Johnson Odion Esezoobo Esq
Supreme Court Of Nigeria & NJC; Need for Rescue By Johnson Odion Esezoobo Esq
Permit me my dear colleagues to raise this alarm, not as an alarmist but as a patriot. I raise the alarm from my deep concern for the state of administration of justice in Nigeria.
Cause For Concern: No Other Business I am concerned because I know no other business to do except law, and essentially litigation. I cannot do buying and selling. Sometime in 1990, after I was thrown out of office, a friend tried to introduce me into the business of supplies. He brought an LPO from one director of one of the Federal ministries. I contributed the wretched sum I had towards financing it. At the end of the business, the director took 60% of the returns and gave us 40% out of which my friend said he settled the accountant, the auditor. And I said This is not a business for lawyers. Mr. Director is not helping anybody but is only using you to help himself. Then another sympathiser presented my case to the DPO of one of the Divisions in Lagos who invited me to come with my complementary cards. I turned down the invitation; ‘I will not do kill and divide. Rather, I will go to the village and tell my late father’s land. I will try gari and eat’. About two months later, the DPO was shot in the botucks by armed robbers to whom he allegedly had a disagreement over sharing of a booty after an operation. Thus, had I accepted the invitation, I probably would have to be defending criminals whose operations I probably would have been having prior knowledge of. Thus, that is not the business for lawyer.
Needs For Rescue; Unless therefore, the administration of justice is supervised, and conducted, in its proper perspective, I probably will die of hunger if I have to keep my ideal. I am sure many of us are in that boat too. And they need to keep integrity.
I was at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Bwari Abuja on Wednesday 24th March 2021. A young lawyer walked up to me and said ‘Good morning Mr. Esezoobo. I looked lost. And he said I knew you in Lagos. I always watched you in Court… I told him I couldn’t fix his face. But he knew me well. In the chat that followed, this young man told me he did not have dinner the previous night and that there was nothing on him. He had come to the Magistrate Court by the High Court hoping to get one of these overnights to get through the day. But unfortunately, the Magistrate Court was not sitting. I was moved with empathy but said within me, ‘This young man does not know we get into such situation sometime’.But the main point is this: on Monday 29, March 2021, I was at the same Court. I seized the opportunity of the trip to go to the Supreme Court to file a Respondent’s Brief in one of the cases I have there and to seek audience of the Honourable CJN. I thought also to possibly request for his telephone contact for further contact hereafter.
The Theme; The theme of my desired audience of the Honourable CJN was my concern about the state of administration of justice in Nigeria. I have judgements of 2000, 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2014 we have not been able to enforce because of pending appeals before the apex Court. In one of these judgements we got in 2014 after eleven (11) years of proceedings at the High Court, a case of breach of contract, not chieftaincy or land matter, the client lamented to me recently when I told him we were yet to get a date (since 2015), and said: ‘I am now 75. When will I enjoy the proceeds of this judgment’. Truly, this is the 18th year since we started on the case in 2003. Then I was 48 years. Today, I am 66years. And the case is just at Court of Appeal. Should it slip to the apex Court hereafter, I should be justified in asking: ‘When will I myself reap the fruit of this tedious labour?. That is the poor state of administration of justice in Nigeria; not just the Supreme Court alone, the Court of Appeal too.
Abhorrence Of Ad-Hoc Measures: Sometime last year, we were treated to a new initiative at the Court of Appeal called backlog involving emergency deployment of Justices from other divisions to deal with backlog appeals. In 2019, the Lagos High Court introduced Idea of backlog cases into the rules. Without any equivocation, I like to say that the idea of backlog cases being an initiative of succeeding regime is a mark of abysmal failure of erstwhile regimes. Though a good idea in the circumstance, backlog process will not solve the problem because it is ad-hoc. That is not what we need; we need a permanent solution. And it is attainable.
Influencing A Policy; Noteworthy that the idea of seeking audience with the CJN is not new. I have been in the business since 1995 during military rule. Ironically, most military functionaries responded positively by replying my letters or granting audience. I regret that even in a democracy, lawyers and Judges as heads of government departments neither respond to letters not grant audience. Of all efforts I have been making since return of democracy in 1999, only Chief Bola Ige SAN as AGF and Uwais as CJN are noted as having responded to to my letters. The former was also disposed to granting audience. In one sad experience, the Judge who granted me audience said to me after listening to me that her ‘initial reaction is to send you (me) out of my (her) chambers‘. I had sought audience with her in chambers and she said she could only see me in the open court. In the open court, I told her it was in the interest of justice and integrity of the Court that we met in chambers. She then retired to chambers and invited me and counsel on the other side accordingly. I told her what I had shared with the other counsel earlier; that I learnt that a delegation was sent to her in respect of a criminal matter before him and that the delegation also met my client in prison to appeal to him to accept the terms of settlement that the Court was to execute. But my client insisted on his innocence and said he preferred to die in prison. Well, I responded to the Judge who is now late, and said to her ‘My Lord, even if my Lord sends me out of the Chambers now, I am satisfied that I have borne my mind open’.
Back to Monday March 29, 2021 at the Supreme Court, the theme of this piece, I could not see the CJN. The general opinion was that I could not easily see His Lordship, neither is it necessary to write a letter or seek the telephone contact. And I asked why, is he no more a public officer I should be able to see? And the common response was that ‘The situation is serious‘ or ‘It is a serious situation’. No details. NOT SATISFIED. As mentioned in a similar situation in 2001, when I could not see Honourable Justice Segun then CJ of Lagos state, I am not satisfied that I could not see the CJN. But driven by the passion to influence a policy that may assist improvement of the very poor state of administration of justice in the Country, particularly in the apex Court, I will not like to stop here. Rather, I want t believe that whatever be the situation, and however serious, it can be addressed. And it is better to address it now before it gets more serious and embarrassing.
It will be recalled that sometime in 1994 or thereabout, the serious situation then caused late Abacha to set up the Justice Kayode Eso panel to probe the judiciary of allegations of corruption. Similarly, sometime in 2016, the executive took the judiciary by surprise when Judges were raided at night and some were arrested.
Proposal For Rescue; To avoid such, we can look into the undisclosed serious situation at our Supreme Court which evidently is affecting the performance of both the Court and the NJC in-house before the entire system collapses on all of us. Accordingly, I propose that the NBA, the Body of Benchers, the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria and any other regulatory body of lawyers and Judges should come together in a high level delegation to find out what is happening in our Supreme Court and the NJC with a view to assisting a correction of the situation. This is with a view to arresting the imminent collapse of the administration of justice and by that whatever is left of Nigeria. Thanks.
Johnson Odion Esezoobo Esq, Can be reached via -:+234 803 320 0595