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Access to justice: A difficult terrain in Nigeria

“The presence of an attorney or the existence of a judicial forum do not in themselves assure that justice will be done. Providing access to…

“The presence of an attorney or the existence of a judicial forum do not in themselves assure that justice will be done. Providing access to justice means providing opportunity for a just and timely result.”  The Kaduna Multi door courthouse Practice Direction {2015}.

From the moment Nigeria returned to democratic system of government on May, 1999, the Judiciary has played a pivotal role in adjudicating and dispensing justice to Nigerians. The results and time taken to access justice in our Nigerian Courts may not be satisfying to many Nigerians, the truth however remains that the Judiciary plays an important role in protecting the sanctity of our society.

The peculiarity of our country and how the system operates has made access to justice in our court rooms a difficult terrain for Nigerians to enforce their rights or seek redress. It is trite knowledge of law that the police are not debt recovery agents, yet we find Nigerians making reports of debts recovery to the police station on the premise that Nigerian debtors react faster to rifle than court processes.

Which begs the question, is the delay in effective justice dispensation caused solely by our judicial system, and its operators, or is the Nigerian system partly responsible for the number of years cases spend in court before judgment? With the advent of Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Nigeria, front loading of court processes, pre-trial conferences, and scheduling, why is it still difficult to determine a contentious matter within one year, at most two years?

Even the lower court that is ordinarily vested with summary jurisdiction take years to reach conclusion, counsels are faced with prosecutors seeking adjournments on reason of ‘missing case diaries’ ‘investigating police officer on official assignment’ or the most popular being ‘awaiting legal advice from the ministry of justice’. To my mind, the unnecessary request for adjournments, and frivolous applications contribute in its own way to stalling justice dispensation in Nigeria.

We find judgment creditors prevented from reaping the fruits of their litigation after several years in court due to one technical defect or the other in our enforcement procedure, we find appeals without records of appeal transmitted forestalling judgment execution with no date fixed for the hearing of the appeal, we find government agencies flagrantly disobeying court orders and judgment, how many litigants who got judgment against the Nigerian Police being paid damages granted by the courts?

These numerous loopholes in our judicial process is why a school of thought is of the view that the Nigerian legal system protects the defendants more than the plaintiffs, and if the present administration is desirous of changing and improving justice delivery in the country, then an upgrade of the Nigerian legal system and its operation is paramount, as we cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand.

Worthy commendation to the Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja on the recent practice direction and rules of court 2018, the law intends to speed up process especially criminal trials, lessen pending cases on the court dock, and fix cost to counsels who deliberately absent themselves from court without genuine reason.

The current administration in order to curb corruption by arresting, prosecuting, and convicting offenders should create a digitalized legal system with a uniform database to capture all cases pending in Nigerian courts with the ministry of justice. Furthermore, there should be synergy between courts of coordinate jurisdiction as decided in THE ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CRIMES COMMISSION v. MR. AYODELE FAYOSE & ANOR (2018) LPELR-44131(CA), where the court rightly held that there is a need for jurisdictional synergy between courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction. Huge caution should be adopted when a judge is asked to set aside a judgment or an order made by a fellow Judge/Court of co-ordinate jurisdiction.

There ought to be good and seamless inter agency intelligence gathering between security agencies, the police ought to play its role by desisting from accepting debt recovery cases at the Police Station, and try to respect the fundamental human rights of the citizens it seeks to protect; there should be consequences for bad behaviors as a public officer, all government agencies should as a matter of compulsion, obey all court orders and judgments. If the government doesn’t obey her own courts, what moral justification does it have to ask her citizens to obey court orders?

Truth be told, in order for the government to gain investor confidence, and protect the fundamental human rights of citizens then the judicial system ought regain its place as the last hope of the common man.


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