Lawyers hopeful of speedy justice delivery in new era

Lawyers are expectant of a reformed and independent judiciary in the current democratic government, ONOZURE DANIA writes

A new administration emerged on May 29 as Bola Tinubu was inaugurated as President, succeeding former President Muhammadu Buhari who governed the country for eight years.

During his tenure, the judiciary witnessed blatant disobedience to court orders among other issues. With the coming of Tinubu, lawyers have urged for a change in the pattern of events.

Speaking on his expectation in the new administration, A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Wahab Shittu, said he expected a judiciary with maximum respect for the rule of law.

He added that he envisaged a judiciary where stakeholders, particularly lawyers and judges, would be jurists obsessed with the theory of justice rather than adherence to technicalities.

According to him, he expects a judiciary with zero tolerance for corruption and delays in the administration and dispensation of justice.

Shittu stated, “I want a reform-oriented, courageous, and disciplined judiciary that will uphold high ethical standards in all spheres. A judiciary that will hold governments at all levels accountable and promote responsibility in governance.

“I want a judiciary that will strengthen the principles of separation of powers and deepen democratic standards and principles; a judiciary that will promote respect for fundamental rights, respect for due process, transparency and support democratic institutions. A Judiciary that will restore public confidence in the justice delivery system as well as promote decent criminal and civil litigation. I want a judiciary that is comparable in standards to the best in the world.’’

On his part, Chairman, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Nigeria branch, Mr Akingbola Akinola, SAN, said to a great extent, the judiciary in Nigeria had been most stable, adding that with the advent of the new government, he expected that the judiciary would be more stable. He further said that this was because it’s a transition from one democratic government into another so there was no distortion and things would only be improved.

He stated that the main problem the judiciary has was associated with its dockets, adding that it had many cases to handle and it was why arbitration was there to assist.

He also said that because there were many dispute resolutions, the institute and its members could handle them without necessarily going to the court because several small claims were often taken to the court.

Akinola explained that everybody believed that they have a right to the court, saying that it was true as stipulated in Section 6 of the Constitution which guarantees the rights of everybody to access the courtroom.

He said, “So they have a right to go to the courtroom. But the truth is that it is not every dispute that should get to the courtroom. The institute is there to lend a hand to the judiciary.

“As I said earlier I believe the judiciary will be more stable again. I believe because they have been saying the independence of the judiciary has a lot to do in ensuring that their budget and grants are controlled directly by them and they won’t need to be running, cap in hand to the executive. As long as this is sorted out, I think the best has yet to come from the Nigerian judiciary.’’

Another lawyer, Yemi Omodele, stated that President Bola Tinubu, had been in politics before his predecessor came into it, stating that therefore, Nigerians expected a lot from him in terms of economic growth, security, agriculture, judiciary, medicine, science, and technology among others. Omodele said that Tinubu should not create a bad impression in the minds of Nigerians.

“It will do Nigeria more good if he can build more divisions of the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal. He should also encourage the state governors to do the same by establishing more state high courts in states.

“This will go a long way in quick dispensation of justice. The idea of strike actions in the judiciary should be discouraged by his government. He is a beneficiary of justice. He should do the needful for the said arm of government.

“The welfare and salaries of the judicial workers and other members of staff will be increased. The issue of judicial autonomy should be looked into. He should work peacefully with the National Assembly to have a smooth running of his administration. He should invest more in legal education. He should learn from the mistakes of Buhari,” Omodele said.

Similarly, Mr Ige Asemudara, said the judiciary should brace up and stand up to its responsibilities in the new administration by providing checks and balances the way it should be provided in a democracy.

The lawyer said, “The judiciary is to dispense justice without fear or favour and we would not expect anything less in this administration across all facets in all manner and shades of cases and disputes that will come before them. The judiciary is expected to stand tall and dispense justice accordingly. The judiciary should be the watchdog of the system, checking both the excess of the executive and the legislature.’

In his contribution, another lawyer, Mr Adenrele Adegborioye, stated that with the emergence of a new government, there were high expectations from the judiciary.

He said the new government had a duty to ensure the independence of the judiciary, noting that without the judiciary being independent it would be ineffective and powerless.

Adegborioye said, “One of the ways to ensure the independence of the judiciary is for the significant improvement in the welfare of the judges so that they can resist the temptation of financial inducement.

He added, “Another way is if the executive does not unnecessarily interfere with the activities of the judiciary. Furthermore, the appointment of judges should be transparent and strictly on merit. It is my opinion that if the above conditions are met by the new administration, we should be ready for a new dawn in the judiciary.’’

For Mr Babatunde Awe, he noted that the inauguration speech of the President didn’t make any significant mention of plans for the judiciary other than he would continue the legacies of his predecessor.

According to the lawyer, if one uses the antecedents of the President and legacy in the Lagos State judiciary, there may be hope that the appalling condition under which judges work in Nigeria will improve.

He said, “I expect that President Tinubu will focus on accelerating digitalisation of the justice system to increase efficiency and improve the welfare of judges.

“Judges do not work alone. There is a whole value chain of the judiciary’s service corps that must also be properly integrated into any reformation and redesign process to increase the efficiency of justice delivery. I sincerely do hope that within the next few days, we shall have a state of emergency declared in the judiciary.’’

Also, Chairman, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Abuja, Mr Sola Ephraim-Oluwanuga, said his expectations for the judiciary in the new dispensation were that there should be good governance, and transparency in the judiciary,

He further stated that there should be accountability in the judicial process, rule of law including opportunity for people to know that there was an adequate, efficient and effective judicial system.

He stated that if the above could be achieved in the new dispensation then the country would have done well.

Ephraim-Oluwanuga said, “I think the current President has been a beneficiary of a good judicial system especially when he was the governor of Lagos State. I expect that this will be carried over at the federal level.

“Then again I also see the issue of delay; they say delay defeats justice, and that is why I said there should be an effective and efficient dispute resolution system. Effective in the sense that delay should be removed. It is a goal for this current administration that there should be an expeditious judicial process and I do hope that the current regime will be able to keep to this. We would hold their feet to the fire to see that this is done.

“Our prayer and hope are that the current administration will keep to the rule of law, and obey the decisions of the court because that’s the only way. If we don’t, then we would make ourselves a laughing stock among nations. But if we do, people will know that we are serious, then all roads will lead to Nigeria.’’

In his view, another lawyer Mrs Oyinkansola Badejo-Okusanya, said that the judiciary had started being arbitration-friendly, adding that she expected that in this new democratic dispensation, there would be more arbitration-friendly, more mediation-friendly towards Alternative Dispute Resolution than just litigation.

She added that the court themselves could send people to mediation for arbitration and other doors to resolving disputes beyond just going to courts.

Badejo-Okusanya also said that she hoped more states would begin to look at the multi-door court and encourage ADR, than they had done in the past.

She said, “The more we use ADR, the less work for the judges so the judges can concentrate on important things and then there is more access to justice. For example, LMDC deals with maybe not high volume cases; there is also the Citizens Mediation Centre in Lagos State which deals with even cases as little as a tenant who is paying a rent of N3000. Imagine those little cases and all of them go to court.

“The same court will be dealing with a N3000 case and the same court is dealing with a $3m case. I am hoping that in this dispensation, it will tilt more towards ADR.

“I am also hoping that the judiciary will be more self-funding. Look at the state of the Lagos State court now; I hope that before the end of this administration, the court will be rebuilt.

“It was heartbreaking for me to see it burnt down, as of Monday they had finished completely pulling down the court ready for work. I remember every day in the last two or three weeks, I went there and took pictures to remind myself of how it was before and what it is now.

“And hopefully, we will see it rising and I hope that at least for Lagos State judiciary, we would see a new court rising out of the ashes.’’

On his part, a lawyer from SPA Ajibade & Co, Kolawole Mayomi, said the fundamental change the country really wanted to see was a bold judiciary that would not look at the eyes of the politicians before making pronouncement, particularly on issues affecting the common man.

He stated that too often when a claim was filed against a government or if the government was interested in a suit, some judges were too timid to make rulings against the government because they saw the government as their benefactors and sponsors.

“I know a state in Nigeria where the governor regularly buys cars, changes the cars of the judges, even builds houses for the judges. In that kind of state, it will be difficult to get a judge that will be courageous enough to give rulings against the government.

“But we always say that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man and I believe that the judiciary should be alive to that acclamation as being the last hope of the common man. All we expect from them is to rise up to do their duty and ensure that the government is held accountable. If that is done, personally I will be happy,” he said.

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