded.

A2J is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation working to promote integrity, transparency, accountability and independence in legal and judicial institutions and to protect the rights of individuals and groups to justice.