Run4Justice: Enhancing the Administration of Justice in Nigeria

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 By Carrington Omokaro, Esq

On February 12, 2022, Mr. Osaro Eghobamien, SAN, Managing Partner, Perchstone & Graeys, will run his fourth marathon. He has consistently done this for three (3) years, as his way of advancing the cause of justice, drawing the attention of many to ills in the administration of justice, and raising funds to solve the issues bedeviling the justice sector. He does not run alone; staff, friends, government officials, and interested persons join in the effort, contributing their little quota to the cause, by taking on shorter distances.

Seeing his passion for the run4justice project, I have pondered on some questions that I believe are crucial in trying to understand the point of it all: what is the essence of the Run4Justice project? Why is Mr. Osaro Eghobamien, SAN running? Should we not have more and more persons supporting this cause? Though the questions are rhetorical, you may stumble on answers as I seek to unbundle the point of it all in succeeding paragraphs.

Connecting the marathon to administration of justice reforms:

I should probably start by defining terms. It is what many academic writers do. Defining terms help us situate our concepts properly, and give readers a better understanding of what we have written. So, here goes…

marathon is a 26.22-mile (42.2-kilometer) long-distance race. Without saying, marathons are rigorous, and require a lot of discipline, diligence, determination, and a good dose of long-suffering. I probably would have used patience in place of long-suffering, but I just wanted the reader to see that there is indeed some suffering involved in running marathons. This notwithstanding, running a marathon is not without benefits, notably amongst which are improvements in cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance. Other less commonly publicized positive effects are weight loss and improved mental health.

Moving to the other terms, a reform is the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, or unsatisfactory, whilst the administration of justice is the process by which the legal system of a government is executed.

Looking at our administration of justice system, and its many shortcomings, it goes without saying, that there is need for reform, and we all have a role to play. In taking on our roles, we must do so with the mind of the marathoner. A marathoner thinks long term, and takes the pain to see the results of his or her travail. The marathoner knows that reaching the finish line will not be instantaneous, but by continued, concerted, and constant effort, it is possible. I have once heard Mr. Osaro Eghobamien, SAN say, “changes to the administration of justice will not come as a sprint, but a marathon”. You may have all heard it said, that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Sprints are short, while marathons take longer. Great things take time.

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The run4justice project is a marathon, not a sprint, and this calls us to understand that the changes we desire to see in the system of justice administration will take some time. Time aside, reforming the administration of justice system will also require discipline, dedication, forthrightness, and temperance. I should also add that there will be need to resist the temptations to take a shorter route, or get off trail and be like everybody else.

At the finish line of the race last year, Mr. Osaro Eghobamien, SAN said, “I was offered rides by the designated buses to help many who may not be inclined to finish their task the way they had intended. It was tempting, but I quickly banished the thought and reprimanded myself for even considering it. I said to myself, it is so easy to cut corners and in any event is that not an apt allegory for our state of affairs – many short cuts are available for those who would take the path of least resistance.”

I was excited to see that after 4 hours and 50 minutes, he completed the race, much to the cheer and applauds of many who were there to watch him. At the end, he said, “The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory.”

Cause for Concern

Like I said earlier, the reforms we seek are not just from the government alone, or from those who work the system. We all have our roles to play.

As a state prosecutor, why conceal certain facts which you know will be beneficial to the accused? Why ask for long adjournments just to punish a person who is presumed innocent ?.In civil proceedings, while urging the court to give a ruling or judgment in your favour, why mislead the court by quoting only a line from a principle knowing fully well that such is not the spirit behind the principle?. Why on being informed of the next date of adjournment from registrar of court, intentionally fail to let counsel on the other side know?. In debt recovery, why give unreasonable excuses or take unnecessary adjournments just to delay the case and further punish the innocent man or institution who loaned money to you ?

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In the words of Mr. Osaro Eghobmien, SAN, “Why could we not adopt remote hearings for at least basic applications – given the implications of a global pandemic that has almost become somewhat stale, yet with little innovation to show on the part of our justice system, to make it more responsive to the needs of those whom it serves? And what about informing counsel when a case will not hold to spare the collective resources of the litigant, the counsel, the court and indeed the economy? Why could the brightest from the profession not be appointed to the bench, thereby importing legitimate scholarship into court judgments? Why not get lawyers and non-lawyers of integrity to monitor the lifestyle (for, say, three years) of those considered for elevation to the bench, to ensure they are of a fitting moral character? Why not get the registrar to sort out all processes before cases are called in the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court? Why should a case be adjourned for 2 years simply on account that a process had not been served by the Registry?

A STEP AHEAD

The Justice Reform project, which Mr. Osaro Egobamien, SAN is part of, amongst many other innovations, successfully conducted a Mock Remote Hearing in Edo State in 2021. See here: Mock Remote Hearing | Edo State Judiciary & Justice Reform Project – YouTube. The proceeding was between fictional parties; Raspotech Nigeria Limited v. Hesper Nigeria Limited and was presided over by the then Chief Judge of Edo State, Hon. Justice Esther Amenagawon Edigin while Theodore Udochi Esq represented the claimants, Mr. Osaro Andrew Eghobamien, SAN represented the defendants. Everything done in a courtroom was carried out there in the Virtual Hearing. Witnesses were cross-examined and at the end of the day, there were no shortcomings.

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Adopting this innovation will enable us conduct hearings from the comfort of our offices, without the need to travel outside jurisdiction. Recently, some lawyers were kidnapped on their way to Ekpoma. Luckily, they have been released. The need to travel could have been avoided, if the virtual hearing procedure had been implemented.

We all envisage positive changes in the administration of justice. Lao Tzu once said “The Journey of a thousand miles begins with a step”. In a marathon, if you stop, you cannot get to the finish line but if you keep taking steps, no matter how little or tedious, you will get to the finish line.

I think it is ripe for me to now ask the following questions: what step are you taking towards reforms in the administration of justice? Are you running, walking, or transfixed at a spot? What innovations will you introduce into the system to enable reforms?  Will you wait while others take the initiative, and look on? Our goal should be making things better than we met them, and ensuring a better tomorrow for the generations coming behind.

As we look to reforming the justice sector, asides having the mind of a marathoner, we must acquire the mindset of an athlete in a relay race. There is so much we can do as individuals, and once we have done our part, we must pass the baton to the next person, till together as a team, we get to the finish line.

I should conclude with the words of Mr. Osaro Eghobamien, SAN, “…if you are not part of the solution, you just might be part of the problem”.

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