Stakeholders in the judiciary in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, on Saturday took a critical look at the nation’s judiciary in the last 62 years, saying it falls short of Nigerians’ expectations.
They spoke in separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Saturday in Ibadan, on the nation’s 62nd independence anniversary.
Commenting on the matter, Mr Adebayo Ojo, a former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Oyo State, said that in spite of a very harsh working environment, the Nigeria judicial system still remained one of the best in the Commonwealth of nations.
Ojo said that members of staff in the judiciary were faced with poor remuneration and lack of tools to execute their assignments over the period of 62 years of Nigeria’s independence.
Also, a Lagos State-based legal practitioner, Mr Michael Orere, said that the nation’s judiciary fell short of expectations over the period of time.
Orere said that judges and magistrates’ decisions were still guided to some extent.
He said: “As long as there is no full autonomy for the judiciary, their decisions will still be subjected to some form of authority.
“Recently, I was in a Magistrates’ Court, where I pointed out to the Presiding Magistrate about what should be the right thing, but he told me that if he did what I said, he would be queried by his employers.
“Our judges should be able to stand firm and tell politicians that cross carpeting or dumping of political parties through which they got electoral victory, is bad.
“However, what we have today is that judges at the Appeal and Supreme Courts are seeing the action as freedom of association and supporting the impunity through their pronouncements or judgments.”
In his views, another lawyer in Ibadan, Mr Alaba Kolade, said that the judiciary had recorded some appreciable experiences within the last 62 years of Nigeria’s nationhood in spite of many years of military rule.
Kolade said that notable among the progress experienced by the judiciary was in the area of increase in the number of courts across the length and breadth of the country.
“Before 1960, very few courts that could adjudicate over many matters were available. With limited available courts and logistics, court processes became very slow and cases lingered for years.
“However, more and more courts have been established across the nooks and crannies of the society, which has led to quicker dispensation of justice.
“It is noteworthy to mention that there is no geopolitical zone in Nigeria today where the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal has not been established, whereas, this was not so many years ago,” Kolade said.
The legal practitioner expressed delight that the country had joined the rest of the world that has embraced the use of technology in enhancing judicial activities within the last 62 years of independence.
“As against the old practice of manual filing of court processes, lawyers now engage the use of technology in electronic filing of cases,” Kolade said.
Also, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Oluseun Abimbola, said the sacrifices our forebears made to birth a Nation based on the principle of federalism to allow us thrive in peace, unity and prosperity had been undermined by successive leaders.
Abimbola said, “Now, we do not have a nation truly bound in freedom, peace and unity, but a fictionalised people seeking their own and defending their sub-nationalities at the expense of the nation.
“All these happened simply because our leaders refused to make the required sacrifices, rise above their prejudices, look beyond selfish interests and trust the vision of our fathers that birthed our fatherland as a federal state.
“It is our hope and prayer that the next set of leaders in 2023 will be willing and committed to that vision we profess in our national anthem, ‘One Nation bound in freedom, peace and unity’ and build a nation where peace and justice reigns.”
He said that the judiciary fared a lot better, noting that there was “still room for improvement. An independent judiciary is non-negotiable, but the defence of that independence starts with the judiciary itself with courageous decisions made without fear, favour, affection or ill-will.
He said that independence was not just based on letters of the law or financial control, but should manifest in the discharge of the functions of judges and courts courageously.
“The judiciary in every state and the federation must always stand firm in spite of increasing threats by other arms to usurp their powers. There is a need to strengthen the bench with appointments of senior lawyers from the bar, especially in the Appeal Courts.
“A situation where appointment to the higher courts is more as a promotion may not allow for the dynamic and courageous Bench. We need to emerge and be sustained in a growing democracy such as ours,” he said.
Also, Mr Kayode Martins, the Chairman, Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Oyo State, said that since independence, judiciary has not been too bad, though there has been a lot battling it in the country.
According to Martins, the main challenge is the interference of the executive on the judicial system.
He said that the executive, at both Federal and State levels always manoeuvre the judiciary, thereby hindering them from performing their duties effectively.
“There is no vivid separation of powers in the Nigerian system; there is perpetual struggle for the judiciary to liberate itself from the grips of the almighty executive both at the State and Federal levels.
“So, for us to have a better society, the rule of law must prevail and this can only be achieved, if the judiciary is allowed to operate independently,” he said.
Also, a legal practitioner, Mr Tobi Fatoki, said the judiciary had not fared better as there was nothing to show for the real independence of the judiciary.
This, he said, had been the situation from the inception of the 1960 Independent Constitution down to the 1963 Republican Constitution and then 1979 Constitution to the present 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Independence of the judiciary means independence from the Executive and the Legislature, but definitely not an independence from accountability.
“Flagrant disobedience to the Rule of Law, undue influence/interference with justice, most basically by our top notch politicians through filing of frivolous applications, invasion of the privacy of our jurists by arm of the Executive without a valid court order.
“The impracticability of the financial autonomy extended to the judiciary via the fourth alteration of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, are few out of the numerous challenges our judiciary still struggle with since the nation’s independence.
“The challenges, as highlighted above, can be curbed through total respect for the Rule of Law by all and sundry. When the Rule of Law is being respected toward the judiciary, we will have equity, justice and fairness and total respect for a sacrosanct institution such as that of the judiciary.
“He who plays the piper, dictates the tune’; it is high time the judiciary take over the mantle in this regard, but this is not achievable without the full cooperation and willingness of our Governors to let go and grant full financial autonomy to our judiciary, especially at the state levels,” he said.
Fatoki advised the government and relevant stakeholders “to take a leaf from other nations who have advanced with their judicial overhauling. Our judicial system must be key as a nation.”