The Judiciary is increasingly being compromised

In what can be described as a stinging indictment of justice administration in the country, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, said the courts are no longer for the ordinary people. “Gone were those days when the judiciary was regarded as the last hope of the common man. It is the big people now who patronise the judiciary, not even the common man,” Fagbemi said during the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Abuja Division of the Appeal Court Complex.  The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Olukayode Ariwoola, President of the Court of Appeal, Monica Dongban-Mensem and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Yakubu Maikyau, were present at the event. “If you have any doubt, the election is approaching, come and see where some people behave like rain-beaten chickens. Forgive me, I don’t mean to be rude.  The judiciary is no longer the last hope of the common man alone, it is also, or majorly, the last hope of the big shots.”

 Whatever may have been his motivation, Fagbemi has not said anything different from what judicial officers themselves know to be the situation. In March this year, CJN Ariwoola cited corruption, inefficiency and undue influence as some of the ills afflicting the judiciary in the country. “We must critically examine our legal framework, identifying gaps and inconsistencies that hinder the efficient administration of justice,” Ariwoola said at a two-day national summit on justice. “Moreover, we must be bold in our pursuit of legislative reforms that reflect the evolving needs of our society while upholding the principles of fairness, equality, and human rights.” According to Ariwoola, a “constitutional, statutory and operational reform in the justice sector is imperative in meeting the aspirations and yearnings of the general public.”

Ariwoola and Fagbemi have themselves only repeated what many stakeholders have been saying. But talk is cheap. The question now is: Who will introduce these needed reforms so that the courts can be the last hope of the common man? From delays in the administration of justice, which are most often deliberate acts, to the culture of tardiness and corruption which robs the institution of its impartiality, fairness and independence, the problems are legion. Meanwhile, restoring credibility becomes difficult when courts of coordinate jurisdictions give conflicting judgments and Judges commercialise injunctions in manner that creates confusion in the polity.

Fagbemi must go beyond mere preachments. To change the narrative, the process of appointing judges must be reviewed among other reform measures. For more than two decades, especially since the current democratic dispensation in 1999, critical stakeholders in the justice sector have been calling for transparency and merit in the appointment of judges. No one should expect a bench that is populated by judges who got the job because of their filial affiliation to serve the common man. But the present leadership lacks the courage to institutionalise the necessary reforms to free the judiciary from this disgraceful level perhaps because they themselves were beneficiaries of the same skewed appointment process and cannot afford to rock the boat.  

 As we have repeatedly stated on this page, the function of law as an instrument of social engineering can only be made difficult when judges compromise their oath by acts of omission or commission. And nothing destroys public confidence in the system than the bad behaviour of judges. The crisis of credibility afflicting the judiciary has taken a serious toll on the institution whose image in the eyes of most Nigerians is now severely battered. There can be no better time than now for a reform of the administration of justice in Nigeria.

Related Articles