Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo has advocated for the reform of the country’s justice system that takes cognizance of the integrity of both the legal process and actors in the legal process.
In his remarks at the Second Wole Olanipekun Justice Summit, in Lagos, Professor Osinbajo said that taking a deep look at the gridlock in processing cases in Nigerian courts as well as at the actions of judges and lawyers was critical for the survival of the legal profession in another 50 years.
The summit was organised as part of activities to mark the 70th birthday of constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Wole Olanipekun.
Osinbajo said, “On the integrity of the legal process and its key actors, judges, and lawyers, most of us who are here and have practiced in our courts and who still practice knowing, at least anecdotally, that many important cases today are under a shroud of doubt as whether the outcomes would be influenced one way or the other.
“Regarding delays in Nigerian courts, the UK Court of Appeal had occasion to comment in the case of IPCO and NNPC in 2015, where a challenge to the enforcement of a Nigerian seated arbitration tribunal award came before an English Court of Appeal”.
In his tribute to the constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Wole Olanipekun, Vice President Osinbajo, described him as a “most consequential and constitutional lawyer” going by the number and range of constitutional matters in Nigeria’s superior courts in which he acted as counsel.
“Chief Olanipekun’s great intellect is the mastery of the law, its substance, its technicalities, his incredible ability to get to the heart of the matter and let the whole panel of judges see his sometimes daring points; his disarming wit and humour; and his sometimes lyrical and poetic submissions, quoting from the classics and the scriptures, making him easily one of the most outstanding minds in the legal profession in this or any other generation. But I’m sure that what will give him as much, if not more, satisfaction as his accomplishments in the legal profession is how he has affected the lives of hundreds and maybe thousands who cannot repay him for his kindness, his many charities and philanthropies and several contributions to the growth and reach especially of the gospel.”
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, who was one of the participants during the panel discussion, raised several issues that would go to the heart of efforts to reform the justice system. These include the appointment of judges; reorganisation of the National Judicial Council and the Judicial Service Commission; as well as alternative dispute resolution.
He said, “I am advocating that to go to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, a lawyer should have put in 25 years; for the high court and NIC, 15 years. Vacancies should be advertised, examinations and interviews should be conducted transparently.
“The secrecy surrounding the appointment of judges in Nigeria should stop. Appointments ought to be seriously considered within the ambit of the constitution.
“Heads of the executive appoint cabinet members subject to the ratification of the legislature; leaders of the legislative houses elect their leaders among themselves.
“ It is only judges that are appointed by heads of the executive after they had been screened by the Federal Judicial Service Commission and recommended for appointment by the National Judicial Council. Nominees for the headship of the National Judiciary are screened by the legislature.
“It is my submission that the National Judicial Council, the federal Judicial Service Commission and the state judicial service commissions should be reorganized and democratized to allow the judiciary to appoint judges of the lower and higher bench.
“My position is that we can do this, but we have to embark on almost revolutionary measures to change what has almost become a problem for us.
“The alternative dispute resolution that we are now embracing is our own African dispute resolution. The British colonial regime took it home, fine tuned it and they are now bringing it back.
“They are now bringing it back and we all pretending that it is their own system. They came with their adjudicatory system; you either win or lose. But our own traditional jurisprudence is a give and take. Everybody must take something home. No appeals.”
Among others who participated in the panel discussion were the Chief Judge of Borno State, Justice Kashim Zannah; Mrs. Ibukun Awosika; and Managing Partner of the Wole Olanipekun & Co, Bode Olanipekun.
Delivering the keynote address, former Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University, Professor Olarenwaju Fagbohun, said that the Nigerian justice system has “somehow become attached to a form of judicial process that is consistently failing to address substantive issues of justice—a model that has become antithetical to implementing justice reform.”
Among issues that Fagbohun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, pointed out were administrative disconnect, information and communication technology, enforcement of justice and complexity of appellate court rules.
“In implementing justice sector reforms, there were three key assumptions whose self-evident truths we concluded were clear to all. The first is that the moment we bring in best practice, we will achieve the desired goals.The second is that all critical stakeholders have an understanding of what is at stake, and at worst, what will be required is the upscale of their skill set and knowledge.The third is that all critical stakeholders will exude the right discipline and commitment.” he said.