By Debo Adeniran
We need a judicial reform to ameliorate the situation of the judges and the Nigerian judiciary because the judiciary is terribly sick, and unless all necessary efforts are put in place, Nigeria will not have any hope for further development from the level that we are now. We need to remember that the judiciary is supposed to be the hope for the common man.
When we look at some of the sensitive cases; especially the ones that involved politically exposed persons, the judiciary has always allowed itself to be misused towards unnecessary delay with extensive arguments that translate to unnecessary extensions. They allow frivolous injunctions that delay cases for so long, and as they say, “justice delayed is justice denied.”
If we look at cases of those who committed minor offences, they are quickly dispensed with and sent to jail. However, most cases that involve public exposed persons do not take a similar pattern. What they do is to first challenge the jurisdiction of the court, then they fall sick and get a leave from the court to travel abroad. If their passport was seized, they would blackmail judges to grant them leave to retrieve the passport. All of these lead to miscarriage of justice, and it is so sad that some of the lawyers are also complicit in these misbehavior of judicial officers.
Looking at what is happening in the Supreme Court now, the new criminal justice system does not allow all the interlocutory injunctions that are being asked for in some popular cases that are currently going on, but some lawyers would still go ahead and file cases against the lower court with a view to blackmailing them that it is an automatic stay of proceedings, once a case is filed in the higher court. Even though, this is not allowed by the law, these lawyers are bent on delaying the cause of justice so that witnesses would be frustrated and evidences would be obliterated. This is definitely not the right way law officers should help the development of jurisprudence in Nigeria, and if they continue like this, they will end up destroying the judicial system in Nigeria, which will only make us a laughing stock in the Comity of Nations.
When you also look at the pertinent situation of judicial officers complaining of death threats, thereby caving into compromise, one cannot but wonder at where we place our values. “There is nobody fighting corruption or fighting criminals that will not be threatened by the criminals.” You do not jump into the water if you cannot swim, and you cannot be inside water and still complain of coldness. Basically, before taking up an appointment as a judge, you would have known what are the pros and cons, and how sensitive the job you are taking is, and what it entails.
The President is concerned about the attempts to recover stolen assets in accordance with the law, and according to him, the effort is being slowed down with tactics and antics of lawyers, and sometimes with apparent connivance of judges.
The judicial system is too much of a serious business than to be left for the judiciary alone to tackle, since majority of them are profiteering from the rot that is in existence. It is up to those of us who are likely to be victims of their misbehavior to put our acts together, and devise means of stopping them; so that the general public may know that some of our judicial officers cannot be trusted not to go into conspiracy, or unholy alliance with criminals that we have to root out of our own system.
For those that are under prosecution, they should know that it is not to their advantage that cases are delayed. If cases are delayed, it means that they are prolonging the term of imprisonment that they are supposed to get at the end of the day if found guilty. And if found innocent, they will enjoy their freedom early enough.
To recover public assets, first and foremost, the judges need to be re-orientated to the extent that they would know that if the society is good, and everybody is relatively comfortable within a society that is well funded and well provided for, everybody will feel safe and secured wherever he/she is. However, if the society is made a criminal haven, nobody will be able to enjoy his freedom.
Basically the Judiciary should know that assets must be recovered and be evenly distributed by the government, through provision of basic infrastructure that is useful for all, and if sabotaged, criminals will succeed in frittering this commonwealth away into other lands, or keep it to themselves; thereby improving the wealth of these other lands, to the detriment of our own economy. This will only create more problems for us in this country.
Although, sometimes these threats that the judges and even some lawyers are complaining about are real, and truly, adequate protection should be given; especially to witnesses in criminal cases. The whistle blowers protection act that was hurriedly passed towards the tail end of the last legislature is not wholesome enough, because it doesn’t provide for physical protection of those that are witnesses to criminal cases. In some other chimes, even the government will go to the extent of doing plastic surgery for witnesses so that at the end of the day, criminals will not be able to identify them for reprisal attack. The whistle blowers are not adequately protected, Witnesses in Nigeria cases are not protected, and even pieces of evidences that have been gathered to nail criminals are sometimes lost, as always reported in the news that storage facilities got burnt mysteriously. These sensitive storage places should be protected with fireproof devices so that at the end of the day no criminal goes unpunished.
Most of these criminals are politicians and they will always complain that they are been witch-hunted. These cases of witch-hunting should be removed from our statute books. As long as the anti-graft agencies or the agencies discovered that prima-facie cases has been established against anyone, they should not allow any injunction whatsoever, because these injunctions are the ones that are used at sabotaging the cause of justice.
The Judiciary needs an urgent reform. There should be an over-sight body apart from the Nigeria Judicial Council (NJC) because the NJC itself has its own problems, especially from the politicians that oversee the affairs of the judiciary. There should be an independent over sighting institution to look at what the judges are doing in their courts. If any judge should compromise on integrity, they should call the attention of the NJC to it immediately and make such petition public, so that members of the public will be able to make their own contributions. Several times, judges collude with criminals to evade justice.
Sometimes lawyers also connive with the criminals to ensure that they frustrate cases. Also, there should be another body that will check the activities of the judges. The body should be constituted by some other professionals who have to do with different types of crimes that are being committed. They could include accountants, some lawyers could be there but it should not be left for lawyers alone because like will always protect like, and that is the reason why no lawyers have been jailed. It is the reason why those who compromise integrity have not been jailed, and the main reason why no judge has ever been jailed. We should have medical doctors, forensic experts, and social critics who will oversight what these people are doing and be able to analyze the way the cases are going. It would help to detect on time when a judge is actually manipulating the process in favour of the criminal.
If all these are put in place, many of those who have escaped justice wouldn’t have had a lee way to escape justice.
Comrade Debo Adeniran, is the Executive Chairman, CACOL