The Federal Government in every successive administration, has grappled with the challenge of effecting reforms in Nigeria’s Justice Sector, and so far, this has been seemingly unattainable. Olawale Fapohunda and Onikepo Braithwaite review the progress made so far by the Buhari administration in reforming the Justice Sector, and propose a pragmatic approach on how the administration can prioritise and achieve the necessary goals
Proposals for ‘Change’
At the advent of the Buhari administration, the Nigerian Bar Association and other Justice sector reform advocates, proposed a package of ambitious institutional reforms, legislative changes, and constitutional amendments to be implemented on a short, medium to long-term basis. Every aspect of the infrastructure of our justice system was flagged for fundamental rethinking including our approaches to policing, adjudication, bail, sentencing, imprisonment, and institutionalised corruption in the justice system.
Two years into the administration, with possibly one year left for active governance, it is important to understand what progress has been made so far, in reforming the justice sector and what issues remain.
Justice sector reforms, stand a better chance of success, when the Presidency has a clearly stated national policy on justice sector reforms, setting out the official vision of the reform objectives, and committing government to specific reforms necessary to realise that vision. This is an important reference point, for any strategic approach to justice sector development.
The Buhari administration, is yet to publicise its vision for the sector two years into the administration. It has therefore, not been possible to achieve consensus, shared appreciation and action, on important reform areas in the justice sector.
Policy-making for an efficient and citizen-oriented judiciary in Nigeria, has always lacked a comprehensive approach. This ‘piece meal’ approach has proved an important obstacle to sustainable judicial reforms.
The challenges facing the judiciary, have been the subject of much debate at Constitutional Conferences and high- level Committees established by the Presidency and the Judiciary. Judicial Corruption, delays leading to backlog of pending cases, archaic systems and procedures to mention the most obvious, have been identified as key challenges. The impact of the prosecution of some judges on eradicating corruption in the judiciary, remains to be seen.
Two important proposals that encompass all the recommendations on judicial reforms that have been made to the Buhari administration are:
• Constitute an independent Judicial Benefits and Compensation Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of salaries, allowances and benefits of all Judicial Officers in Nigeria, including lower court judges. The Commission should be required to submit a report with its recommendations to the National Council of States, for deliberation and implementation.
• Constitute a panel of eminent Lawyers & Jurists to review the proposals of previous Constitutional Conferences and Committees on judicial reform, with a view to implementing key recommendations as it relates to the judiciary.
The Buhari administration inherited more than 14 years of debate on policing and police reform, facilitated by at least 12 high level Presidential Committees on Police reforms and a Constitutional Conference.
Two years into the Buhari administration, none of the important forward looking suggestions put forward by advocates for police reform, has been taken forward. These suggestions include:
• Consider Change of Nomenclature from Nigeria Police Force to Nigeria Police Service
• Liaise with the National Assembly to enact a Police Services Bill. The bill should include inter alia, provision for the appointment of an IGP through a transparent, meritocratic and competitive process.
• Direct the Inspector General of Police to audit manpower, vehicles and other resources of the police force, with a view to understanding the capacity of the Nigeria Police.
• Appoint an independent Police Ombudsman, with strong authority to receive complaints from the public on matters of police corruption, including delay in investigation of crimes, abuse of power and extra- judicial killings.
Our prisons have over the years, been a source of concern due to overcrowding, under staffing, lack of adequate medical care, inadequate conditions for female and juvenile detainees, poor administration, long detention of those awaiting trial and limited access to legal advice and representation. These have led to poor health conditions and jailbreaks, amongst other negative consequences.
The Federal Executive Council recently approved wide- ranging measures aimed at improving Nigeria’s troubled prisons system. The purchase of much needed operations vehicles for the prisons, is an important intervention in this regard. It is too soon to know, if these measures will be enough to revamp a prisons system badly in need of improvement. Previous attempts at long-term prison reforms have fallen short of expectations.
Some of the suggestions proposed to the Buhari administration, which are yet to be implemented, include:
• Liaise with the National Assembly to achieve the enactment of the Prisons and Correctional Services Bill
• Remove the Prisons Service from the oversight of the Ministry of Interior and place it in the Ministry of Justice
• Appoint a Chief Visitor of Prisons to conduct inspections on a regular basis, respond to complaints, investigate deaths in custody and publish independent regular findings and make appropriate recommendations for action to the President and National Assembly.
Access to Justice Institutions
The Buhari administration seemingly places a high value on delivering quality services to the public, and set out minimum conditions for public service. These include efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness to peoples needs particularly the poor and vulnerable. Many of the existing systems and processes, prevent access to justice institutions from being effective and efficient. More fundamental is the weakening of these institutions, specifically through reduced appropriation. The result is that institutions like the National Human Rights Commission and the Legal Aid Council, which were set up to provide access to justice to the poor and vulnerable, are struggling to stay true to their mandate.
Some of the recommendations to the Buhari administration include:
• Review the current endowment of access to justice institutions and decide whether this is adequate or not.
• Pronounce the Attorney- General & Minister of Justice of the Federation as the coordinating Minister of the Justice Sector.
• Improve the conditions of service of State Counsel in the Federal Ministry of Justice and work with State Governments to do same.
• Undertake a review of the situation of justice institutions with the aim of streamlining mandates for the purposes of efficiency.
Promotion & Protection of Human Rights
Before the advent of the Buhari administration there was constructive engagement, cooperation and collaboration between government institutions, National Human Rights Commission and NGOs. Important outcomes from this partnership, include the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, Violence Against Persons Act, Administration of Criminal Justice Act, the Legal Aid Council Act and a very progressive National Human Rights Commission Act.
It is difficult to point to any such interaction, over the past two years. The key complaints against the administration have been that of its refusal to obey court orders in certain matters relating to liberty of accused persons, and allegations of rights violations against security forces during operations in the North East and South East.
Some of the recommendations proposed to the Buhari administration which have remained unimplemented include:
• Provide leadership in the development, adoption and implementation of the National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
• Reconstitute the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission
• Appoint a Human Rights Adviser for the Nigerian Military. The terms of reference of the adviser will include, but not be limited to, developing modalities for a human rights audit of the military operations particularly in the North East.
Corruption in the Administration of Justice
The prevention and combating of corruption in the justice system is a priority objective of reforms in the justice sector. In the broader context of the national fight against corruption, this is fundamental, until corruption within the justice sector is severely controlled or eradicated, most legal and programmatic mechanisms put forth to reduce corruption in other sectors of society will be significantly undermined. Investigating and prosecuting corruption across government and private sectors in Nigeria requires an efficient justice system.
Some recommendations to the Buhari administration on fighting corruption in the justice sector include:
• Undertake an independent inquiry on corruption in the
justice sector. Evidence of corruption, and not just suspicions or popular belief, is required in order to effectively assess corruption and develop a framework of anti-corruption policies.
• Enforce merit-based employments and appointments across the institutions in the justice sector, and create appropriate legal and institutional framework to increase job security and stability, and to enhance the personal will to avoid all forms of extraneous pressure.
• Review Salary and Enhance Working Conditions across the justice sector, to eliminate the necessity to supplement paltry income with bribes.
National Council on the Administration of Justice (NCAJ)
The idea of a single forum in which the three arms of government, agencies with a justice sector mandate and civil society organisations meet to discuss and agree on concrete interventions for the justice sector, has long been proposed. The need to ensure the reinforcement of recent reforms in the justice sector and the prompt follow-up of outstanding reforms, requires an implementation and monitoring body.
It has been suggested that the Buhari administration liaise with the judiciary, to establish a NCAJ to provide high-level policy making, implementation and oversight of interventions in the Justice Sector. Its membership should include State and Non-State Actors from the justice sector.