The Nigerian judiciary is regarded as a cornerstone of the country’s democratic system and growing up in the desert Sahara of Machina I often heard people say the judiciary is the last hope of the common. But since the country’s return to civil rule in 1999, the institution is now facing growing criticism over its impartiality in judgment, especially in pre-elections and post-election cases.
The question on many Nigerians’ minds who approach the courts to seek redress is whether the judiciary is still a haven for the common, or whether it has become a place where justice is only for the privileged, powerful individuals, and high-profile politicians?
The biggest challenge facing the judiciary is the slow pace of justice delivery. Cases can take years, even decades, to be resolved, which makes it difficult for ordinary citizens to seek justice and have their grievances addressed promptly. This not only undermines the credibility of the judiciary but also puts a strain on the resources of the average citizen, who must bear the costs of legal representation and frequent court appearances as the slow pace of justice discourages citizens from seeking redress through the legal system, and instead, they turn to other means of resolving disputes.
Another issue is the problem of corruption within the judiciary. There have been numerous reports of judicial officers demanding bribes in exchange for favourable rulings and it’s evident in the outcome of many court judgments including those of the Supreme Court. This has not only undermined the integrity of the justice system but has also eroded public trust in the judiciary. It also makes it difficult for the common citizen to get a fair trial, as they may not have the financial resources to pay bribes.
The prevalence of corruption in the judiciary has also led to a widespread perception that justice can be bought and sold and that the outcome of a case is determined not by the evidence presented, but by the amount of money one is willing to pay.
Moreover, there have been instances where judicial officers have acted in favour of the powerful, rather than dispensing justice equally to all. This has led to widespread discontent among the general public and calls for reforms to make the judiciary more accessible and impartial.
For example, in recent years, there have been high-profile cases where politicians and influential individuals have been acquitted of serious crimes, despite overwhelming evidence against them, while poor and marginalised individuals have been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for minor offences. This has created the perception that justice is not blind and that the judiciary is biased in favour of the powerful individuals.
The government and other stakeholders must take steps to reform the Nigerian judiciary and one of the first steps should be to improve the administration of justice so that cases are resolved more quickly and efficiently. This can be achieved through measures such as providing adequate funding for the judiciary and streamlining the legal process.
Additionally, the government should take steps to stamp out corruption within the judiciary, by investigating and prosecuting judicial officers who are found to have engaged in corrupt practices, and by increasing transparency and accountability within the judiciary.
The judiciary still holds the promise of justice for all, but the reality on ground suggests that it is no longer the haven for the common man. If the judiciary is to regain its credibility and become a truly accessible and impartial institution, then the government and other stakeholders must take decisive action to address the challenges facing the judiciary and restore public trust in this critical institution. Only then can the Nigerian judiciary become the beacon of hope and justice for all citizens, regardless of social status or financial means
Baba Abdullahi Machina,