It’s Time to Value Time: Memo to Nigerian Judges

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“Time is such a tricky aspect of the human experience. We can’t control it. We can’t make more of it. We can’t get back what we think we have wasted… And while we can figure out how to control so many aspects of our lives we can’t control time. It will keep on going, with or without us…” 

The above excerpt from “Grieving the Loss of Time” by Elisabeth Corey is the sum of how important “Time” should be to every human. A society that disrespect time cannot grow to become competitive. Quite a number of time bound successes and breakthroughs have been lost by societies who disrespect and disregard time. Unfortunately for us in this part of the world, the delusional concept of ‘African Time’ has provided a convenient excuse for us to be tardy with ego.  We have moved from attending events late with arrays of excuse to becoming completely insouciant on matters that have to do with time.

I am particularly concerned about the needless time lawyers waste in Nigerian courtrooms and how My Lords have become the major architects of this.

Officially, courts are supposed to start sitting at 9.am. However, I am not oblivious of “or so soon thereafter”. My only concern is that for some strange reasons, Nigerian courts have adopted the “so soon thereafter” as the norm. This in turn has become the undoing of counsel who must have to be in court to wait endlessly, since the “so soon thereafter” could be as early as 9:30 am or as late as 12 noon.  It would be fair and I am proposing that rather than this torture of endless wait, Judges who cannot make it to start sitting at 9.am on the hour, should rely on “so soon thereafter” and make their own rules tailored to suit their convenience. A particular judge in Lagos State High Court by himself fixed his sitting time for 10:30am and it is working perfectly for him. What has happened is that over time, lawyers and litigants have become aware that appearing in his court should not be an early morning affair. So, they plan.

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My point is simple, if a judge is entitled (and rightly so) to sit at his convenience, his convenience should in fairness take into cognizance the lawyers. The practice of lawyers and litigants getting to court on or before 9am to sit and wait for two to three hours should no longer be tolerated in this age and time in a profession so noble, with high ethical standard and discipline. The reality of the negative impact of ‘time wasted’ should begin to make sense to us.

Next to the first issue is the fact that in Nigeria, in 2019, lawyers still get to court before they are informed that court would not sit. This is irrespective of the fact that some lawyers take the stress to even call the Court Registrars a day prior to the date. Worst still, is the fact that Court Registrars would also keep lawyers waiting few hours before bringing this information to the attention of counsel, as though it is not bad enough that you took the stress to get to court to waste your time. Everything is wrong with this practice and we should end it.

Sometime in February, I met a counsel in court and we got talking. He told me he arrived Lagos a day before from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. He said his matter is a 2015 matter and has not passed interlocutory application stage. He has had a motion to strike out his client’s name from the suit since 2015. He has come to Lagos countless times. The major challenge being that the case involves the Federal Government and some of its parastatals. So, sometimes the only thing the court would do would be to order hearing notice to be issued and the case would be adjourned. He told me how he spends 3 days each time he comes to Lagos for the matter. He mentioned that about three occasions he has been to Lagos and court did not sit. We were still having our little chat when the Registrar announced that the court will not sit. It was at exactly 10:05 am.

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This is the story of the Nigerian Court system even in 2019. At some point when I heard that the Lagos State Judiciary was going to amend the Court’s rule to include stringent punishment for counsel who delay cases in court, I had asked with genuine interest, “what about the Judges”?  Because, in the end, we are all culprits. We cannot get it right without carrying everyone alone. A judge who would not sit for reasons that are not urgent ought to have at least 24 hours prior knowledge of this fact to enable him communicate to lawyers. There should be a good reason why lawyers should get to court before being informed that the court would not sit.

These are little things that really matter. We would never distinguish ourselves acting this way. It is not out of place to have a department for the purpose of dissemination of information in our courts. Technology has made this one of the easiest feats to achieve in recent times. There is no reason why cases cannot be adjourned and adjourned dates sent via text messages, emails and whatsapp messages. We cannot pretend that these things do not matter, when indeed they are the weightier things.

May it please the court!

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