The topic “ Administration of justice in Nigerian courts, problems and prospects” seems to attract to itself the attention and inquisitiveness on the part of the common man or every believer in the Rule of law of what the writer is talking about or what he is going to upon since the mere mention of justice in our society today raises a conjecture and thereafter suffers from universally acceptable definition.
An attempt is made in this essay to scrutinize what hampers the judicial powers vested in the courts under section 6(6)(b) of 1999 constitution which it is said shall extend to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any person in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person.
Also considered in the essay are the ‘defects’ in and/ or ‘injustices’ written into the substantive law. For instance the ouster of court’s jurisdiction, the down payment or deposit of a substantial amount of money paid into a court before a challenge to chieftaincy dispute is entertained, discrimination on the grounds of protection to the public officers of the state and the adoption of foreign culture and archaic statutes that were largely meant to nurture a colonial society among others are written into or found in the basic law of the state , then it is not possible to talk of justice under such a system. Sometimes a system fails because of procedural defects and inadequacies. When there exists structural injustice in the location of courts (for instance a poor litigant resides share, Kwara state and the Supreme courts is located in Abuja) and there is imbalance in the distribution of wealth in the society, there, the law is easily seen as instrument of oppression and a protection of the status quo.
The above issues and some other interesting topics like the role or the part played by some agencies like the police, the Bar and the prison in the prosecution of cases will be considered in this essay and provide an avenue for the assessment of their performance in the administration of justice.
The independence of the judiciary is not left untouched as it is a necessary adjunct to the proper administration of justice.
The essay finally attempts to offer some useful suggestions and recommendations to arrest the ills plaguing our society today, as some stemmed from both internal and global structural ‘injustices’. However the essay is not claiming to be exhaustive.
As an introduction it is worthy of note that this project centers upon the “Administration of Justice in Nigerian Courts, Problems and Prospects”. The Nigerian political history dated back to the pre-colonial era. The various ethnic groups had one form or system of political and judicial set up that were distinct and peculiar to each ethnic group.
This essay gives us the background of Nigeria judicial system before independent. In the Northern part of Nigeria there was well established monarchical form of government, and its judicial system was based on the shariah which was strongly influenced by Islam. The Yoruba of the south west of Nigeria equally had a monarchical form of government [based on the cultural set up of the society] and the judicial system was based on the royal court of the “Obas”. The South East had a lose form of government based on community headship of splinter groups without a central power as it was the case in the north and south west of the country,
While the judicial system was the same “Communal market system of adjudication”.
The prominent judicial system in the North was the “Alkali courts” presided over by the Emirs or the Alkalis [judges] who were very versatile in shariah law. The South west had courts similar with those in the North which were based on the traditions, customs and practices of the area, these were called “kotu oba or kotu Asipa” depending on who was the presiding judge.
This project also points out that the judiciary continued to build up its standard from this period up to when the country attained its independence in 1960.
One can conveniently insinuate that the success of the judiciary today had been laid long time ago by founding fathers. Also this essay shed more light on what prevalent in Nigeria is the fact that which ever way a court judgment sway, it is always construed by parties on both sides as either the victory for the rule of law[in a win case] and perversion of justice[on the losing side] but all these is human frailties. This is no way an indictment of the judges or the process of adjudication. Thus this is an eye opener to the issues of administration of justice in Nigerian courts.
Also this project examines definitions that are more encompassing but that do not make it to be generally acceptable to all. But few of them are considered below.
The Black’s Law Dictionary1 defines the word “Administration” thus:-
“Management or performance of the executive duties of a government, institution, or business. In public law, the practical management and direction of the executive department and its agencies. A judicial action in which a court undertakes the management and distribution of property….”
The living Webster encyclopedic dictionary of the English language defines the same word “Administration” as:-
“The act of administering; direction, management; government of public affairs; the executive functions of the government; the persons, collectively, who are entrusted with such functions, and their period of being in office….”
Administration is like a diamond having many facets. The facet would concentrate upon or concern ourselves with in this essay is that one that relates to justice. What then is justice? This is an arduous task, as there is no universally acceptable definition of the term or word “justice”. It varies from person to person, from author to author, from country to country e. t. c.
According to Black’s law dictionary, justice means: “to do justice, to see justice done, to summon one to do justice”.
While the living Webster encyclopedic dictionary defines it as:-
“Equitableness, unprejudiced adjudication of conflicting interests on the on the basis of legal or moral principles lawfulness; what is rightly due; government judiciary department….”
It is submitted that the former seems not to have given a satisfactory definition of what justice is. While the latter seems to have given the attributes of justice in relation to its dispensation by the judicial arm of government which is charged with the responsibility of adjudication over conflicting interests between persons, or between government and any person and resolving same based on legal and moral principles.
Also, Daniel Webster made an interesting incursion at defining justice when he said that it is:
“The ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together”
The above attempt attracts to itself some fundamental questions that need be resolved in the favor of the definition before it could stand the test of time. Is the ligament that of the weak or the strong? Is Nigeria a civilized nation with civilized beings? Can militarism come under a civilized nation or restricted to democratic set-up? Is it the imposition of the foreign laws on her that colonized her? Is her membership of international organization qualifying Nigeria to be a civilized nation? What if there is non-compliance with the charter to be injustice in Nigeria has subscribed to? Does that make anything done in breach of the provision of the charter to be injustice in Nigeria or to that organization? The next question is : can the interest of the society be taken into consideration when we talk of the society be taken into consideration when we talk of justice or that of individual alone? This reminds one of the concept of justice as given by an eminent jurist, Oputa J. S. C. (As he then was)in GODWIN JOSIAH V. THE STATE that :-
“Justice is not a one- way traffic. It is not justice for the appellant only. Justice is not even, only a two-way traffic. It is justice for the appellant accused of a heinous crime of murder; it is justice for the victim, the murdered man, i.e. the deceased ‘whose blood is crying to high heavens for vengeance’; and finally it is justice for the society at large- the society whose social norms and values had been desecrated and broken by the criminal act complained of…. That justice which seeks only to protect the appellant will not be even-handed justice…. But justice sacrificed at the shrine of guilt”.
1.1.0: BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
Nigeria is a very large country with very high percentage of citizens many of whom goes to court to ventilate their grievances at the slightest provocation, excuse or justification. But most of them are faced with ouster clause[s], where the jurisdiction of the court is not ousted, there might be difficulty of meeting the phenomenal cost of litigation, payment of court fees, summons fees, the payment for records of proceedings including cases going on appeal, the payment of lawyers fees and disobedience to court orders, all these pit falls identified call for changes which form the inspiration for writing this project.
1.2.0: OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
- To examine the duty which every judge or lawyer owes to the society at large in putting across proposals to change the law where appropriate in order to bring it in line with justice.
- To identify that a very great proportion of what goes on in the Nigerian law courts is the administration of justice between one citizen and another and between a citizen and the state and to these ends, to continue to maintain a delicate balance between the competing interests so that the end of justice can be properly served.
- To identify the power of the judge to punish for contempt is not only for the protection of the court of justice but also for preservation of justice and administration.
- To observe that the judge should not use his contempt powers to suppress methods of advocacy and should therefore exercise great restraints in punishing lawyers for contempt of court. After all, judges and lawyers are partners in the administration of justice.
- To observe at every available opportunity that justice delayed is justice denied.
- To determine always that a really independent judiciary depends on the intellectual calibre and the qualities of character of the bar from which the judges are drawn or appointed.
- To identify that all the citizens of Nigeria –whether they are young or old , rich or poor, literate or illiterate, high or low, muslim or Christian, pagan or agnostic, are all equal before the law.
1.3.0: FOCUS OF THE STUDY
This project is set to examine the problems in the administration of justice in Nigeria at large. It focuses on the problems and prospects of our judicial system. An overview is also given on how jurist and judges and foreign jurist have helped to influence or resolve the issue or problems in Nigeria.
1.4.0: SCOPE OF THE STUDY
This project covers a range of subject peculiar to the administration of justice in Nigeria. It covers the historical evolution of judicial system before the colonial intervention. It also covers the procedural problems in the administration of justice, Institutional problems in the administration of justice, Independence of the judiciary in all the courts in Nigeria generally. These are the aspects to be covered in this project.
The research method employed for writing this project covers useful materials from both primary and secondary sources of law. The primary sources to be used are Acts of legislation, constitution of the federal Republic Of Nigeria 1999, criminal procedure code, penal code, criminal code, other primary sources are judicially decided cases and those cases from the Ombudsman as seen in some foreign countries. Secondary sources of law there are to be used include text books both from Nigerian legal system and administrative law, as well as published works on administration of justice. Other secondary sources are well researched from the internet, journals periodicals and news papers all of which are expected to add value to the quality of the work.
1.6.0: LITERATURE REVIEW
Quite a number of authors both in the legal profession and public service have written extensively on the issue of justice, problems and prospects .some remarkable articles and publications of some of these authors will be reviewed below. The Blacks Law Dictionary (7th Edition) p44. Defines the word “Administration”. “management or performance of the executive duties of a government, institution, or business. In public law, the practical management and direction of the executive department and its agencies. A judicial action in which a court undertakes the management and distribution of property.
OPUTA J.S.C in Godwin Josiah V The state (1985) 1 N.W.L.R. 125 at p141.said justice is not a one way traffic. It is not justice for the appellant only. Justice is not even, only a two-way traffic. It is justice for the appellant accused of a heinous crime of murder; it is justice for the victim , the murdered man , i.e the deceased whose blood is crying for vengeance ; and finally it is justice for the society at large – the society whose social norms and values had been desecrated and broken by the criminal act complained of … That justice which seeks only to protect the appellant will not be even-handed justice… But justice sacrificed at the shrine of guilt.
LORD DENNING .A The Road To Justice (1955) p.4 Wrote on justice and He said justice is not something you can see. It is not the product of his intellect but of his spirit. The nearest we can get to defining justice is to say that it is what the right-minded members of the community- those who have the right spirit within them – believe to be fair.
AGUDA In his book The Crisis Of Justice (1986) p.6 That a good Judge should try whenever possible to make justice prevail over law, not the other way round for law and justice do not always coincide.
1.7.0: DEFINITION OF TERMS
- ACQUITTED: This refers to the judicially discharged from an accusation
- ADJUDICATE: This can be defined to officially decide who is right in a disagreement and decide what should be done.
- ADMINISTRATION: This can be defined as the act of administering something, especially a law, test or justice.
- GRIEVANCE: This is refers to a belief that you have treated unfairly, or an unfair situation or event that affects and upsets you.
- GRIEVOUS: This can be defined as a very serious and causing great pain or suffering.
- INCONTESTABLE: This refers to the clearly true and impossible to disagree with.
- INCURSION: This is refers to a sudden attack into an area that belongs to other people.
- INDICTMENT: This can be defined as an official written statement charging someone with a criminal offence.
- INJUSTICE: This can be defined as a situation in which people are treated very unfairly and not given their rights.
- JURISDICTION: This can be defined as the power of a court to decide a case or issue can be exercised.
- OUSTER: The wrongful dispossession or exclusion of someone from property or the removal of a public or corporate officer from office.
- OUT LAW: This is refers to a person who has been deprived of the benefit and protection of the law; a person under a sentence of outlawry.
- PRECEDENTS: This can be defined as a decided case that furnishes a basis for determining later cases involving similar facts or issues.
- TRIBUNAL: This is a type of court that is given official authority to deal with a particular situation or problem.
On a conclusive note this chapter has given a good introduction to what this essay is all about, In Nigeria of today, there are some legal issues which call for a serious examination in the interest of justice in the country, ranging from powers of courts, Ouster of court jurisdiction, Delays in Receiving Reports from Government experts, Sources of judicial powers, Appointment of judges, Tenure of office, Remuneration. A general overview of definitions and various views of authors have been made to be part of this chapter.