The signing of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory-Abuja (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2018-herein after referred to as the Rules of the Court-, came as a shock to many, especially, in respect to the prescribed fees, and considering the torturing economic challenges faced by many Nigerians. This paper is an attempt at reconciling the said Rules of the Court and the current economic challenges in Nigeria.
In the Rules of the Court, Order 65 provides for fees and allowances. Order 65 Rule 1(a) of the Rules of the Court provides that ‘The fees set-out in the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Schedules are payable by a person commencing the respective proceedings or desiring the respective service specified in those Schedules; …’. This is contained in Order 53 of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory- Abuja, (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2004-herein after referred to as Old Rules of the Court. Under the said First Schedule of the Rules of the Court, the services that was N250 under the Old Rules of the Court is now N2,500.00. The fees that was N3,000.00 under the Old Rules of Court is now N30,000.00. The fee that was N50 only under the Old Rules of the Court is now N500 only. The fees for claim of land and the fees for a claim possession of property other than as between landlord and tenant was N3000,00 only under the Old Rules of the Court respectively but are now N6,000.00 under the Rules of the Court. Under the Rules of the Court, fees that were N100 under the Old Rules of the Court are now N1,000.00 only and fees that were N150 under the Old Rules of the Court are now N1,500.00 only under the Rules of the Court, such as services relating to filing of matrimonial causes, etc. Also, filing of petition under the Legitimacy Cases was N250 only under the Old Rules of the Court but is now N2,500,00 only under the Rules of the Court. Fees under the Probate and Administration too have risen from N100 only to N1,000.00 and N5,000.00 and N10,000.00 depending on the circumstance of the services required. Under the Rules of the Court, applications for a writ of Habeas Corpus has risen from the N200 under the Old Rules of the Court to N2,000.00 only, among other fees prescribed under the Rules of the Court.
Furthermore, arising from the charges or fees under the Rules of the Court are some questions: what was the parameter that was used to measure the services vis-à-vis the fees by the Court?; were the fees actually fixed by Nigerians in the Court’s system?; are the services to be paid for different and improved in value to those to be rendered under the Old Rules of the Court to warrant a very high increase in the fees?; what result does the Court intend to generate at the end of the day by the rapid increase in the fees?; has the Court now been commercialized?; among other questions. One thing that is certain in the opinion of the writer of this paper is that the fees do not comply with the financial realities of many Nigerians.
It also pre-supposes that justice is now in the FCT, for the highest bidder and the rich, as opposed to the less-privileged. It also proves that the poor and the less-privileged are now free to take laws into their hands to determine the applicable and appropriate scale of justice to their adversaries and to render same without any regard to the court of justice as the last hope of the less-privileged and the masses. What is more, where a person or litigant could not afford a high fee in legal services, will he not resort to trial by ordeal or trial by juju?!, which might just cost him to derive immediate satisfaction at the defeat and or downfall of his adversaries or oppressors?!. These are some of the considerations that one would have expected that the Court would have put into action and not just an inconsiderate increase of the fees just for fixing same, with due respect! This situation is much more surprising in this Nigerian situation where the national minimum wage cannot even feed three-square meals per daily for a month! Salaries remain un-increased. It is always impossible and unrealistic to increase salaries due to some reasons but there is always no reason to consider why the court’s fees should not be increased, especially as it is highly unaffordable to majority of the Nigerian masses.
Many litigations, even, in civil litigation, are rendered pro bono to indigent litigants by lawyers. Would this high increase in the prescribed fees not discourage such legal services?! Or is there any exception to those cases of indigent litigant, because fingers are not equal, especially, financially?! Then, the worry gets increased when considering the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria-1999 (as amended)-herein after referred to as the Constitution- in section 14(2)(b) which provides and assures that ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government;’! Then, the question is: where is the ‘welfare’, that the Constitution has promised Nigerians?! Also, section 13 of the Constitution has stated the principle that is mandatory for all government’s organs to observed thus ‘It shall be the duty and responsibility of all organs of government, and of all authorities and persons, exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers, to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of this Chapter of this Constitution’. The writer of this paper finds it more irreconcilable where the Rules of the Court just highly increased the prescribed fees under the Rules of the Court, despite the current Nigerian economical challenges.
Furthermore, a close and deep scrutiny or assessment of the Rules of the Court regarding the increased fee would raise a query as to whether the Honourable, the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court really discovered the high increase in the fees before signing same into effect?! It is really unbelievable that the Honourable, the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court would sign such Rules of Court into force! And perhaps, those who drafted the Rules of the Court might not have been Nigerians or those who stayed or have been domiciled in Nigeria! So, they might just only be concerned with the money rather than the effect of such laws on the communities, societies and the socio-economic effect thereof!
Finally therefore, the writer of this paper humbly calls on the Honourable, the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court to hear and listen to the complaints of the less-privileged, as well as those complaints pointed out in this paper and reconsider the need for a review of the chargeable prescribed fees in no time, for a more conducive, proactive and affordable legal services. The writer of this paper therefore most humbly calls on the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court to hear and listen to the complaints of the less-privileged, as well as those complaints pointed out in this paper and reconsider need for a review of the chargeable prescribed fees in no time, for a more conducive, proactive and affordable legal fees, most importantly, ‘Court’, they say, is the last hope of the masses and the oppressed!