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Nigeria’s justice administration at 62: Lawyers express divergent views

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As Nigeria attains 62 years of independence, concerned lawyers have expressed divergent views about the country’s development in justice administration.

He lawyers expressed their views in a chat with Newsmen in Lagos on Tuesday.

The Head of Litigation, Oriented Law Chambers, Mr Victor Opara (SAN), said that the judiciary had done well in administration of justice.

Opara said that Nigeria’s judicial system had done well when compared with its counterparts in African countries and other developing countries.

According to him, Nigerian judges and magistrates are among the best.

“As far as justice administration is concerned, I must say with every sense of responsibility that the Nigerian Judiciary has done well particularly when compared with its counterparts in West Africa, Africa at large, and the world.

“We have best judges in our courts without forgetting magistrates who are equally well trained to administer justice.

“However, that is not to say there have not been some dark spots with some of the decisions of our courts,” Opara said.

He called for improvement.

“It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied. One can equally say that justice rushed is justice crushed. In other words, there must be a balance in-between,’’ he told pressmen

The lawyer noted that the judiciary had a self-cleansing mechanism.

“In others words, if you are dissatisfied with a case in a magistrates’ court, there is room for you to go to the high court. If again, you are not satisfied, you can take it to the Court of Appeal and ultimately to the apex court which is the Supreme Court.

“This suggests that even the judiciary understands that there can be mistakes down the line; even at the apex level, there is a procedure whereby the Supreme Court can reverse itself in certain deserving cases.

“I must say in a nutshell that the judiciary has done well, it has served as a check against excesses on the executive and the legislature.

“In some instances, it has had the opportunity of even disciplining its members, Opara said.
A rights activist and lawyer, Mr McAnthony Aikharialea, said that Nigeria’s score card did not match with its age.
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“The message of hope at this point is that we must rise to the occasion at this stage of our lives and make an indelible statement with the forthcoming elections.

“Our next leaders must be able to ascertain the economic indices we need to be reckoned with in the comity of nations.

“They must be able to know the political philosophy that should echo a national figurative belief that kills the instincts of corruption in every facet and fiber of our beings.

“This is certainly not the time to apply sentiments to compromise the glory of our future. We should, therefore, disqualify some of our current candidates at the polls due to their useless intents,’’ he said.

Mr Bayo Bisuga of the Bisuga Partners told pressmen: “Nigeria has had ups and downs but more downs than ups.’’

He advised that prisoners should be used to boost agricultural production.
“While prisoners are feeding fat within prison walls, agriculture is suffering, when as a matter of fact, that is automatic labour to boost our agric sector.

“All states have prisons and prisoners are ready labour,’’ Bisuga said.

He expressed dissatisfaction that, at 62, Nigeria still recorded much breakdown of law and order.

“People don’t even obey court orders. Rule of law is lacking,’’ he said.

Mr Anthony Makolo, also a rights activist and lawyer, urged the judiciary to apply more measures to enhance criminal justice administration.

Makolo, Founder of Makolo Anthony Empowerment Foundation, which provides free legal aid to crime suspects, said that the measures would also facilitate decongestion of correctional centres.

According to the lawyer, the first measure is ‘filtering’ from police stations, cases qualified to proceed to court.

“The police are not expected to make criminal charges on every matter reported at the stations,” he said.

Makolo said that there was the need for the appropriate authorities to direct that flimsy charges by police should be returned.

He also suggested that a mediation centre should be set up at every police station, adding that matters brought to police stations should be first referred there for possible mediation.

“If this is done, it will serve to ensure that misdemeanors are resolved by way of alternative dispute resolution instead of overburdening the courts.

Human rights campaigner and lawyer, Mr Spurgeon Atatene, told Newsmen that the Nigerian justice system was being faced with many challenges.

Ataene said that disrespect for the rule of law had brought decadence in the justice sector.

“It is clear today that if you speak against injustice, you become antagonised; this is a big problem,” he said

He said that there was the need to overhaul the justice system to make it to conform with best practices.

He also called on the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to live up to its responsibilities as the watch dog of the bar.

In his message to celebrate Nigeria’s 62nd Independence Anniversary, NBA President, Mr Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), had said that the `Nigeria of our dream’ would be achievable by redirecting the citizens’ minds, thoughts and actions toward attainment of justice.

“It is the only way to get out of our present negative experiences and build on our positive achievements. Nigeria is, without a doubt, passing through difficult times.

“We must resist every temptation to give up in our minds; we must retune our thinking, deliberately recalibrate our steps and actions toward actualisation of the Nigeria of our dream.

“We must, therefore, rise above prejudices to pursue justice.

“This is only possible when we allow our humanity and the love of God in our hearts to find expression in our relationship with each other as a people,” he said. (NAN)

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