“Administration Of Justice In Nigeria, Another Alarm” By Johnson O. Esezoobo Esq

On October 30, 2022, I raised alarm over Police interference in the administration of justice with the connivance of some lawyers. The process is wreaking grave damage to the process when Police would no longer enforce judgments of Court. I like to draw attention to two other sad experiences. 

One, I have gathered from a very reliable source that Rules of Court of Lagos State are being reviewed to enable the Court award a punitive cost of N1 million against a party whose failure to proceed causes adjournment of a matter on a date set for trial or continuation of trial. 

I am raising alarm against this unprogressive idea as I have ceaselessly done against the illegal regime of penalty for late filing of processes, dubiously called default fees since the decade of year 2000 AD, so that the NBA can help look into it before it is enacted into law and like the other process fester in other States of the federation. Nigeria is a place where things go wrong and nobody is putting them right because those who are supposed to talk and see them corrected fail to talk.

The second sad experience within this space of two weeks was at the Supreme Court of the land. Apart from expecting the NBA to engage with the Apex Court to address the delay in the administration of justice there, we have just been appointed a new CJN, to the glory of God, whom we should expect will, unlike his predecessor whose woeful failure we all witnessed carry out judicial reforms to make justice delivery at that level worthwhile. 

I have been on this issue since 2012 when I challenged the Court on the propriety of keeping a matter on the docket for a space of six years or more, only to raise one technical issue or the other upon being called up, such as the way the intiating process was signed or whether leave was sought or not, and then strike out the appeal. What justice is so done under a system that enjoins a fair hearing within a reasonable time

I have in my various criticisms opined that any hearing at that court beyond two years is unreasonable. It may sound too optimistic to expect two years at the supreme court. But experience has shown that it is possible with a proper overhaul of the appeal process at that level. Delay in the administration of justice at the apex court in Nigeria is not contributing anything positive to the socio-economic viability of this Country. 

But back to the main point of concern. A week ago I received a phone call from the Registry of the Apex Court informing me that the motion filed by the other side had been taken in chambers and granted, and the appeal had been fixed for Tuesday, October 25, 2022 for hearing. My honest reaction was that the expected judicial reforms had started. Two days later, a Friday, another call by another officer came to confirm the fixture. And I said I earlier been notified. I got the client who made provision for flight tickets and hotel and sundry expenses. 

However, on Tuesday, October 25, 2022, the court looked at the file and said it was too early for hearing and adjourned the matter to sometime in 2025. What then was the point phoning us to say the matter had been fixed for that date? 

It is common knowledge that because of the situation with hearing dates at the court, lawyers are forced to engage in some underhand dealings.  

Sometime in May this year, I was called up the way above described that one of my matters was coming up. Hear what Counsel on the other side sad to me when we met in Court on the day When I got the call, I said Mr. Esezoobo must have worked very hard to get this date. And I responded thus Ironically, I did not do anything. I was surprised myself…

Such is the bad image the Court bears because of the issue of hearing dates. I desire that with the new CJN now confirmed, we should see some changes. Unless we start doing things differently,we cannot make the impact that society expects of us.  

I enjoin the NBA to engage with the CJN and all other stakeholders with a view to reforming the system to make it functional. We cannot continue like this and expect any progress in our society.

Barrister Johnson Odion Esezoobo, Can Be Reached Via +234 803 320 0595