*AN OPINION PAPER OF GELL FOUNDATION
INTRODUCTION: As you may be aware, Gabriel Esezobor Longe Law Foundation otherwise called- GELL FOUNDATION is a Non Governmental Organization, registered under Part C of the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria, committed to seeking improvements in the Judicial arm of government.
In the wake of the current #endsars protests in Nigeria over the impunity and outright violations of the rights of ordinary Nigerians by a unit of the police called SARS-Special Anti-Robbery Squad, our organization feel compelled to proffer this opinion in view of the fact that the #endsars is not limited to end police brutality and high handedness but to end all forms of anomalies in Nigeria.
#ENDSARS PROTESTS: The origin of this wave of protests across Nigeria was as a result of several factors ranging from perceived insensitivity of the Federal and state Governments across the country to the plight of the youths and the ordinary citizens, police brutality, rights abuse, high-handedness and extra judicial killings, SARS obviously extorting money from internet fraudster suspects, detention without trial, economic adversity of the general populace, lack of jobs, unending strikes by the labour unions especially ASUU, effects of covid 19 pandemic and lots more.
It must be noted that government is not just the executive alone but the legislature and the judiciary.
The legislature is seen by the average Nigerian as a conduit pipe to economic wastage. They earn fantastic salaries; get all the contracts, live a life of flamboyance without any beneficial effect on the lives of the people. An average senator is understood to earn over N12m per month and a house of reps member a little less whereas the payment of 30,000 as minimum wage is not confirmed in almost all the states. The Governors and their appointees are worse; they spend state money like emperors.
No one knows what happens in the judiciary. They appear to be silent collaborators with the executive and the legislature. You hardly know what they spend their budget on; their orders are hardly obeyed by the executive and governors across the land etc
Shortly after the last presidential election in 2019, one of the candidates Omoyele Sowore called for a revolution based on the rudderless manner in which government business was being conducted. He is still being tried for treason. After the celebration of Nigeria’s 60th independence on 1st October, 2020 there was general discontent and aided by the social media of hash tag #endsars, the people could no longer hold back but took to the streets to vent their frustration in peaceful protests across the nation which soon turned violent as same was quickly hijacked by hoodlums and criminals. The level of wanton destruction of private and public property has never before been witnessed in Nigeria. Shopping malls and businesses were looted and burnt, police stations in many cities were razes and arms stolen, prisons were broken with many inmates set free, several police officers lost their lives, court houses were burnt down, commercial buses and several private cars were not spared. Curiously the government and top politicians kept goods called covid-19 palliatives in ware houses which were quickly identified and looted mindlessly.
AFTERMATH OF THE PROTESTS: Although the hashtag was started by an individual, the protests did not have a particular leader as such. Everyone felt the need to place demands on whatever they feel the government should do chiefly amongst which is the disbandment of SARS, end police brutality, economic and political reforms etc.
The government at the Federal level took up the challenge and spoke through the Vice president who apologised to the Nigerian people on the slowness of government in responding swiftly to the needs of the people and immediately proscribed SARS. The protesters were not assuaged they demanded that the president ought not to be silent in all of these and should address the nation. The president took his time to make a speech which meant nothing to the situation on ground but urged for calm so that their demands can be addressed.
CALL FOR REFORMS: The reforms by the protesters are many:
Police reforms generally.
Increase in police salary.
Overhaul the police to improve professionalism.
Reduction of the salaries of legislators.
Make legislators work part time.
Reduction in fuel pump price.
Reduction in electricity tariff. Etc
The SARS was quickly disbanded as earlier mentioned and replaced with SWAT- Special Weapons and Tactics. We must say that the people are indifferent as to what this means. Meanwhile the image and morale of the police had been badly dented.
Several meetings are ongoing regarding these reforms and more. At a recent meeting held to mark the 50th anniversary of a Northern group, the cha irman of Nigeria’s Governor’s forum, Gov. Fayemi of Ekiti state called for far reaching constitutional amendment on devolution of powers to allow states carry out certain functions reserved for the federal government in the exclusive legislative list. Likewise, El-Rufai the Governor of Kaduna state called for true federalism in Nigeria.
The Nigerian populace have little or no faith in their leaders anymore muchmore as they say one thing and promptly forget it or do something totally different. However it is in the light of this clamour for reforms that we at Gell Foundation feel obliged to table a list of reforms in line with our core mandate to seek improvements in the judicial sector.
It is rather unfortunate that the judiciary had remained complacent in its conservatism even after the #endsars protests and the clamour for reforms in various sectors of the Nigerian society but this call for reforms has completely eluded the judiciary which appears aloof even in the face of the warning sign of the attack on the High Court building in Lagos, Asaba and other places.
Many sectors of the executive and the legislative arms of government are rigorously exploring areas needing reforms, even the governor’s forum and the traditional rulers have joined the clamour for reforms but nothing is heard from the judiciary.
The courts are in a parlous state of disrepair, cases have piled up in existing courts so much so that litigants and lawyers are tending towards hopelessness to approach the courts for redress. There is urgent need for reforms in many areas in the judiciary and we shall attempt to highlight some here and proffer solutions, call for collaboration with the judiciary and others in highlighting and following through on these reforms to achieve a better judiciary in Nigeria.
GELL Foundation hereby offers to be a willing partner in ensuring that the reforms being proposed are brought to the front burner and put in place.
We therefore enjoin our judicial officers and the various heads of courts not to see this as an indictment but a bid to re-awaken them to the arduous task of properly positioning the judiciary to rise up to the occasion as further delay is not in the interest of the generality of the Nigerian society whom they serve.
We as an organisation shall not relent in pointing out these areas of reforms to our friends and colleagues in the judiciary so as to put these reforms in place. The judiciary is an enviable arm of government, proud in its history and traditions which must maintain its unique role with courage, authority and candour in an environment desirable to so exercise that unique role.
Only recently, the Nigerian vice president and the international community have called for inserting arbitration clauses in contracts agreements to facilitate speedy determination of contracts and business cases. These are reform efforts from outside the judiciary whereas our judiciary is unperturbed even when they are overworked in poor work environment lacking in modern facilities to perform their duties.
GELL Foundation notes with dismay the failure of the various heads of courts to refuse to be short-changed by the other arms of government in carrying out their judicial functions in court houses that are not worth being so called.
With Delta state as a case in point, most if not all the courts are in a sorry state. From the Area customary courts, to the various magistrates’ courts, revenue courts and the high courts are not worth being called courts.
Furnishing the courts has more or less been left to organisations like the Nigerian Bar Association and other well meaning individuals including the youth corpers. One tends to wonder what the yearly budget of the judiciary is spent on. If one may ask, does the yearly budget ever include furnishing or building more courts or equipping them? Or how is the budget generated not to include these developments which annually elude the courts.
If the courts are in such a state of decay, one cannot expect better from the residential accommodation of judges, magistrates and other officers. Yet no one is talking about it except the lawyers in their monthly meeting under the item-state of our courts.
We hereby call for an aggressive renovation of courts across the country and Delta state in particular. We also call on concerned individuals, lawyers and litigants to send us pictures of courts in their area to enable us make a pictographic case before the chief judges of the states.
We are willing and prepared to collaborate with the heads of courts to identify these derelict courts needing urgent renovation and upgrade.
Courts furniture is another area of concern. Tables and chairs are poorly made with most being broken as soon as they are delivered and in most cases inadequate.
Besides furniture and structural development, office equipment is another area of concern. Most diligent judges use their personal computers to carry out their duties. There are no office computers and photocopiers in the process, typing pools and litigation departments. The libraries are bereft of books and law reports. Most courts still use imperial 80 typewriters in dilapidated shape to type records of appeals and other court documents.
In summary, we therefore call for the building of more court houses, furnishing and providing modern office equipment for use in our courts to meet the demands of the present times.
We at GELL Foundation hereby offer our services free to any state or federal judiciary to ensure that these reforms are carried out.
Before considering the appointments of judicial officers, it is necessary to point out that judiciary staff lack the needed orientation to perform their duties.
The staff of most states and federal judiciary operate in such a non-challant manner as obtains in the heavily bureaucratic civil service with no sense of time or business consciousness. The business of the courts is a serious business comparable to what obtains in the private sector. The judiciary staff therefore need a code of ethics on the job to perform their duty with despatch and utmost professionalism.
It is this lack of business sense and professionalism that propels or lures them to seeking gratification from lawyers and litigants in carrying out their job.
Also worthy of mention is their frequent gang up with other trade unions to embark on strike in solidarity with unions unconnected with the judiciary.
We suggest workshops and in service trainings during the usual annual vacation to re-orient them not to continue to think and act as mere civil servants.
The appointments of judicial officers have been noted at various foras as flawed requiring reforms.
Granted that in time past, persons are approached to take up judicial appointments, times have changed and the judiciary must change with the times.
Appointments have been hijacked by top politicians, traditional rulers and senior judicial officers who appoint their wives, children and friends to office. These appointees therefore do not see any reason to be dedicated to their jobs. They seek lucrative political matters to handle and feel infuriated to handle civil and criminal matters with the needed attention.
We must however commend those judges in our midst who still do their jobs with the dedication to duty which the job requires. Those of us in active legal practice know these judges and we say kudos to them.
Besides the flawed method of appointments which requires reforms, we also call for the appointment of intermediate judges to take the workload off the senior judges.
We call for the appointment of judges pro tempore and puisne judges who shall handle those pre-hearing applications up to pre-trial conferences. These judges having cleared the preliminary applications would then send the cases to the regular judges to handle the hearing proper.
We also solicit for the creation of state courts of appeal to reduce the burden on the courts of appeal presently.
At the moment, appeals from 2018, 2019 and 2020 cannot talk of getting a date for hearing until late 2021 and beyond. This is totally unfair and unacceptable. Many mischievous lawyers now find it easy to file appeals on flimsy grounds just to stall proceedings by setting appeal process in motion.
In proposing state courts of appeal, only matters which must go to the court of appeal and end there should be sent to the court of appeal while only constitutional matters and others of very fundamental nature can go to the Supreme Court.
We certainly need more judges to be appointed and more courts to be built while strengthening the Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism and giving it more effect.
In a nutshell, we commend these reforms to the heads of courts in Nigeria for their urgent attention and necessary action. We shall not stop to bring these reform proposals up for their consideration.