‘NJC is not up to date with disciplining of judges’
Apart from the recent shocking revelations of alleged corruption in the judiciary, one of the issues that had worried stakeholders before now borders on judicial independence. In this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, a Lagos-based lawyer, Liborous Oshoma shares his views about the administration of justice in the country and suggests ways the judiciary could be made more independent.
What do you think about the administration of justice in the country and how can it be improved?
The judiciary cannot be insulated from the problems affecting Nigeria generally as a country because they are people from among us. Gone are the days when judges live secluded lives. Sometimes, you might even visit a judge’s office and discover that it is worse than police office. Just like in some sectors, the way they are appointed, some judges will like to cut corners to ensure that they make ends meet. Being an institution that is ordinarily the last hope of the common man.
It is an institution that watches over those that watch over the rest of us in terms of dispute resolution and punishing offenders to ensure sanity in the society. Then, there is need for us in circumspect, to be very careful in the way we appoint people that should supervise or superintend positions in the judiciary. That is where we have failed largely as a country. No matter how hopeless a society is, once there is a judiciary and police system that is up and doing, there will still be hope in that system because justice would be obtained. But as it stands, we abdicated that responsibility and now we have all manner of people employed in the judiciary just like the police. It became an all comers affair. We did not incline our minds to reforming the judicial sector to meet up to today’s demands as per the dynamism that our society was going through because prosecution starts from investigation. So, once we garbage in, we are definitely going to garbage out. At the end of the day, we woke up too late to discover that we have no judiciary that we can confidently say is free of corruption and other societal problems.
What do you think about judicial independence as it relates to justice dispensation?
One of the things that is done world over is to consistently reform the judiciary to attain that independence and position where they will truly be able to dispense justice without fear or favour. They will be able to look at politicians and ordinary man in the eye to point out their wrong and right. Also, they should have the right tools and remuneration to discharge their responsibilities effectively but if the government is not influencing the judiciary here, the minister or the politician will be doing that. Starting from the way they are appointed to the function of their job, posting, budgeting and even salary, you will find out that at the end of the day, there are so many influences. We have seen situations where governors disagree with the NJC and after that, shut down an entire court system in a state. We have also seen situations in Oyo State where Alao Akala came and had his own chief judge. When he left, Ladoja had his own chief judge. Even Alao Akala’s chief judge had his own chief judge. So, we see things going back and front. In all of these, the NBA has not been in this matter. So, we cannot truly say the judiciary had been independent.
How can these issues be addressed?
We need to go back to the drawing board by having an all inclusive stakeholders meeting where we fashion out how to restructure some of these problems, starting from the way we appoint judges, discipline them and how we assign cases to judges. We need to look at the number of judges we have. In some states, we have so many cases with few judges. This becomes overwhelming for them. The NJC is not up to date with disciplining of judges. As I speak to you, 95 per cent of the members are fronted by one man and they sit on adhoc cases.
Meanwhile, we have judges and justices of the Supreme Court that have served meritoriously without blemish, retired, still writing and serving as head of committee of some states. Such people should be incorporated into the NJC to instill discipline. We should also find a way of expanding the sector and segmenting the court system.
Unnecessary interference from politicians should be handled. In some cases, depending on the level of the judge, some of them collect bribe openly without regard to the laws of the land because they know that if you take petition to the NJC, it will take forever to determine that petition. Nigerian Bar Association should also learn to put its house in order.
In the light of recent developments, should we have stricter regulation between judicial officers and senior lawyers?
Senior lawyers are supposed to exemplify embodiment of nobleness. They must not be found involved in allegation of bribery and corruption. We should expand the scope of NJC to empower them to be able to sit on daily basis to hear matters and also find a way to ensure that people we appoint to judicial positions are people with integrity. We should consistently checkmate them so that they will not be compromised. The senior lawyers are part of the legal profession. So, there should be an effective decentralized policing that will not be attached to the president, governors or local government. By so doing, we will have a policing system that will use the instrumentality of the law to investigate the matter and bring the person to book irrespective of the person’s position or status.
What is your view on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?
Alternative Dispute Resolution is a way of settlement. First and foremost, you cannot take criminal matters before an ADR. If it is a commercial transaction and I take you before an ADR, you must be willing to submit yourself to the resolution of that matter, otherwise ADR has no jurisdiction. But if it is in court, whether you are willing or not, the court will give judgment against you. ADR is good for matters that are not contentious. Instead of clogging the processes of our judicial dispute resolution, you take it to ADR but that is not enough to resolve the myriad of cases we have in courts. There is need to decentralise the court system, have more hands and effectively monitor those doing the job.
What is your position on the acting CJN, is it appropriate?
We shouldn’t have a situation where we have somebody acting in that capacity. Well, for now that is what the law says. I think we should amend the law in such a way that when the most senior Justice retires, the next senior one automatically steps in. Currently, the acting Chief Justice who is not yet confirmed might not want to be vocal on issues that has to do with the government and therefore, in cases where the government err, you will see that he might want to be apolitical because he is waiting for confirmation. We have seen that played out in the acting chairman of Economic and Financial Crime Commission, Ibrahim Magu’s case, where the Senate refused to confirm him as the chairman. There are some cases that he will want to act on but because of the powers that be, he will not move because he is waiting to be confirmed. If we truly want to fight corruption, we have to put constitutions in place and allow it to be independent.
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