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New FCT Judges: To whom much is given…

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By Dr. Jumai Ahmadu

The attainment of justice represents one of the enduring promises of constitutional democracy. And the right to a fair trial is perhaps the most fundamental tenet of constitutional democracy and has been recognized as a universal human right.

This promise was again given when the ranks of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory was swelled by the recent appointment of 12 new judges by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola.

Among the 12 judges to be sworn Wednesday, July 10, 2024 includes the CJN’s daughter-in-law, Ariwoola Oluwakemi Victoria (Oyo State), Hauwa Lawal Gummi (Zamfara State), and Lesley Nkesi Belema Wike (Rivers State), thus fulfilling the recommendation of the National Judicial Council from a total of 86 judicial officers for appointment into federal and state courts across the country.

For the FCT, the other judges are Ademuyiwa Olakunle Oyeyipo (Kwara State), Bamodu Odunayo Olutomi (Lagos State), Iheabunike Anumaenwe Godwin (Imo State), Odo Celestine Obinna (Enugu State),Sarah Benjamin Inesu Avoh (Bayelsa State), Maryam Iye Yusuf (Kogi State), Buetnaan Mandy Bassi (Plateau State), Ibrahim Tanko Munirat (Bauchi State), and Abdulrahman Usman (Taraba State).

The task of establishing an efficient judiciary requires the appointment and retention of competent and upright judges who will be challenged and encouraged by the proper balance of discipline in order to remain faithful to the ideals of justice.

Critics have alleged that Nigeria’s Judiciary has been placing emphasis on nepotism or favouritism over competence, but from the calibre of the new appointees, a pathway to future judicial malfeasance and miscarriage of justice has been clearly avoided.

Merit is the watchword of Nigeria’s Judiciary, Therefore, the qualifications of the new appointees is certainly not anchored on who their parents are. They of course could have decided to focus on enjoying their parents wealth but they went through the process and passed.

Few upright judges who have the integrity to resist attempts of undue influence by the government and other private citizens are disabled from efficiently dispensing justice by prevailing environmental factors, including inadequate facilities, intimidation, and harassment.

It is clear, from the foregoing, that, in order to augur well for the polity, the time is ripe for a departure from the old way of doing things. In order to ensure a corruption-free, well-motivated, and justice-driven court system, a whole lot has to be done to reform the judiciary in its entirety.

Government must particularly act in a manner that suggests it is serious about independence of the judiciary. The judiciary, on its part, should continuously discharge its important tasks of fairly and impartially adjudicating disputes, protecting citizens’ rights and checking the excesses of both the executive and the legislature.
But the judiciary cannot fairly and efficiently dispense justice if Nigerians, especially the elites, continue the charade of masquerading as champions of liberty and defenders of judicial independence while they continue to undermine the ability of courts to effectively secure fair trial through undue interference, intimidation and manipulation.

Despite many safeguards, the path to justice is strewn with social, cultural and institutional problems that make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for citizens to realize the ideals of a fair trial.

In Nigeria, there exists a perceptible popular distrust of the judiciary’s integrity and its ability to protect civil rights and constrain the excesses of elected officials. For most Nigerians, the judicial process is nothing more than an auction in which justice goes to the highest bidder.

The major obstacles to the administration of justice have been identified to include inadequate funding for judicial institutions, poor and inadequate physical facilities, shortage of and obsolete equipment, shortage of and inadequate utilization of staff, inadequate or total lack of training, poor conditions of service, delay and congestion in courts; dishonest practices and corruption, culturally incompatible laws and procedures and lack of adequate information systems.

This was clearly captured when, in 2023 Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf, bemoaned the shortage of some infrastructural facilities in the nation’s capital Judiciary, especially courtrooms for Magistrates. He had observed that despite the fact that the FCT High Court has a total complement of 58 Judges, “the courts are being overstretched to its fullest elastic capacity in terms of caseload”. He said some Magistrates are sharing court rooms and prayed for the opening of new court rooms to ensure that each of them functions maximally, according to him, this situation has a way of impacting on justice delivery, as well as the wellbeing of judicial officers in the FCT.

The new judges should also examine the challenges associated with enforcement of judgments and court orders, point out the reasons behind the non enforceability of some judgments and court orders and the way out, and to analyse the procedures for the enforcement of judgments and orders, in the High Court of the FCT, Abuja and other challenges.

It is openly acknowledged that the judicial system is no longer a realistic forum for obtaining justice, especially for citizens who lack the resources and social connections to influence the outcome of judicial proceedings. But corruption thrives in Nigeria because the society sanctions it. This then prompts a demand and a clamour for new approaches to an adequate legal system and for the laws and the independence of the judiciary and a free press, which together can serve as a bulwark against the oppression of the people and government.

We thus pray that the new judges will continue to perform their primary duty of hearing cases in different parts of the territory, as demanded by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Our newly sworn FCT Judges should always be aware that their actions in the court will be under scrutiny, exemplify the best and most just virtues, and not succumb to the despicable belief that amassing wealth is more than anything else, including honour and integrity. They should ensure that they are not influenced by political leaders particularly at the state and local levels.

Dr Jumai is Ag Director Reform Coordination and Service Improvement Department, FCTA

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