Nigeria–Our Problems Series 1. The Judiciary

Justice in Nigeria can be a long expensive process. Its search can take years out of the victim’s life. I know the law is blind and does not show any favour to either party, but should it also be blind to its own flaws? Criminal and civil cases can take years to decide in a court room. Some alleged criminals spend more than the recommended sentence for their crime, in jail awaiting trial. For example, a man can spend two years in jail awaiting the conclusion of his trial, for an offence that has a year prison sentence. The post-election tribunals also take a lot of time to arrive at their decisions. Some of the court cases for the elections conducted in February are ongoing, yet the candidates have been sworn into office after three months. That’s definitely a failure on the part of the judiciary. It is not uncommon for land cases to extend beyond the life span of the aggrieved parties. The children of the parties to a suit usually inherit the law suit and replace their parents. This should be unacceptable.

The Cause

When the job of three people is done by one, you forego speed and efficiency. Let’s compare a Nigerian court with an American court. In America, justice is fast. Cases are concluded within a month. You have people who write down any word said in a case (it’s their job.) a camera also records cases. The judges only listen and make notes on the court proceedings. This gives him time to observe the body language of witnesses in court. The courtroom is also conducive for work. In Nigeria, the judge writes all the words said in court. There is no camera. The courtrooms usually looks like a glorified public primary school (no air conditioners, half of the ceiling fans are damaged and some of the chairs are wooden benches.). A judge sits by 9 am, writes notes on everything that is said for 3-4 hours (Note that this judge is probably above 40 years of age). Before the end of the day's proceedings, his efficiency and productivity will be greatly reduced (even young students in schools do not copy notes for 4 hours, without a break.)..... And we all know the fate of most afternoon cases. The judge is overburdened with unnecessary work. The time has come for the judiciary to move into the digital age or risk obsolete procedures. We are quick to adopt technology in our personal lives; phones with the best applications, fast cars, washing machines and microwaves, etc., yet our court operating system is akin to writing letters in the digital age of chat applications. Most banks are quick to adopt technological advances to improve their services. Why not our judiciary system?

The Effect

Who compensates the Nigerian people for the days, weeks or months when a candidate that was not validly elected rules them? What happens to the decisions this candidate takes during this time in power? At whose feet does the guilt lie? Edo state did not have gubernatorial elections in February 2019 because of long election tribunals. They will have to wait for two years after other states have had their elections.

The man who spends two years in jail and is later found not to be guilty of the crime he was accused of, has lost two years of his life and lived through years of emotional trauma. Who compensates him? Who takes the time and effort to explain to the public that although this man was imprisoned for two years, he is not a convict. His release would usher in another type of trauma, the discrimination against his prison experience (how many people in the public will think, ‘ if he was not a criminal before, then living with criminals for two years must have changed him.).

Who compensates the land owner, who has to watch another reap the fruit of his sweat and toil for years before he gets justice. Shouldn’t the judiciary be more efficient? Can a stitch in time save nine?

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