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Why justice system reform is imperative

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Mixing law and politics is perilous. But ironically, that seems to be how the Nigerian justice system functions. It is therefore, striking to imagine a Nigeria without a justice system. It is even worse to have one that cannot ensure the supremacy of the law over politics or dispense justice according to the spirit and letters of the law. Of late, Nigeria’s judiciary has become a tale of a system that is fast losing its steam and fierceness. Sometimes, the authenticity of judicial proceedings and judgment is being questioned by lay men. Consequently, the Nigerian justice system needs some introspection and should be reformed without further delay. This will make the justice system to save its face and have a clear distinction and ascend to its pride of place in dispensing justice without fear or favour.

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It makes sense to do the needful urgently to rescue the Nigerian justice system that has found itself in deep quagmire over the years. Of course, the judicial system’s shortcoming, one of which is the appointment of judges, largely reflects why some political office holders seem to see the judiciary as an instrument of political intimidation, harassment among other absurdities. It is also a testament to the quality of judgment delivered by majority among judges who give judgments against the dictates of the law and their moral conscience. This clearly indicates that their hands are tied not by the law but by political manipulations of dubious politicians in position of authority. In this regard, the judiciary finds it difficult to have the moral courage to speak boldly or carry out its functions in fairness whenever the rule of law is threatened by political interest.

This external influence has in no small measure, shaken the professional confidence bestowed on judges and the judicial system in particular. The judiciary has been maimed in every way necessary, specifically on political and financial aspects. At the moment, justice is no longer a viable instrument for social justice and fair trial. Owing to the financial depression of the judicial system, some Influential politicians convert certain rights, like fair trial, equal protection before the law among others to their privileges and use them arbitrarily. Not too long ago, the wig and gown’s financial predicament was pitifully illustrated by no other person than the Chief Justice, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed, who lamented that the judiciary is not free because it begs for fund. His words, “If you say I am independent, but in a way, whether I like it or not, I have to go cap in hand asking for fund to run my office, then I have completely lost my independence…” Slowly, the Nigerian justice system is going down the long slide of serving justice for only those who can pay for it. Rather than being the last hope of the common man.

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Indeed, the depressing nature and the increasing impotence of the Nigerian justice system might have necessitated the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo to add his voice in a recent call for an urgent reform. Specifically, during a recent virtual edition of the Wole Olanikpekun & Co (WOC) justice summit, Vice President Osinbajo noted that critical mass of individuals in the legal profession, in the executive and also in the judiciary are desirous to reform the Nigerian justice system. But to achieve a perfect justice system reform, goes beyond mere willingness of individuals and professionals in the legal business. Hence, the Vice President advocated that the leadership of the legal profession, the executive, the judiciary and the legislature among others should sit together and critically examine the justice system. In a way, Vice President Osibanjo seems to have set some agenda for the intended reform committee as he rightly pointed out that the process of appointing judges should be reformed.

He further buttressed on the issue thus, “Judicial appointments should follow a merit based system and this is absolutely necessary. We need to insist on mandatory tests and interviews for all applicants”. No doubt, the task of reforming the Nigerian justice system will be strenuous. But at the end of the day, it will give the country a befitting justice system. This according to the Vice President is because, the `law is a social construct and makes sense only within a social context. To treat the law as something apart from society, or as a body of technical abstractions is to strip it of meaning and to alienate the legal order from the very people it is meant to serve.

There is no mystery as to why politicians in position of authority make the judiciary look like their stooges. Therefore, a country desirous of peace and socio-economic rights cannot sacrifice her judicial system on the altar of politics. This is because, where social (peace) and economic rights are unsecured, people are unable to fully maximize their civil and political rights. The Vice President further argues rightly that, it is morally objectionable to claim that the only way to become a judge is to be a judicial career person or move from the high court, to the court of Appeal, to the Supreme Court. There should be room to bring in practicing lawyers, academics to be justices of the Court of Appeal. Of course, if this requires rewriting the rules that govern the Nigerian justice system, why not.

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The saying in legal parlance that justice delayed, is justice denied could have triggered President Muhammadu Buhari’s advocacy for speedy justice. Hear him, “I believe we need to step forward and resolve some of the emerging problems of our system of administration of justice. Reform is urgent because the fabric of our society is stitched together by our system of justice and law enforcement”. However, one major factor among the lot that is responsible for the inefficiency in the administration of justice in the country is the inability of the executive arm of government to liberate the justice system.

As earlier pointed out about finance, it is no news that most agencies and parastatals of government enjoy huge budgetary allocations and funding than the judiciary. The judiciary’s lean allocation is the reason behind slow pace of court judgments due to the justice system inability to acquire latest technologies for recording court proceedings. It is shameful to note that in the twenty first century, judges still take proceedings in long hand. It is indeed surprising that the executive arm of government has remained indifferent to the travail of the judiciary all these years. However, President Buhar’s recent concern and call for speedy court judgments should be backed by giving the judiciary a financial independence. Besides, we should allow it become a very strong institution that freely dispenses justice according to the dictate of the law.

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