What is your take of the Supreme Court’s judgment penultimate Friday which upheld the right of a female child to inherit her parents’ property in South- Eastern Nigeria? This is not the first decision of the Su­preme Court on the point. The problem is the indoctrinated practice; something that has become part of the cultural expecta­tion of the people. That was why when the colonial masters came; they declared customary laws to be good to the extent that it is not repugnant to equity and good conscience. And certainly in law, a culture that forces a woman to marry the brother of her deceased husband is a custom that is repugnant to equity and good conscience, and the other one which said female chil­dren cannot own property and so on. The late Justice Niki Tobi (JSC) even gave a major decision on ownership of property by women in Igbo land, so that is not a problem. The problem is how to enforce some of these decisions; that is the key challenge. I think what is needed is first a lot of advocacy, a lot of support by relevant governments, local governments. And don’t forget that you would run into the problem of dealing with traditional rulers who are supposed to be the custodians of the custom. So, what this case does is to show the schism between inherited-re­ceived English law and our customary law. It is a problem across the field. If you are to apply the law of bigamy which is in the statutes book that criminalises marrying more than a wife, ninety per cent of Nige­rians will be in jail because I know some very big people in government who have two, three or four wives. The Christian law says that marriage is the voluntary union of one man and one woman and to the ex­clusion of all others, and that if you bring in the second one then that is bigamy. But who is there to enforce it? Islamic law is different because it allows for four wives. So, I think what you are raising strikes at the kernel of the schism between west­ern civilization and cultural civilization. In reality the people who will enforce it are the very custodians of the law you seek to overturn. It took a very long time to overthrow the issue of throwing twins into the forest because the missionaries sup­ported it and fought against that practice. I am sure you remember that twins were viewed as evil and thrown away. Even in Cross River and Akwa Ibom, there was this issue of child lynching because they were believed to be witches and wizards. In my own experience, I find that if you look at a man in a suit and you just scratch a bit, you will find that he is not a man in a suit; he is a highly cultural person. That is the problem; how can we enforce some of these repugnant practices that we call cultural. A lot of people would say to you, ‘you can’t erode my culture by a decision of the Supreme Court.’ While I commend the Supreme Court, my problem is en­forcement. On July 1, 2016, the apex court deliv­ered 28 judgments. That brings to the fore the issue of how overburden Justices of the Supreme Court who are often bogged down by ill-health in retirement like the late Justice Niki Tobi. What is your per­spective? It is simple but nobody wants to change. When I was a member of the National Judicial Council (NJC) I raised all these issues. They are structural and admin­istrative problems. The first structural problem is that I’m not sure that we have our court judicial hierarchy properly de­fined. Why should a case from the High Court on land go to the Supreme Court? We need to decentralize the judicial pow­ers and give more to the states. This is the same argument for restructuring Nigeria. And actually the National Assembly is just now considering the fourth alteration to the constitution which concentrates on the judiciary. If it works, it will split up the way the courts work into federal courts and state courts. Federal courts will be those courts that are absolutely federal in nature. State courts will actually be those courts originating from the states and there is a strong recommendation for regional Court of Appeal and Supreme Courts so that matters relating to land tenure of Benin for instance, should end in the regional court of the South-South. In that way, you declare an intermediary Supreme Court or Court of Appeal as the case may be. And then the present Court of Appeal should now become a federal Court of Appeal not a national Court of Appeal so that the matters that are being handled are clearly originating from the zone. That will make things go quite more quickly. The second point is what I call the speed of justice; the courts are operating on a very archaic business model; some of these rules of court and protocol and directions are about 150 years old. For in­stance, all judges write by hand, in fact, it is ridiculous. It is easy for judges to simply listen and their cases will go faster because they have electronic recorders, transcripts, the process by which the courts can be strengthened. But there is no judge in Nigeria who is sufficiently supported by adequate staff, yet you have lawyers roam­ing the streets without jobs. In America, you find that in the first, two or three years of your life, you will be the most grateful person if you are appointed by a judge to work for him In America, judges don’t write judgments; they just talk to it and their clerks now write out and bring it back for vetting, if it is good, it is good. In that way, the judges can do a lot more. If you had watched the appeal of Oscar Pistorius; the South African paralympian filed against his conviction for the murder of his girlfriend and the court practically decided the case there without tedious writing or rulings. So, the speed of justice is something that I think our judiciary must embrace. It is a culture; it’s a mind­set, the basic judicial mindset is to write and write. And that leads to the other is­sue of the workload and health of judicial officers and the funding. And that was the point I took up with the NJC when I was a member and I said I didn’t see why the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) at that time was getting N90 billion (just one office) and the judiciary entirely was getting N65 billion; it didn’t make sense to me. But the members of the NJC didn’t take it serious which led me to go to court to file a case for the proper funding of the judiciary which I won. Still, the NJC has not picked on it. So, in a way, the NJC is shooting itself on the foot. At the time Justice Ademola was the Chief Justice, he said judges do not go begging for money but then I said no, it is your constitutional entitlement. The constitution entitles you to lay your budget directly to the National Assembly and that was exactly what Jus­tice A.R Mohammed of the Federal High Court held. But they haven’t done it; they still go back to the budget office of the Ministry of Finance cap-in-hand begging for money. Up till now the judgment has not been enforced. The time has come (as far as I am concerned) when the judges will say we will stop work; we can’t work anymore, we have had enough of this non­sense. If the government of the day will not obey the constitution, then we will not work. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) ought to play a strong role here. You see, funding is an issue, the judicial culture is an issue, the constitution and the way it designed the courts are all is­sues. So, all of this and more factors make it possible for a judgment of the Supreme Court to take 15 years to deliver. So, the speed of justice is very poor, confidence in the judiciary is very low unless we get our acts together. Source:authorityngr]]>

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