We are not a lost cause. We Nigerians I mean. We are not yet lost. We are on the verge of being lost, but it hasn’t yet happened. But we are at the precipice where one more step in the usual way of doing things will plunge us into the crevice of the lost.
The crevice will be a form of valley of the shadow of death, a kind of the death of justice, a herald of the depravity and degradation of our collective faith in the Courts, leading to the painful extinction of our national mores and ethos. Yes, l do submit that loss of faith in our Courts will affect our national mores and ethos.
For what is a country without formidable mores and ethos which enjoins its citizens to entertain great faith in the Courts? And how can Nigerian citizens exercise abiding faith in the Court system unless they have corresponding faith in those charged with the duty and responsibility of administering the said Courts? It will be akin to asking someone to interact with a body without a soul.
By the terms those “charged with administering the law”, I am referring not just to the Presiding Judge or Magistrate, but also and for this purpose, I am significantly referring to the officials of the Court who interact with the members of the public, like the Registrars, Bailiffs, Messengers, etcetera. These people are usually the first and last points of contact with the public. So, their conduct will reflect on the image and perception of the Judiciary -positively or negatively.
Sadly, the conduct of most Court officials contributes to the public’s negative perception of Courts. In their general conduct and dealings with the public, such officials convey the impression that their official positions are personal fiefdoms designed for them to make profit. After all, whether you like it or not, you must relate with them if you want your case to be adjudicated upon by the Magistrate or Judge.
Our firm recently had such an experience with one such official from hell. Our office in Benin City had a Motion to file in the Magistrates Court, Isiokolo, a suburb near Warri in Delta State, Nigeria. Our client lives in Warri, so he volunteered to go to the Court and file the said Motion. Therefore we prepared the process and delivered to him.
He reportedly arrived the Court and filed the process. Thereafter, the Registrar informed him that since the Presiding Magistrate was handling the case on Warrant, (meaning that he had been transferred out of the jurisdiction of the Court, but the Chief Judge gave him permission to continue and conclude the case), she demanded for money to travel to the Magistrate’s current Court in order to inform him of the Motion and get a hearing date. Our client explained that he didn’t have any money on him and suggested to the Registrar that she should kindly telephone the Magistrate to inform him of the Motion and confirm whether she should fix the Motion on the next adjourned date of the case.
But she refused and insisted that our Client must provide the money she demanded for. A stalemate occurred, so our client reported the matter to the Registrar’s boss, the Assistant Director of the Court. Mistake; Huge mistake.
After listening to the parties, the Assistant Director reiterated the monetary demand. Seeing himself boxed into a corner, our client requested for his own copy of the Motion. “Not until you pay the money”, the Assistant Director told him. When our client insisted, the Assistant Director became furious. He banged the table and ordered our client out of his office.
Humiliated beyond comprehension, our client hastily left the Court premises. When the events got to my attention, I obtained the telephone number of the female Registrar and spoke to her, politely requested to hear her version of events. In reply, she confirmed that she asked our client for “mobilization” to travel from Isiokolo to Kwale to meet with the Magistrate for a hearing date to be fixed.
I asked her if she, a Court official, was not aware that demanding for gratification was illegal. She replied that she did not care. I threatened to write a Petition to the Honourable Chief Judge of Delta State on the matter. But that had no effect. So, I terminated the call.
At exactly 7.35 p.m. that day, I received a telephone call with Number 09026836363. The male voice identified himself as the Assistant Director of the Magistrates Court. He gave his name as “Bethel”. He stated that the Registrar informed him of my threat to write a Petition. Then he told me that he was the person who instructed the Registrar to collect the money as “mobilization” from our client. Finally, he advised me to write the Petition against him, and not the female Registrar, but assured me that nothing will come out of the Petition. Then, he terminated the call.
Livid with anger at the Man’s temerity, I decided to write the Petition. So, the next day, prior to writing the Petition. I telephoned a few people to get Bethel’s surname. I explained why I was asking for it. To my dismay, someone remarked that the Delta Judiciary transferred Bethel, who is well connected, to Isiokolo as a result of a Petition which was upheld against him. So, if I write another Petition against Bethel, he will not be sanctioned but will simply be transferred to another Magistrate’s Court to continue his nefarious activities.
The battle rages within me. What do I do about this enemy of justice within the Judiciary. If I Petition, the well-connected Bethel may just be moved somewhere else. But if I do not, then Bethel will remain at Isiokolo, monstrously extorting money from litigants.
So, to be or not to be. That is the question now.
Dele Igbinedion is a Lagos Based Legal Practitioner who is passionate about effective and efficient justice delivery.
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