By Sylvester Udemezue
(Prelude to My Rejoinder to Chief Afe Babalola, SAN)
To be able to follow and appreciate my position and suggestions, I humbly enjoin us to first read the two articles titled
_”Abuja central law school for Nigeria – archaic (1)”_ and (2) each written by the very respected Chief Afe Babalola SAN and published on many news platforms and blogs in Nigeria. While I agree that there is no central law school in England, unlike in Nigeria, may I respectfully suggest that those who argue against one Law School for Nigeria should have been all encompassing in their comparison, if objectivity was their watchword, which I seriously doubt. Truth is, and I submit, there are really no bases for comparing England’s situation with Nigeria’s. But, if we must engage in such needless comparison, then let me respectfully remind us that licensing private Law Schools in Nigeria (to break the monopoly of Nigerian Law School) is at the bottom of the scale of preferences of the challenges facing the legal profession, that is, of the issues in respect of which we must urgently copy England and the United Kingdom.
Check these out:
1️⃣. Most lawsuits initiated in courts in England about January 2020/2021 are already concluded up to the highest court of the land, while the rest are near conclusion and may not last beyond December 2022. In Nigeria, on the other hand, most of the cases pending before our courts currently, were commenced between the last 5 years and 15–20 years and there’s hardly any hope of their being concluded any time soon. A typical example of the situation in Nigeria is the case of PILLARS V DESBORDES (a landlord and tenant case) which lasted over 28 years in Nigerian courts (from its commencement at the Lagos High Court to Conclusion at the Supreme Court) before being disposed of. I wrote: _”… on 5 February 2021, while delivering the lead judgment in a landlord-and-tenancy appeal case, Pillars (Nig) Ltd v. Desbordes, His Lordship, the Honourable Justice Emmanuel Akomaye Agim, J.S.C., had started with the following introduction: ‘This appeal was commenced on 24/6/2009 when the appellant herein filled a notice of appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal at Lagos delivered on 8/5/2009 in appeal no.CA/L/859/2006 affirming the judgment of the High Court of Lagos delivered on 8/12/2000 in LD/148/93 and dismissing the appeal against it. The notice of appeal contains 5 Grounds of appeal”. The suit number shows that the suit was filed in a Lagos High Court in the year 1993, appealed to the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, in 2006 and later to the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2009. The suit lasted 13 years at the High Court, 3 years at the Court of Appeal and 12 years at the Nigerian Supreme Court. A total of 28 years! The cited examples fall among the rule, the norm, and not exceptional or isolated cases”_(See:_”Snail-Paced Justice Dispensation in Nigerian Courts: Factors, Actors and Aftermaths“_ (yet unpublished).This one major area that our senior colleagues need to copy something from England about. Those whose preoccupation is on how to decentralize, nay destabilize Nigerian Law School, should tell us whether a Central Law School for Nigeria is the reason why administration of justice in Nigeria is the slowest and among the most ineffective in the whole world. If our learned senior colleagues had channeled their energy and efforts towards pushing for reforms to accelerate justice delivery in Nigeria, perhaps things would have become far better than they’re currently.
2️⃣Apointment of jurists into Courts in England is based on merit, competence and honour. On the other hand, in Nigeria, almost all appointments are based on QUOTA, PLACE OF ORIGIN, TRIBE, LANGUAGE, RELIGION OR POLITICAL LEANING. Is that what Nigeria ought to be doing in 2022 – the 21st century? What are our colleagues doing about this? Is licensing private Law Schools a more pressing a challenge than this?
3️⃣Corruption in the High Court of England is at the lowest ebb. In Nigeria, corruption is the order of the day, and has eaten so deep into our fabrics that even English leaders derisonly describe as “fantastic” the level of corruption in Nigeria.
What are the contributions of these respected senior colleagues of ours towards curbing corruption in the judiciary in Nigeria?
4️⃣Judges on the Bench in England are free to hand down their judgments and rulings based on facts, law, evidence and the cases before them impartially and without fear of intimidation, harassment or disgraceful treatment from other arms of government. Recently, the Court of England ruled against the the Prime Minister of England on the Brexit deal. On the other hand, in our country, the DSS would invade the homes of jurists in the wee hours of the night, bundle them into vans like common criminals. And nothing would happen by way of repercussions. An ex parte order from a court (Code of Conduct Tribunal) which has no jurisdiction to make such an order would remove easily Nigeria’s CJN, the head of Nigeria’s Judiciary, an independent arm of government, against the express provisions of the grund norm while some of our senior lawyers cheer the persecutors in support. Decentralizing the Nigerian Law School is their only headache. What a misplacement of priority; chasing after rats when your house is on fire!
5. As of the year 2022, most Courts in England are fully automated, and their processes and procedures fully digitalized, ICT and internet-propelled. During the COVID-19 lockdown, more than 70,000 cases were heard and disposed of in England, by virtual means, backed up by law. How many were heard in Nigeria during the lockdown? A laughable number, if any! One would ask, these advocates of private law schools in Nigeria, what efforts are they making to have Nigeria key into the new normal, following COVID-19? Oh, they’re more preoccupied with lobbying and arguing to have private law schools licenced for them to operate.
6️⃣. Courts in Nigeria are still recording proceedings in long land. Storage of data is majorly manual. And hardly any prompt and effective mechanisms are put in place for timely, secure transmission of information about court proceedings, to litigants and counsel; one still has to travel from Lagos State to Kano state for a case fixed for trial only, and on getting to Kano, after huge flight fares and hotel bills, one would be informed that COURT IS NOT SITTING. In England, under such a scenario, lawyers and their clients would have been informed/communicated in advance vide the Internet so that they would not waste money and time travelling such a long distance for a case that wouldn’t go on.
7️⃣. Courts in England operate and function wholly on a public power supply which is available 24/7, without any interruptions whatsoever. On the other hand, Nigerian courts depend on unstable, epileptic power supply, dilapidated generators. Most Nigeria Courtrooms are worse than bakery ovens. Witnesses, parties, court officials, counsel, etc, operate under very non-conducive courtrooms, mostly with archaic chairs and sitting arrangements suitable only for a 17th century courtroom. What efforts have these our respected senior colleagues made to remedy this ugly situation? They’d not do anything because there’re more concerned with campaigns to license private law schools in Nigeria. That, to them, perhaps is the only challenge facing the law profession
8️⃣. How many times have you heard that Courts in England are embarking on an industrial action to protest poor condition of service or nonpayment of salaries and allowances, or to press for judicial autonomy? Compare this with Nigeria’s situation. Why are our colleagues more bothered about licencing private law schools in Nigeria, than achieving judicial autonomy or improved working conditions for judiciary members and workers, so as to nip industrial actions in the bud and make the judiciary more stable and effective?
9️⃣. Electronic filing (E-filing) and Electronic Service (E-Service) of court processes and and Virtual Hearing of lawsuits are a smooth practice in English Courts. Think about the position in Nigeria and you’d shed tears about how backward we’re?
10. How long does it take to dispose of an appeal in England, on the average? Contrast this with the position in Nigeria!
In the paper referred to above, I wrote, _”A distinguished Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Akajiugo Emeka Obegolu, SAN, was reported to have posted the following statement on Facebook on 22 February 2022: “Today, 22/2/22, a 2005 appeal came up for hearing before the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Counsel informed the court that both the appellant and the respondent are deceased. #Justicedelayed”. From the post, it is obvious that the appeal at the Supreme Court of Nigeria had lasted 17 years, the appeal having commenced in 2005. Who knows when the case was filed at the High/Magistrates’ Court. Meanwhile, when this author contacted Chief Obegolu, SAN, to confirm his authorship of the Facebook post and to get more facts about the case, Chief Obegolu advised that the case was later adjourned to 2024 to enable the parties file applications for substitution. A two-year adjournment to hear an interlocutory application”!_
11️⃣. How long does it take to get a certified copy of a judgment, ruling or order of a court in England? What about Nigeria? Why does this not seem to bother some of our seniors, as much as they’re bothered about Nigeria having only one Law School?
Meanwhile, one thing appears common: did anyone notice that majority (if not all) of the campaigners for licencing of private law schools in Nigeria, are themselves either owners, proprietors or top managers of private Universities in Nigeria. Considering the vigor and tenacity with which they push the unnecessary advocacy, one wonders whether they are not engrossed in this campaign for some wholly unaltrustic ends? Else why are they more bothered about Nigeria having only one Law School, than making contributions towards the solving the pressing challenges of the Legal Profession in Nigeria? Why?
*TO BE CONTINUED*
Sylvester Udemezue (Udems),
28 November 2022