Even though the duty of government to provide for the needs of its citizens is not binding constitutionally especially in Nigeria as sections 17(3)(a)(b)(c) of the constitution which provide that; “The state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that- all citizens, without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment; conditions of work are just and humane, and that there are adequate facilities for leisure and for social, religious and cultural life; the health, safety and welfare of all persons in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused…” & the provision of section 20 are only directive principles to guide the limbs of government in the task of governance, it is an established understanding that the end of governance is to cater for the needs of those who aided its constitution.
It is on that basis no untruth that this duty of governance transcends beyond the provision of peace and security. It also embodies the provision of food, clothing, drinkable water, housing, electricity etc or the creation of an enabling atmosphere for its citizens to actualize the procurement of the said amenities.
Over time, the institutional failings of governments; be it monarchical, democratic, dictatorial or whatever mode of leadership a particular state finds tastier, in finding lasting cures to the ills that befuddle its teeming population have led to wrong repercussions varying only in scope and effect.
The French revolution of the 18th century, the Rising of Peoples in the 19th century and other uprising in different parts of the world are scars emblazoned on the hind of history actuated by the dereliction of leadership in settling most of the qualms plaguing its rabble.
Even in recent times, the short coming of our government in fulfilling its end of the bargain in garnishing the lives of its citizens with the basic comforts of life and ensuring that its institutions that cater for the needs of its citizens are in copacetic condition, have brought a myriad of damnable consequences that stand as the cause of most of the ills we face presently. But in all its flaws, none have spiked up the scale of failure and negligence like the wuthering derelict state of our judiciary.
The judiciary as we very well know is the system of courts that interpret the law in the name of the state. It also refers to the judges, presidents, magistrates and other adjudicators who do the interpretation of the law, not excluding other personnel who work together to ensure the smooth working and running of the system.
Since the advent of the law, the courts have been a working metonymy of justice sought by the bling and block of society. It is not just any system. It is one that pilots the vessel of justice in any legal state as we are one. A society that fails to fully comprehend this painting as we sure have will most certainly have a legal system producing judgements with broken limbs and crooked ends. Thus, it will be pushing common knowledge to state that ours is one so uncared for and left in the blazes.
I am neither a fan of aimless sobs about the failings of contemporary Nigeria nor am I a disciple of painting obvious pictures but a recent visit to some of the houses of justice in the country, have brought sobs; nerve racking ones to my mental eyes.
It is a thing of shame that most of our courts look like farmhouses with weather ravaged paint peeling off the buildings and casting forlorn hues here and there. Most of these structures were constructed in the 70s’ and have since been left in the capricious arms of fate and the elements with termite toyed-with doors, large mud holes here and there and grasses taking over most of the structures. The interior of these structures are not left out of the general state of disrepair with benches for the audience and barely working ceiling fans. With the way it looks, the lower the court, the worse it is. A perfect example of this is a customary court in Warri, Delta State, where people who come to the court for different reasons have to walk through a large pool of water or spring up a stew of acrobatics to cross on tiny platforms of widely spaced stones.
This is not an issue of one particular jurisdiction but is seriously widespread throughout the country. Despite the problems this overly essential arm of our government faces, the allocation proposed for it in the yearly budgets keep declining. How in heaven or in hell is this arm supposed to heal its ailing members with the meagre means made available to it?
It is on record that the National Judicial Council proposed N143bn for the stellar running of the judiciary in 2016 but the Ministry of Finance, contumaciously reduced it N70bn which is 3 billion naira lower than the 2015 budget and 25bn lower than the 2010 budget. This amount is dangerously paltry as it is less than 2 percent of the entire budget proposed for this year. Yet, means is injected into other not-so-important aspects of governance to the chagrin of the bench.
According to Justice Mahmud, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, “The current budgetary challenges permeating the nation, no doubt, affects the judiciary more than any other arm of government and remains a perennial challenge to judicial independence and the effective performance of our constitutional roles”.
It is painful that while the legislators do their jobs in comfort and affluence with swollen salaries and needless allowances, the ones whose functions are pivotal to the smooth running of not just government but our immediate daily lives, are given earnings which are most times, not paid timeously and a dire working environment.
When pained curiosity made me strike up a discussion on the issue with an established lawyer, he responded thus; “The problem does not just lie in the places you have seen, it’s a deep problem buried within the core of the judicial system but not to worry, the end is not in the structure of the courts but in the type of justice it dispenses”. But really??? How sure are we that the state of the court itself does not affect the type of justice a judge of that court dispenses? How will a judge who spends part of his official hours in a little, sparsely furnished office suffering from poor ventilation and the rest in a court room without acceptably working fans and benches for the audience properly dispense judgements packed to the full with the pillars of justice both nether and twin?
The answers to these questions are not golden fleeces we have to send Jason to find. They are right there before our very eyes; in the faulty judgements that spring up every day at both the peak and base of our courts and even the different rumours and allegations of bribery or ‘hand-softeners’ – if I should rub it home with waxed hands – that pervades the entire system. These are men and women who sit everyday with the power to pronounce life and death on persons and cases that come before them. How are they to do this duty diligently without vacillation when in most cases they sit when their emoluments have not been paid?
It is because of situations such as these that section 81(3) of the 1999 constitution as amended provided that the payment of the salaries of judicial officers come from the consolidated fund to make payments swift, timeous and out of the controlling arms of the other arms of government. In the light of things, it strongly shows we do not as a state, understand the amount of power this arm wields hence its treatment without zest.
Dear government, corruption in the real sense of the word does not spring from nowhere like clouds, or reside only in the apex of governance; the different offices and parastatals of government are a training ground for the white collar thefts in the corridors of power.
Corruption has causes; triggers. Some might quickly interject the natural cause – avarice but we know better. Aside avarice which is one stream that runs through the crevices of our nature, corruption also stems from the multifarious shades of neglect by those who are supposed to take care of our needs.
With no intention to justify the act, it is easily deducible that with salaries unpaid for months and the stipends of our age worn pensioners denied them for donkey years, the basic avenue open to public servants is to hug the blankets of rapacity and make the ‘best’ of the offices they are given. Why won’t they? How do we expect them to remain impartial, are they robots? Judges, magistrates and the whole caboodle of the judiciary are lawyers before they enter into the seats of adjudication, according to section 292(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which gifts that; “Any person who has held office as a judicial officer shall not on ceasing to be a judicial officer for any reason whatsoever thereafter appear or act as a legal practitioner before any court of law or tribunal in Nigeria”, an adjudicator is not allowed to resume legal practice after holding judicial office.
So the question is this, with the unstable remuneration and highly unfavourable conditions of service how are these men and women of the bench supposed to fare at retirement after years of service to the nation, especially considering the epileptic payment of their pensions? The answer is simple, badly of course.
The dire state of our courts is one issue, insecurity is another. It would strain no nerve cell to regurgitate the happening in Ekiti state where thugs stormed a court in the state, beat up the judge there and burnt his wig and gown. Things like this make us lose hope in the government and in our future as a country.
Our courts are supposed to be protected from the vagaries of hoodlums and criminals in the society. When judges serve judgements, they step on toes and annoy people, most of whom are the crème de la crème of society. So what happens when these persons strike back with criminal force at the bastions of justice? In the current state of things, our courts are left without protection. Our adjudicators are left basically with little or no police presence while the average legislator has a host of security men following him with sirens singing our wheels off the road.
With the current state of things, it is virtually possible as has been shown time and time again for hoodlums to stroll in, perpetuate horror and stroll out uncaught. This is bizarre and crazy especially as different types of evidence are normally sealed and kept in the court premises. Allowing our judges to work in this state of extreme insecurity is a constructive kamikaze. A dire error!
If we are to exist meaningfully and excel as a nation, a lot of work needs to be done and in being done, with utmost alacrity. Amongst these, a suitable increment in the yearly allocation to the judiciary is ten steps in the northern direction in reinvigorating the ailing infrastructures.
In payments from the consolidated fund, superior preference must be given to the Judiciary to effect early payment of salaries and pensions to curb cases of judges being bound not by precedents but by lucre given by the dark of the society to subvert justice.
The protection of our judges and courts needs proper review. While we have commissioners of state governments with two or more mobile police officers following them around both on and off duty, you find judges, even chief judges of states with one or no security personnel to guard them. These are tools of justice with more need of protection but they have zilch.
In the light of this, it will be playing an obvious card to advocate that police presence needs to be beefed-up in our courts and around our judges.
With our level of exposure to hardship, we will joyfully sit on century hardened benches with necks craned to hear what would become of our loved ones and our suits before the Temples of Justicia if other things are put in place but as things are, the rabblement and indeed the rest of the country need not hold their rights with firm hands and faith immediately they set eyes and feet on our courts as its environment stands as the perfect quintessence of the ‘justice’ they will sure get within.
Caleb Nmeribe writes from Delta State.