By Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.
Litigation processes in Nigerian courts is becoming (if not has become) a scourge on justice-seeking litigants. This has been the course of affairs up till the present moment. This paper wonders whether there is no one in the judiciary that is in charge of making decisions that could correct all these anomalies to care about the agonies and sorrows of the justice-seeking litigants and their counsel who have approached the court of law as the last hope of the common man for remedies?!
The word ‘scourge’ is defined by the online Merriam Webster Dictionary to mean 1: WHIP, especially: one used to inflict pain or punishment; 2.: an instrument of punishment or criticism; 3. A cause of wide or great affliction’. Therefore, the situation which the Nigerian judiciary and of course all heads of courts must exert their efforts to ameliorate the delay justice which causes on the crying, helpless and eager justice-seeking litigants loss of hope in the judiciary or our courts. So that the word ‘justice delayed’ would not manifest any more on them as ‘justice denied’!
One of such scourge is the long assignment of cases to a presiding court/judge by the administrative head of courts. Some cases take not less than at least four (4) months to be assigned to a judge for one reason or the other. This is a punishment on the Plaintiff in the suit and needs to be improved upon.
Also, the long endorsement of a suit as undefended list is another scourge in the litigation process! Some of those in the court’s justice system do not seem in my humble view, to care about the feelings of litigants where their cases do not enjoy quick justice delivery. Some of the judges too, with due respect to them, are not doing enough in ensuring that cases assigned to them do not suffer unnecessary delay. The issue of laziness among some judges/judicial officers as discouraged by the Chief Justice of Nigeria continuously has been a bane in the judiciary/among some judges. If care is not taken, even those courts of inferior records such as the: magistrates and other lower courts would not be different from these judges who display some acts of laziness to official duties.
Also, the long delay in fixing of hearing dates in fresh matters is another scourge. This too must be improved upon.
Furthermore, the long adjournment in our courts is another scourge. Adjournment by some High Courts now is not less than four (4) or six (6) months in which case, it is still not certain whether the court would sit on that day which would call for another almost same long if not more than the earlier long adjournment. If care is not taken, the lower courts such as the: magistrates and other lower courts are likely to join in this act. It is humbly suggested here that fundamental rights enforcement proceedings should be concluded at first instance, within a maximum period of 2 months, while an appeal in such cases shall be concluded and decided within the maximum periods of 1 month based on the brief of argument of parties and at the Supreme Court, within 2 weeks. In total, the trial and appeal, excluding the time for filing and reply as discussed above, it will all be concluded up to the Supreme Court of Nigeria within the maximum periods of 3 months and 2 weeks. Also, it is submitted that vacation and or holidays should not be a hindrance to the hearing of human rights proceedings. Furthermore, execution of the decision and or judgment in fundamental rights cases is submitted to be effected without any hindrance or delay so that the victim of violation of fundamental rights can enjoy the fruits of the judgment held in his favour duly and timely! I must however commend the administration of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria, especially, the Abuja Judicial Division (which is known to me) for the technological of sending hearing notice via SMS and email of counsel on record. Nevertheless, there are some errors in the hearing notice sometimes that I have observed personally where a matter is adjourned for hearing of substantive appeal but the hearing notice states it as for motion, sometimes the appeal number is wrongly quoted, and among other errors. I thereby humbly call on the authorities of the Court of Appeal to effectively supervise the persons assigned the task of communicating such notices to avoid any further error.
Furthermore, the act of not communicating adjournment notice to litigants and or their counsel on record is another scourge. Sometimes, either the litigant and or his witness(s) and or the counsel representing the litigant might have to travel a long distance (outside the jurisdiction of the court or even within the jurisdiction) thereby disrupting businesses and their time. What stops the court from notifying them of non-sitting of courts?!
Also, there is the slow but corrupt administrative procedures in some of our courts which are perpetrated by some of the administrative officials of those courts in e.g.: retrieval of files in archives; correspondences, etc.
Furthermore, sometimes, the presiding judge or the registrar (where applicable) refuse to approve applications for certified true copies of records in the case file either for the applicant to compile and transmit records for appeal to a higher court or for one reason or the other.
Furthermore, there is still delay in the civil and criminal litigations which the heads of courts must do their best to improve upon. More so, both the litigants and their lawyers are victims of this delay. Lawyers sometimes have their legal fee contingent upon the success of the case and where the case is delayed, the success of the lawyer too is postponed indefinitely as a result of the delay, thereby making it difficult for lawyers to place any bright future in a case of an indigent victim to assist contingent upon the success of the delayed case. This has the disadvantage of compelling the aggrieved victim to seek self-help without thinking of the damning consequences. Therefore, all heads of courts must supervise their respective judges and or lower courts’ presiding judges for a quicker dispense of justice and not a justice done according to the disposal of the presiding officer but according to official routine schedules. Also, all the administrative officials (in fact the judges inclusive) must be supervised against corrupt and sharp practices.
Finally, it is my humble submission that the judiciary needs to do more in ameliorating these scourges identified in this paper and many others not mentioned so that justice would be seen to have been done to the case of a justice-seeking litigant.