President Muhammadu Buhari has said that the Nigerian Judiciary is notorious for delaying cases brought before them.
Buhari stated this in his keynote address delivered on his behalf by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the opening of the ongoing All Nigeria Judges’ Conference being conducted by the National Judicial Institute Abuja.
According to the President, the judiciary as an institution dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, must go the extra mile to sanitize itself and improve its capacity to act independently, courageously and promptly.
The President noted that the reputation of the judiciary had been negatively affected due to delays in the administration of justice delivery.
“Further on point of negative perception, there is both local and international dissatisfaction with the long delays in the trial process. Delays in the trial process have damaged the international reputation of the Nigerian judiciary, even amongst its international peers.
“Unfortunately, our Justice system currently has a reputation for delays, usually occasioned by a combination of endless adjournments, incessant interlocutory applications and overwhelming caseloads.
“This situation is a huge disincentive for businesses. It is not surprising therefore that Nigeria ranks near the bottom on the ease of doing business index. We are currently ranked 143 out of 189 countries by the World Bank Group’s Enforcing Contracts Indicator.
“According to the World Bank, it takes about 510 days on average to enforce a contract at the level of a court of first instance in Nigeria. In Singapore, the top ranked country on the index, it takes 150 days on average to enforce a similar contract.
“The ability to enforce contractual obligations and resolve disputes is an essential consideration for intending investors, both local and foreign, in deciding where to put their money,” Buhari said.
Earlier, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Mahmud Mohammed, expressed dismay that the judiciary was underfunded.
“It is source of great concern that in a country where an arm of Government is appropriated with less than one percent of the National Budget, it is difficult to refer to our judiciary as being truly independent.
“The Constitution prescribes the institutional independence of the Judiciary under Section 6 of its provisions. Sections 121 (3) and 162 (9) further guarantee fiscal independence for the judiciary, a fact now acknowledged by the other arms of Government with recent resolutions by the Federal and some State Governments to pay the judiciary its outstanding and future budgetary allocations as and when due.
“However, under the circumstances, the States Judiciaries continue to encounter a further burden of facing difficulties in accessing these paltry funds from their Executives in order to function,” the CJN said.
He therefore urged the Executive and Legislature to remember that judicial independence was not only expedient but also necessary to the country’s existence.
The CJN continued: “It is this independence that gives credibility to the scales of justice and allows our citizens to be rest assured that justice is indeed not for sale. For this reason, I call on the heads of other Arms of Government, in the spirit of the cooperation between us, to support the judiciary’s existence and I can assure you that it will flourish and grow.
The President noted that the issue of delayed trials had become so high in cases involving the affluent.
“In the past few years, this has become especially so for high profile cases of corruption, especially where they involve serving or former political office holders.
As my Lords are undoubtedly aware, corruption transfers from public coffers to private pockets, resources required to deliver social and economic justice.
The President Buhari also called for the streamlining of the jurisdictions of the Supreme Court, arguing that the apex court should restrict itself to constitutional issues.
“Our Supreme Court remains one of the busiest in the Commonwealth if not the world. This is obviously due to the leeway given to almost every case filed in any level of the court system from any part of the country to rise on appeal to the Supreme Court.
“In my view, we need to streamline the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to focus on key constitutional issues, novel questions of law and current areas of its original jurisdiction.
“The grounds for granting leave to appeal to the Supreme Court should also be reviewed while we discourage the practice of appealing interlocutory matters to the Supreme Court while the substantive case stands suspended in the lower courts,” he said.
In her welcome address, administrator of the National Judicial Institute, Hon Justice Rosaline Bozimo (rtd), said the Biennial Conference has always been a stock- taking event when Judges from all over the country converge to reflect on their activities over a period of time, thereby providing an insight into what has been achieved.
Bozimo said it also provides a platform to strategise on how to meet the important and critical challenges in the dispensation of justice to all in our great Country.
“As judicial officers, we must discharge our duties following the law, equity and good conscience, regardless of which direction the political winds are blowing.
“The integrity and impartiality of our courts must not be converted or curtailed, for the use of any extraneous interest and for anyone to think or profess otherwise would be a non-sequitur,” Bozimo said.