Access to justice will make a difference to all

An independent judiciary is a basic prerequisite for the consolidation of democracy. It is therefore no surprise that the capacity to deliver accessible and qualitative justice continues to receive the attention of critical stakeholders in Project Nigeria. Various ideas are also being generated through public discourses that are targeted at how the judiciary could be repositioned as the “last hope” not just for the common man, but indeed for all Nigerian citizens.

One of such notable interventions on “Access to Quality Justice” was held last Thursday in Lagos. Organised by the United Action for Change (UAC), a private initiative established to promote the culture of civic engagements, there were frank discussions on how to nurture and sustain a justice administration system that is founded on equity within the Nigerian public space. The convener, Dr. Muiz Banire, SAN, made that point clear when, in his opening remark, said the idea arose basically to raise new thoughts on remedies to the contemporary challenges confronting the Nigerian judiciary in a period of democratic consolidation.

At the session, critical stakeholders all agreed that beyond the popular chorus of “judicial independence” seen as vital to accessing qualitative justice in Nigeria, there are other challenges which were often glossed over. They include inefficient and ineffective court or judicial administration and management; low institutional and technical capacity; the cost and/or affordability of justice. These and other issues must be substantially dealt with for the Nigerian judiciary to deliver in accordance with international best practices.

Instructively, the federal government Justice Sector reform plan, currently under review, seeks to provide timely and accessible justice to all Nigerians in an efficient manner, regardless of their ethnic group, gender, marital status, age, economic status, disability, religion, belief, culture, language, etc. The objective is to restore public confidence in the administration of justice in Nigeria.

However, while the efforts of the federal government are duly recognised, most stakeholders in the justice sector recommend that the process of recruiting, remunerating, training and promoting judicial officers should be more inclusive and in line with best ethical practices. They also canvass the establishment of necessary legal and institutional frameworks to eradicate all forms of administrative and professional corruption within the judiciary as well as ensure that all factors which cause delays in the administration of justice (especially with regard to conduct of judges, lawyers, prosecutors, court administrators, etc.) are eliminated.

Professor Fidelis Oditah, QC, SAN, questioned the bona fides of a legal system which seemed to have “outsourced its criminal justice to foreign courts” by analysing the failure of the Nigerian judicial system from whose net a former governor escaped justice only to be convicted abroad on the basis of the same evidence. This was a blot on the image of the Nigerian judiciary.

In all, the centrality of a judiciary to the development of a socio-economic and political development of a society did not slip out of consideration. Former Solicitor General of Lagos State, Mr. Fola Arthur-Worrey and Dr. Abiola Sanni of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos aligned positions on the impossibility of progress where a justice system is prostrate. But the point made at the session by the Chief Justice of Nigeria on the need for all stakeholders in the administration of justice to come together deserves to be written in bold relief. That, at the end of the day, is the only enduring path to access to quality justice in Nigeria.