One year anniversary: Impactful reforms in nation's judiciary 

Wed, May 29, 2024
By editor
9 MIN READ

Featured, Judiciary

By Anthony Isibor

WHILE many sectors of the Nigerian society are lamenting their agonizing state of affairs in the first one year of President Tinubu’s administration, the judiciary may be said to be lucky as the sector seems to have a different story to tell and the reasons are not too farfetched.

Barely one month after the inauguration of the Tinubu’s administration, some of the lawyers made a strong case  to align the salaries of judges in the country with that of the senators.

Speaking on behalf of the Lawyers, Kayode Ajulo, a constitutional lawyer, decried the disproportionate remuneration of the judicial officers when compared to the other two arms of government despite the significance of their roles in the society.

He stated that the welfare and security of the judicial officers should be critically addressed, including fair and improved salaries and emoluments.

Following this appeal and other interventions of other stakeholders, President Tinubu directed the Revenue  Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, to work on improving on the welfare of the nation’s judicial officers.

President Tinubu, whose speech was read by the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, on Monday, November 13, 2023 at the opening session of the all Nigerian judges conference of the superior courts, cautioned against undue criticisms of the Judiciary, particularly in relation to the decisions on political cases.

In  the speech that ended with the renewal of the commitment to discharge all his obligations to the judiciary regardless, and an affirmation to contributing his quota to the improvement of the welfare of judicial officers, the President also advocated for the appointment of Justices of the appellate court from outside the bench.

Recently, President Tinubu  charged the judicial arm of the government to embark on reforms that would ensure a functional justice system that would support a rapidly growing economy, guarantee basic human and political rights of individuals as well as provide security and justice to all Nigerians.

Tinubu, who gave the charge through the Vice-President, Kashim Shettima, while declaring open this year’s National Summit on Justice in Abuja, observed that much could be achieved when institutions of government, including the three arms of government, the executive, legislature and judiciary, unite to acknowledge their challenges and brainstorm with a view to proffering solutions to the problems bedeviling Nigeria.

He urged the judiciary to align its activities within the tenets of his administration’s Renewed Hope Agenda, particularly as they relate “to the priorities on inclusivity, fairness, rule of law, and anti-corruption stance, among other things.”

He recalled that his administration made funding for the third arm of government a top priority, doubling it in the Renewed Hope budget 2024 by more that 100 per cent from last year’s budget.

He listed other efforts his government has made to reposition the Judiciary to include full complement of 21 Justices of the Supreme Court as required by law for the first time after many years and his approval of “a substantial increase in the salaries and emoluments of judges, which is currently undergoing legislative action”.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, during the meeting attributed most of the achievements recorded in the judiciary to the support of Tinubu’s administration, particularly in the enhancement of the welfare of judicial officers and improvement in their working environment.

On his part, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, emphasised the significance of the revised draft national policy on justice, noting that building a national consensus on the advancement of the justice sector has become necessary.

According to him, the policy sought to improve mechanisms for fair and speedy dispensation of justice, detention and correctional services, restorative justice, alternative dispute resolution, ADR — developing Nigeria into an arbitration hub on the continent, commerce and economic activities, compliance with treaty obligations, synergy and cooperation across the justice sector, and independence of the judiciary, among others.

“Regarding the emphasis on strengthening the independence and welfare of the judiciary, it is to be recalled that one of the cardinal items on the Renewed Hope Agenda of this administration is to drive judicial reforms to achieve sustainable socio-economic growth and investment, facilitated by the rule of law, and to address the challenges militating against judicial development in our country.

“One key theme that has been added to the National Policy on Justice is Justice for Children. This is in line with our commitments under various international, regional and national instruments on protection of children consistent with the guiding principles on the best interest and welfare of the child. The idea is to adopt deliberate and strategic interventions for dealing with children in contact with the law,” he added.

The National Programme Manager, RoLAC II, International IDEA, Danladi Plang, observed that quality reform would attract the much needed Foreign Direct Investments to grow the economy.

He said investors would not want to come to a country where their money would be tied down.

“When you go to litigation they ask somebody to pay money into the court until the case is determined. We have cases that have gone up to 10 years. No investor would want to come to a country like that.

“So improving the efficiency of the justice system is important not only for commercial cases, but also criminal, we have seen many people detained for a very long time because their case has not been heard,” he said.

It is therefore not surprising when some Abuja-based lawyers commended Tinubu for his justice sector reforms and for the efforts made so far to address critical challenges in the justice system and enhance the Nigerian judiciary.

According to a report by the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, the lawyers who were speaking on the  President’s first anniversary listed some of the efforts the federal government has made to reposition the judiciary to include a full complement of 21 justices of the Supreme Court as required by law for the first time after many years and his approval of “a substantial increase in the salaries and emoluments of judges.”

A senior advocate of Nigeria, Mohammed Ndarani, said that appointing the 21 Justices of the Supreme Court Bench would improve efficient justice delivery, tackle the backlog of cases more efficiently and ensure timely justice delivery for the citizens.

”The appointment of 21 Justices to the Supreme Court bench as required by law demonstrates the President’s commitment to strengthening the judiciary and ensuring its effectiveness and independence. The Supreme Court of Nigeria is established by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by virtue of its Section 230(1), and the same constitution stipulates that the justices of the court shall not exceed 21 at any given time.

”With a full composition of justices on the bench of the Supreme Court, the court can tackle its backlog of cases more efficiently and ensure timely justice delivery for the citizenry,” he said.

A legal practitioner, Kalu Chukwuemeka, said appointing new justices would help ensure the timely dispensation of justice.

“If you want to tame corruption and do not improve the welfare of supporting staff, it would still be there, more should be done in that angle. Kudos to President Tinubu because previous administrations have not deemed it fit to do anything for the judges,” he said.

Also, a Lagos-based lawyer, Ijekhuemen, described the appointment of the justices as “a positive development for easy and quicker dispensation of justice.”

She said that before now, the apex court was left with 10 justices after Justice Centus Nweze’s death and the retirements of Justices Amina Augie and Dattijo Muhammad.

“As you know, justice delayed is justice denied,” she said.

The lawyer said the current administration had made history by ensuring that the Supreme Court, for the first time, has the full complement of 21 justices required by law.

On the approval of judges’ salaries and emoluments, Yusuf Baba, a lawyer, stated that it takes a leader with willpower to drive growth and development in any sector.

Baba recalled that the last time the Supreme Court bench came very close to achieving its full complement was in 2020, when eight appellate court justices were elevated to join 12 of their brother justices on the apex court bench and attributed the depletion to mandatory retirement and death of some justices in the last three years, without a commensurate appointment to fill vacant positions despite the unbearable working conditions at the apex court.

Similarly their Lagos counterparts also believes that the Nigerian Judiciary has improved in the last one year of President Tinubu’s administration.

During an interview with NAN, Mr Kehinde Nubi agreed that increasing the number of Supreme Court justices from a record low of 10 to the constitutionally-prescribed maximum of 21 is a welcome development.

 According to him, this move will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the justice delivery system by reducing burden on justices.

He noted that the President inclination toward increasing salaries of judicial officers, thereby improving their welfare, is another step in the right direction adding that this will have a positive impact on the judicial system.

The lawyer added that it was reassuring to note that the president seemed disposed to non-interference in judiciary affairs.

Another Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Alozie Nwoke, also said  that under president Tinubu’s administration, there had been serious clamour  for reforms  to position the  judiciary better to perform its constitutional functions.

Although he said that It may be too early to hold a strong opinion as to how the judiciary has fared under the present administration, he observed this growing clamour for the desired reforms and acknowledge that the judiciary can be said to have started well under this administration.  

It is expected that the Nigerian Judicial System would in the years to come become a beacon of hope and an enviable arm of government that can indeed be trusted to be the last hope for the common man.

A.

-May 29, 2024 @ 12:58 GMT|

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