Reforming The Nigerian Judicary For Better Performance
The judiciary is the bastion of constitutional democracy in Nigeria and the hope of the common man. It is generally invested with the responsibility of interpretation of laws and adjudication of the rights, duties, obligations and liabilities of citizens, individuals and governmental bodies.
In this regard, the judiciary plays a vital role in balancing governmental powers and functions as against the rights and liabilities of citizens and protection of the citizens from unsavory governmental actions and decisions.
However, to effectively perform these responsibilities, the judiciary must be reformed to get rid of the bottlenecks and obstacles which have slowed down the wheels of justice in the country almost to a gradual halt.
The obstacles and challenges facing the judiciary are multi-dimensional and numerous, some are institutional while others are inherent in the socio-political set up of the country. Yet others, such as bribery, corruption and low intellectual capability of judicial officers, are not peculiar to the judiciary but a reflection of a much wider problem affecting the very fabric of the nation and are empirical in nature.
Reforming the judiciary for better performance in the 21st Century therefore requires coordinated efforts targeting the root of the problems facing the judiciary and putting in place effective legal and institutional mechanisms to eradicate these obstacles and ensure that the judiciary is appropriately positioned to respond to the challenges of the 21st Century and its attendant consequences on a developing economy with a large and litigious population such as Nigeria.
The challenges and obstacles facing the judiciary relate mostly to the trial process, procedural inefficiencies, poor infrastructure, poor conditions of service for judicial and non–judicial officers, declining intellectual quality and reasoning content of delivered judgments, corruption and the effects of unrestrained quest for political power on the efficiency of the judiciary and its public image.
Also, questions over the independence of the judiciary from executive and legislative influences continue to impinge on the efficiency of the judiciary.
The imbroglio which engulfed the judiciary in 2011 arising from the feud between the immediate former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloy Katsina-Alu and the now suspended President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Isa Ayo Salami brought to the fore the rot and decadence in the Nigerian judiciary over the years, as allegations of bribery and attempts to influence outcome of judicial decisions by top judicial officers were thrown around in such a way that eroded public confidence in the judiciary.
It became clear that there was an urgent need to reform and sanitize the judiciary to restore public confidence in it and prevent it from further decay, as the decline of the judiciary in any nation is the precursor of the total collapse of such country into anarchy and lawlessness and eventual loss of statehood identity.
In an attempt to actualize the reform of the judiciary, the current Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher in November 2011 set up a 28-member Judicial Reform Committee (JRC) comprised of former Chief Justices of Nigeria, Past Presidents of the Court of Appeal and notable members of the bar with its main term of reference being the drawing up of recommendations for restructuring and re-engineering the judiciary for better performance in Nigeria.
An understanding of some of the major problems plaguing the judiciary in Nigeria will be useful in appreciating the need for a reform of the judiciary and suggestions for an effective reform will be discussed in the next article.