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Dealing with errant judicial officers

In taking the action, the NJC considered and investigated petitions made to it against both judicial officers.  In Olotu’s case, the NJC report said the…

In taking the action, the NJC considered and investigated petitions made to it against both judicial officers.  In Olotu’s case, the NJC report said the Council established that in a case that was before her court, she failed to deliver judgement within the stipulated period of three months after the final address by all the counsel in the suit. The report said she also admitted to having entertained matters on the suit even after judgement had been delivered, ignoring the binding functus officio rule that bars judges from rescinding the judgement they had given and seeking to retry the case.
A major criticism against administration of justice in Nigeria has been delays in the judicial process that make court cases go on interminably due to unnecessary adjournments and frivolous injunctions sought for by counsels aimed at “buying time” and stalling the expeditious handling of cases. This appalling practice has become so ingrained in the system that it is often the subject of many judicial/legal conferences to find solution to it. The case for which the NJC recommended the measure on Justice Olotu began in 2003. It dragged on for fourteenth years before judgement was delivered. A decade and half to determine a suit, no matter how intricate it may be, leaves much to be desired and does not do any good to the image of the judiciary. Indeed it portrays it as slothful and pedantic, and not willing to change.   
Justice Olotu’s case became all but irredeemable when, according to the report of the findings, she told the NJC’s panel of investigation that she entertained another matter in a case on which she had already ruled. It is bad enough to take a decade and half to dispose of a case; it is doubly so to seek to reopen the same matter after judgement has been handed down. In effect, it implies that the judge did not apply due diligence during the pendency of the case in her court.
The cases of these two officers of court came to light only because petitions were written against the manner they handled the cases on which they were implicated and now punished. It is not unlikely that several instances of mishandling of cases similar to these ones may have been allowed to go without as much as a raised eyebrow. Therefore, a way to ensure this does not become rampant is to institute periodic review of cases, particularly those that have lasted beyond certain duration.
Not too long ago, the salaries and entitlements of all cadres of judicial officers were substantially enhanced as a way to raise morale and curb corruption in the judiciary. It was envisaged that the gesture would bring about improvement in administration of justice through cutting down cynical and unethical attitude thereby expediting its process. The NJC should ensure that the judiciary leaves up to this expectation. It should complement the disciplining of errant officers with the introduction of new technology to facilitate the reporting of the judicial process and the accuracy of court records.
The retirement of the two judges is a strong signal that the NJC is willing to pursue its declared intention of sanitising and rescuing the judiciary from widespread apprehension about the quality of the administration of justice in Nigeria. If the initiative is sustained, it would certainly restore the judiciary to its old ethos of responsiveness, probity and incorruptibility.  It’s a tall order, of course, but not insurmountable.

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