-Jonathan Swift, A Crit­i­cal Es­say upon the Fac­ul­ties of the Mind, 1707 ‘CJN has brought cred­i­bil­ity to ju­di­ciary’

Daily Trust - - INTERVIEW - From Mo­hammed Shosanya, La­gos

The cur­rent Chief Jus­tice of Nigeria promised to rev­o­lu­tion­ize the jus­tice sys­tem when she was sworn-in. To what ex­tent has she been able to do this?

It is in­con­tro­vert­ible that the Chief Jus­tice of Nigeria, Jus­tice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar has brought hon­our, re­spect and cred­i­bil­ity to the ju­di­ciary since her ap­point­ment. Her body lan­guage has coura­geously shown that she has zero tol­er­ance for cor­rup­tion. Apart from what is gen­er­ally known, in the ap­point­ment of staff of the ju­di­ciary, it is to her credit that such ap­point­ments are done based on advertisement (in or­der to give all in­ter­ested and qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants equal chance) rather than al­low­ing un­due in­flu­ences. In her role as the Chief Jus­tice of Nigeria, she lives hon­esty and trans­parency and does not just mouth it. The ex­tent to which she has achieved the trans­for­ma­tion of the ju­di­ciary is largely a ques­tion of limited time.

Nigeria’s jus­tice de­liv­ery sys­tem is still con­sid­ered to be slow. What do you think should be done to ac­cel­er­ate it?

Any sys­tem (ju­di­cial or other­wise) should con­stantly en­gage in self-ap­praisal to re­view its meth­ods in or­der to en­sure ef­fec­tive­ness. There ought to be com­mis­sions at the var­i­ous court lev­els to ap­praise the func­tion­ing of the sys­tem, from time to time, based on in­puts from stake­hold­ers, lawyers, judges and mem­bers of the pub­lic. This is the ap­proach in other ju­ris­dic­tions where there is a con­cern to make the ju­di­cial sys­tem ac­ces­si­ble and friendly to all cat­e­gories of users. In this light, I wish to high­light a few mea­sures that need to be con­sid­ered, such as:

a) Set­ting time­lines within which cases are con­cluded.

b) More ac­tive con­trol of the courts by judges. Un­jus­ti­fi­able ad­journ­ments, which tend to be sought by some lawyers, should not be tol­er­ated by the courts.

c) Is­sues of lack of ju­ris­dic­tion,

Bar­ris­ter Femi Abor­ishade is a front­line lawyer and hu­man rights ac­tivist. In this in­ter­view, he speaks on vary­ing is­sues in the na­tion’s ju­di­cial sec­tor. Ex­cerpts:

where it is ob­vi­ous, could suo motu be raised by the judge rather than al­low waste of pre­cious time.

d) Make the ju­di­cial process ac­ces­si­ble and friendly to lit­i­gants so they could also un­der­stand the process and ex­er­cise greater con­trol on the coun­sel they en­gage.

e) Fil­ing of court pro­cesses should be done, not only man­u­ally but elec­tron­i­cally, in or­der to save time.

f) The State High Court should be em­pow­ered by the law es­tab­lish­ing it to trans­fer cases wrongly filed be­fore it to ap­pro­pri­ate ju­di­cial di­vi­sion of the High Court or Federal High Court, rather than hav­ing to strike it out, in the same way as Sec­tion 22 of the Federal High Court Act em­pow­ers the judge of the FHC to trans­fer suits wrongly filed be­fore it.

g) The State and the Federal High Courts should be con­sti­tuted by at least two judges in or­der to avoid de­lays in hear­ing mat­ters when the sin­gle judge may unavoid­ably be ab­sent for per­sonal or other in­ter­ven­ing of­fi­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sign­ments, pro­vided that all judges con­sti­tut­ing a panel hear­ing a mat­ter shall be present in court for oral tes­ti­mony, where mat­ters can­not be de­ter­mined on the ba­sis of pro­cesses filed.

h) More courts should be built, mod­ernised and by im­pli­ca­tion, more judges must be en­gaged.

What is your take on the on­go­ing na­tional con­fer­ence?

Op­por­tu­ni­ties to dis­cuss the mak­ing and re­mak­ing of a na­tion should al­ways be avail­able. How­ever, for such con­fer­ences to be mean­ing­ful there ought to be an en­abling law which would have set out the modal­i­ties for the con­duct of the con­fer­ences, in­clud­ing cri­te­ria for com­po­si­tion of the mem­ber­ship, rules of pro­ce­dure, fund­ing, and so on. As it were, the com­po­si­tion of the con­fer­ence, for ex­am­ple, was uni­lat­er­ally and ar­bi­trar­ily done by the pres­i­dency. If there were a pre­de­ter­mined en­abling law, the is­sues that are tear­ing the con­fer­ence apart to­day would have been pre­vi­ously set­tled. The en­abling law might have pro­vided that the out­come of the con­fer­ence shall be taken to a na­tional ref­er­en­dum. If the rec­om­men­da­tions of the na­tional con­fer­ence are not taken to a na­tional ref­er­en­dum, no mat­ter how great the ideas may be, they may be dumped into the dust­bin by the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

Don’t you think that the con­fer­ence might pro­duce a so­lu­tion that will re­duce cost of gov­er­nance and cor­rup­tion in the sys­tem?

As­sum­ing, with­out nec­es­sar­ily con­ced­ing that the con­fer­ence makes rec­om­men­da­tions that may re­duce the cost of gov­er­nance and cor­rup­tion in the coun­try, my con­cern is that since there was no en­abling law set­ting up the con­fer­ence, the rec­om­men­da­tions or so­lu­tions prof­fered by the con­fer­ence can­not have any bind­ing force. That is why some of us in­sist that for the con­fer­ence to be mean­ing­ful there ought to have been an en­abling law that would have con­tained pro­vi­sions to en­sure that the con­fer­ence is demo­crat­i­cally com­posed and that the out­come or de­ci­sions of the con­fer­ence shall not be sub­ject to any higher author­ity other than a na­tional ref­er­en­dum.

The na­tion’s gen­eral elec­tion is around the cor­ner. What is your view on the elec­toral sys­tem?

The votes, as usual, would not count in de­ter­min­ing the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship in 2015. It would be an il­lu­sion to as­sume that the cli­mate and cul­ture of vi­o­lence, in­ter-party, in­tra party and within the gen­eral polity would dis­ap­pear. The de­sire to re­tain or gain power by all means, mis­use of power, vi­o­lence, hunger, il­lit­er­acy and im­punity would un­der­mine 2015 elec­tions. At the end, the or­di­nary people would be po­lit­i­cally ex­cluded. I fore­see con­tin­u­a­tion of ter­ror and hor­ri­ble blood­shed that we have been wit­ness­ing. But this doom can be avoided if there are con­sti­tu­tional guar­an­tees that po­lit­i­cal of­fice hold­ers would only be en­ti­tled to earn min­i­mum wage in ad­di­tion to pay­ment of all in­ci­den­tal ex­penses and that govern­ment min­istries would ex­e­cute govern­ment projects through di­rect labour. No arm of govern­ment shall be al­lowed by law to award con­tracts. In that way, re­sources would be avail­able to im­ple­ment the so­cio-eco­nomic rights con­tained in Chap­ter 2 of the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Federal Repub­lic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended. The con­sti­tu­tion should also be amended to the ef­fect that Chap­ter 2 is not only jus­ti­cia­ble but that it is a crime for any level of govern­ment not to ob­serve, con­form with, abide by and/or give ef­fect to its pro­vi­sions.

What is your take on the INEC can­vass­ing for the es­tab­lish­ment of elec­toral of­fend­ers’ tri­bunal?

We must re­spect the rec­om­men­da­tions by INEC in this re­gard. People who are di­rectly in­volved in an ac­tiv­ity are of­ten in a good po­si­tion to ap­pre­ci­ate the enor­mity of the prob­lem and what the so­lu­tion might be. How­ever, if the cul­ture of im­punity continues, if ap­point­ments into the Tri­bunals are not based on ob­jec­tively de­ter­mined cri­te­ria, if po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ences de­ter­mine the set­ting up of the pro­posed Elec­toral Of­fend­ers Tri­bunals, and so on, we would have merely mul­ti­plied or du­pli­cated struc­tures with­out solv­ing the key prob­lems.

Hu­man rights ac­tivism is not as vi­brant as it used to be. What is re­spon­si­ble for this and how do you think the na­tion can once again en­joy vi­brant hu­man rights ac­tivism?

The poor, in their var­i­ous strata, have con­tin­ued to fight. For as long as poverty per­vades the land, the down­trod­den people would con­tinue to fight. It is the di­rec­tion of such strug­gles that we can­not pre­dict, whether or not elite ac­tivists are in­volved. Just as poverty can­not be de­creed out of ex­is­tence with­out ap­pro­pri­ate so­cial poli­cies, so also strug­gles for so­cial change can­not be de­creed out of ex­is­tence. The con­tin­ued self-ac­tiv­ity of the ma­jor­ity who are not ben­e­fit­ing from the ex­ist­ing sta­tus-quo would ul­ti­mately bring about a change in the in­ter­est of the masses. Our hope for change is based on the re­silience of or­di­nary people.

Femi Abor­ishade

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