Abuja — President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday called for urgent and sweeping reforms in the nation’s justice sector so as to attract necessary investments for development.
Buhari, who described as terrible the slow pace of justice delivery in the country, said the reforms were necessary if the country must surmount current daunting economic and social challenges.
He said the judiciary and particularly, the legal profession plays a crucial role in establishment of law and order, as well as sustaining the nation’s democracy.
The president spoke at the first virtual Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
Buhari who was represented at the occasion by Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, however proposed a timeline of 12 months for determination of criminal cases in the country to address the very long duration judges take in concluding criminal matters.
He recalled the length of time the court took in resolving his petitions against the presidential elections in 2003, 2007 and 2011, noting that the ‘terribly slow pace’ of justice delivery is one of the problems of the country.
His case from the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to the Supreme Court in 2003 took over two years to be concluded while that of 2007, took nearly two years.
The president, who noted that the introduction of timelines for election cases brought about speedy resolution of the petition against his election in 2019, wondered why similar time limits should not be placed on criminal as well as civil cases in courts in the country.
“In 2019, I was no longer petitioner; I had now become a respondent in the case of Atiku and Buhari and the whole process took barely six months; just over six months. What was the difference? The law had changed since my own in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
“You had now introduced time limits for election petitions. Everything must be done within a six to eight-month period. My question then is why can’t we have a time limit for criminal cases? Why can’t we have a rule that will say a criminal trial all the way to the Supreme Court must not exceed 12 months? And why can’t we do the same for civil cases? Even if we say that civil cases must not go beyond between 12 and 15 months”, he asked.
The president stressed that speedy dispensation of justice, apart from restoring people’s confidence in the Judiciary would enhance the ease of doing business and position Nigeria as a favoured investment destination.
He also noted the role of technology in justice administration, stating that deployment of virtual platforms in response to the COVID19 pandemic has revealed various possibilities that technology can aid speedy dispensation of justice.
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As part of measures to retain public confidence in the judiciary, the president was of the opinion that judicial officers must depart from dishing out multiple and conflicting court orders, noting that in the recent leadership crisis of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) no fewer than eight conflicting court orders were issued by different judges within a period of six weeks.
He also harped on the need for judicial officers to take a look at the use of technicalities in deciding cases, noting that when cases are decided on technical grounds, it opens a door for all sorts of unsavoury speculations, and can detract from the authority of courts.
He said, “If justice is indeed to be seen to be done, then the outcome of cases must make sense to the average person, and not just to the refined minds of a learned person alone”.
Buhari also raised concern about the selection process of judges, suggesting that they are made to take some tests before appointment.