Justice Kazeem Alogba is the Chief Judge of Lagos State, reputed to be the busiest judiciary in Africa. After surviving the destructions of the #EndSARs protest, the court is still operating well. In this interview, he speaks about the physically challenged and access to court; judicial corruption, the appointment of judges, and sundry issues. Excerpt:
What is your take on the challenges faced by physically challenged persons in using the courts in Nigeria as compared to other parts of the world?
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Certain things happen in developed countries before they get started here. Beginning with the administration of Mr. Raji Fashola, buildings in Lagos State are now being configured putting into consideration the challenges of the physically challenged persons and lawyers. These buildings before that came into being have been there for years. Likewise our courthouses in Lagos that were gutted by fire.
But for every building that came up in Lagos in the last 10 years, we have always taken the physically challenged into consideration. In our courts, we have blind lawyers who appear. In Lagos State, we consider the physically challenged. Go to the court at Eti-Osa you will see facilities to assist the physically challenged. In Lagos, we are taking the physically challenged into consideration.
What is your assessment of the conflicting orders, and quality of judgments coming out from our courts of first instance?
People sit down to say poor decisions, poor rulings, some even call me to say ‘My lord, did you hear that judgment?’ I have to call them to order and say do you have the facts that led to that judgment? So as a judge I don’t even comment on a judgment or ruling until I have seen the facts. It is okay for society to comment on judgments but it should be constructive.
Recently, on social media, there was a case handled by two judges in my court and then there was this extract that says that a brother judge made a statement that his colleague must have taken a bribe. I was disturbed. In the first place, a brother judge is not likely to say that another judge has taken a bribe because it is not the right thing to say if there is no evidence.
I later called the two judges and I saw the proceedings and discovered that it was mischief from social media. This should not be so because court proceedings and records are public documents that you can apply for before making comments. It is a point of duty that the judiciary must provide them for you, particularly in this era of the Freedom of Information Act and the Lagos State judiciary does not hoard information.
I cannot talk about poor judgments except for literary exposition. When you write a judgment, other members of the society can review it some time to show that proper language has been used, it helps the society. No person can claim perfection.
Is the judiciary in Nigeria the worst in Africa in terms of corruption?
Corruption is not only when you give out money as a bribe. I am not in a position to say that the judiciary is not corrupt because I will be putting myself into the arena. But I can say that the judiciary in Lagos State is not corrupt and so I challenge you, whenever you have information, you have to expose it and Lagos will be better for it. I do not tolerate it at all.
Not only that I want to correct the situation but I want to encourage those who are working well. When one judge is corrupt, it dents the image and integrity of all of us at once. And it takes time to rebuild it, that is why we don’t tolerate it here.
It is impossible without empirical evidence to say that the Nigerian judiciary is the most corrupt in Africa. I do not agree that the judiciary in Nigeria is the worse in Africa in terms of corruption. Every country should be considered on its own.
The only place where my salary is attached is where I can speak for – Lagos State. There have been one or two complaints of seeming tendency, all might not be by taking money. Nepotism is corruption, indolence to me is corruption. When you are to do something and the thing drags, I do not tolerate it and I punish people for it.
Some stakeholders in the justice sector believe that the appointment of judges in Nigeria has been hijacked by political office holders?
It is the Nigerian factor, the truth of the matter is that there is incursion by political office holders to ordinarily where they should not. Look at what happened in the USA when they stormed the Capitol City Hall, if that happens in Nigeria, it might take ages. If that happens in Nigeria, he is likely to get away with it. He (Donald Trump) relied on his nominees to stand by him to say that what he did was not wrong. One or two of the nominees wrote against him or what he did. The question is, is it possible in Nigeria? I think it is possible when nobody would run after the judge because of that ruling and his house would not be bombed the next day. When the daughter would not be kidnapped the next day.
But don’t forget that we are all human beings. That judge who did that in the USA knew that there would be no reprisal with regards to his job. His file would not be lost so that when he retires, he would not be able to collect his pension and gratuity. In Nigeria, that may happen to you.
I can tell you that in Nigeria the judiciary is even more independent than those other judiciaries abroad, considering all the factors. But the Nigerian judge could be faced with so many reprisals but if you are worth your salt and you know that even if you quit the bench on principle you will see that Nigerian judges are better. I don’t want to deny the fact that there are incursions but it all depends on who is heading the courts.
In Lagos State, neither executive nor legislature interferes in the appointment of judges. Even market women sometimes say these are the people that should be appointed as judges. But there are parameters – one, you show your interest; two, write exams, and three, you pass the exams enough to meet the cut-off marks. Sometimes the exams are so competitive that people who scored 70 per cent do not meet the cut-off mark. Yes, you did well but you did not meet the cut-off.
In Lagos, we follow the NJC guidelines. When we took our last set of would-be appointees to NJC, their qualities were acknowledged and NJC wanted to give us more appointments to the bench. We are so proud of that because we do not want rotten eggs placed on us.