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