Beyond The CJN Lamentation

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The public lamentation by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Olukayode Ariwoola that the judicature is overwhelmed by high number of pending cases and appeals is a serious cause for concern. At a special session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the 2022/2023 legal year and the swearing-in of 63 newly conferred Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), Ariwoola said the country’s apex court ranks as the busiest in the world due to the preference for litigation by Nigerians who would rather not explore other dispute resolution mechanisms. He wants the constitution to be amended to limit instances upon which appeals will go before the Supreme Court.

However, many do not share the reasons canvassed by the CJN for the inefficiency in the judiciary. Perhaps, Ariwoola himself realised this when he said: “Though we receive scathing criticisms from members of the public over our over-blotted docket, we are neither in any position to regulate case inflow to the court nor have the supernatural powers to attend to all in one fell swoop.” But does the CJN truly believe that filing less cases and limiting the right to appeal to the Supreme Court will reduce the burden on the judiciary?

As evidenced in the letter he and other justices wrote to upend the career of his immediate predecessor, Justice Tanko Muhammad, the ills afflicting the judiciary are largely self-inflicted. According to Joseph Daudu, SAN, systemic challenges arising from lack of capacity to deliver the best quality justice due to factors arising from appointment deficiency, distraction from main official duties, and over concentration of the judicial docket on political and electoral cases are the main problem.

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Delay in appointing justices of the court is another reason the justices are overwhelmed. Despite knowing the date when each justice will retire, those with mandate to replace the retiring justices wait for too long before initiating the process to replace them. This year alone, three justices of the court have retired but none has been replaced. The last time a justice was appointed for the court was in 2020. The National Judicial Council (NJC) should amend the procedure to begin the process of appointment far ahead of the retirement date of the earliest retiring Justice. If this is adopted, there will always be always 21 justices for the court. This is not rocket science.

Meanwhile, the CJN also forgot to tell his audience that the main reason cases are delayed is because he and his colleagues still write in long hands, wasting valuable judicial time in the process. For decades, the Nigerian judiciary has been touting automation with hundreds of millions of naira sunk into the project, yet no one has seen or felt the impact. With the growing explosion in the population, the CJN should expect more court cases. And since he does not have control over such private decision by citizens, the CJN should look inward for solutions.

Justice Ariwoola is right when he said: “Prosperity of the Nigerian judiciary is the responsibility of all of us. We must not shy away from the challenges staring us in the face because if the judiciary fails, there will certainly be no country to call Nigeria.” However, he can begin by reforming the process of recruiting judges. He should stop the nepotism that has made judicial appointment a family affair.

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Two decades ago, it was recommended that each justice of the Supreme Court should have two research assistants to make their job easier. That recommendation, made during the tenure of Justice Muhammadu Uwais, is sitting on a shelf in the CJN’s office. Justice Ariwoola should implement it.

(Thisday)

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