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There is need to create state appeal courts, says Fapohunda




There is no argument about the fact that stakeholders are worried about the slow pace of justice delivery in the country. As a result, different ideas and opinions are mooted daily by lawyers to address the challenge. A Lagos – based lawyer, Mr Isola A. Fapohunda is of the view that creating state appeal courts would reduce the pressure on appellate jurisdictions and enhance speedy dispensation of justice in the country. He also spoke on other issues confronting the sector in this interview with GODWIN DUNIA.

How can we improve the present state of our judicial system?
WE are making progress. The last administration for instance did very well to have passed certain Acts, for instance the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 and the Cybercrime Acts 2015. When such are passed, we need formidable institutions to implement them and one of the institutions we talk about is the judiciary and other law enforcement agencies. You know that in passing the ACJA, two important laws in this country, the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) in the North and Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) in the South were repealed and now the whole country operates under the umbrella of a single ACJ Act 2015. Now talking about the judiciary, we need to look at issues that have bedeviled us for so long and one of this is the justice system. I mean suits take so long to get resolved, that is why the present administration has often railed at the situation and for the prosecution of corruption cases, has mooted the laudable idea of creating special courts to try corruption cases.

Is it difficult to prosecute corruption cases in Nigeria?
It is difficult to prosecute cases of corruption in Nigeria because of the way the justice system is. So if you create special courts, you aid the Administration of Criminal Justice system. Since inception of this democratic rule, the courts have handled a lot of electoral petitions that have very obviously taken its toll on the time of the courts. Therefore, there is the need to visit and carry out reforms in the States’ Courts and we need to start thinking about creating States’ Courts of Appeal. This will take care of certain cases such as interlocutory injunctions. For example, the Joshua Dariye case went all the way to the Supreme Court on an interlocutory injunction and after seven years, the Supreme Court decided that he should go back and start the trial afresh. I think this is not the best for our judiciary.

Also recently in the case of the incumbent Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, there was an interlocutory injunction that went all the way to the Supreme Court and because of the nature of the matter, the Supreme Court had to hear it speedily and after several months, the apex court decided along the same line as the Dariye case; to wit that he should go back to Code of Conduct Tribunal to stand trial. Perhaps, if we are able to expand the States’ Courts by creating State Courts of Appeal and empower the Justices, instead of interlocutory appeals from the High Court going all the way to clog the Supreme Court, such interlocutory matters must terminate at the various States Court of Appeals. That way, only matters of huge constitutional importance alone would be handled by the Supreme Court.

Don’t you think the challenge is more on implementing the new laws?
As a country we must show seriousness in the way we handle our laws. The implementation of our laws and the institutions that implement them attract investors and affects their confidence. Lagos State, as a prime example, is taking a serious lead in the ways and manners to drive and attract core investors and investments. The Medical Village being proposed by the Ambode administration is excellent. In addition to attracting critical investments, laws to secure investors and to provide enabling environments for businesses to thrive appear as the hallmarks of the Ambode-led administration. Look at the new law against land grabbers in Lagos State, for instance; it indicates seriousness in the security of properties; provides that enabling environment I just mentioned.

It is indeed a commendable effort. And as the commercial nerve centre of the country and an important financial capital in Africa the state must follow that law by further simplifying the registration of title process in the state. Such is the pre-eminent position of Lagos State and the continuity of progress that in early 2015, the Lagos State Government signed into law an important piece of legislation called “A law to Consolidate All Laws relating to Registration of Laws in Lagos State.” To give verve to that and so many other business-oriented laws in the State, Lagos on December 8th December, 2015 launched a programme of ‘access to the laws of Lagos State at the speed of thought’. The beauty of that is that now, and for the very first time, codified and easily accessible Laws of Lagos State are available to prospective investors at the click of a button. You just cannot beat such an innovative idea.

How can other states domesticate the ACJA with a view to reforming the criminal justice system?
In the reform of the criminal justice system as it relates to the police, Lagos State led the way when it enacted the Administration of Criminal Justice Laws 2011 (ACJL) and there can be no gainsaying the fact that that law was the precursor to the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 enacted by the Federal Government. The ACJL introduced an innovation that you cannot extract statements from accused persons without video-taping, or the presence of a lawyer.  These are commendable moves that I think every States should follow. Well, we all know that Lagos state leads in that respect. So in a nutshell, our judiciary needs improvement in access to justice, speedy justice system and adherence to the rule of laws.

With the state of our justice system, don’t you think lawyers could be aiding and abetting crime?
There have been spotlights on lawyers and judges and recently, during the swearing in of newly appointed silks by the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the learned CJN complained, amongst other things, about courts of the same jurisdiction given different rulings on matters of similar nature and senior lawyers with proclivities for filing frivolous interlocutory applications to stultify the speedy dispensation of justice.

Then what role do you think the NBA can play in strengthening the system?
The NBA must begin to regulate itself for the public to see that it is being proactive and partnering this administration in fighting the scourge of corruption. There is a need to strengthen its internal disciplinary process by giving more publicity to make the public aware that such exist. I am happy to state that the new NBA executive is also making the right moves towards articulating some very good programmes towards this end. In all, we need strong political institutions to build a strong nation at this stage of our existence. You cannot build a viable economic system that will affect all in a country without strong political institutions. I will briefly make two examples here. Firstly, our electoral laws are still not strong enough. Look at the cases that we have had very recently on election petitions. Specifically, I will mention the cases of the Ikpeazu v Otti in the Abia State governorship matter.

The gist of that decision at the Supreme Court is that you cannot prove a case of over voting by relying on and tendering in evidence results from the electronic Card Reader Machine. It was opined that is has no force of law. The law relies still on the electoral register. Till date, I don’t think that our legislature have considered changing the law to give legal effect to the use of the electronic card reader and that should be done as a matter of urgency. Secondly, while Lagos state government is passing laws, it is also embarking on some very laudable and highly visible road and traffic decongesting works all over the State in line with its campaign promises to work to turn Lagos State into a mega city. These ongoing laudable activities will help to build confidence, locally and internationally? This country must move to catch up with the globally changing times and Lagos State is providing the sort of exemplary leadership needed. And of course, we must not forget to echo the fact that the State is the leading light of the new APC administration and it is a matter of time before its strides are replicated throughout the country.

What is your opinion about the call to strip off prosecutorial powers from the EFCC especially in corruption cases?
I think there is need for checks and balances. The peculiarity of what we have on hand must have necessitated such call. The level of criticisms against the EFCC and the ICPC has always made one to ask the question, “what is wrong with the prosecution system vis-a-vis these key institutions”? If you are prosecuting a case that you have not properly investigated, then you are wasting tax payers money, you are not respecting the rule of law and the administration of justice. I think if it is separated, it will enhance the cause of justice. Most importantly, there will be fewer miscarriages of justice. If the police will investigate and then pass the file to expert prosecutors to prosecute, I think that is a much better way for us, the administration of justice and our dear country.

So what is your view of the anti-corruption war?
To fight corruption with the current judicial system is a herculean task and you can see how muddled up and how heavily criticised the whole system is. I think it would not be a bad idea to set up special courts to tackle corruption as is being suggested by the highly respected Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) and his Committee. If you have a problem, you must firstly deal with the greater one. Don’t forget that the EFCC was actually set up to fight corruption. The culture of public officials stealing our money when in office should be curtailed and the APC government is already taking the proper steps towards doing that. We have enough institutions to fight corruption. It calls for the need to strengthen the judiciary by provision of special courts to fight corruption; and of course making their budget totally independent.

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