Law is the most powerful means of social control. Societies have different systems for resolving disputes — negotiation, mediation, arbitration and adjudication.
In primitive societies like Nigeria, justice is not the highest priority. Nigeria is a stateless primitive society where justice takes forever. It is against this backdrop that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s (Pastor RUGA) address at the annual National Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association held Wednesday in Lagos assumes a significance of great proportion.
Here’s Osinbajo: “Reform is urgent because the fabric of our society is stitched together by our system of justice and law enforcement. …why can’t we have timelines on all cases? Why can’t we put in place the rules that will state that a criminal trial all the way to the Supreme Court must not exceed 12 months in duration? Why can’t we do the same for civil cases even if we say it that civil cases must not go beyond 15 months – between 12 and 15 months?”
There is no one eminently qualified in Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s regime than Pastor RUGA to initiate desperately needed reforms in our justice system. He is a law professor. He is the Vice President. He is the best person to answer the questions he asked. Sadly, the justice system in Nigeria has not in any way benefitted from Osinbajo’s scholarship and expertise.
Delays in our criminal proceedings have become a blight feature of Nigeria’s justice system. It takes far too long for both civil and criminal cases to reach a final disposition. Cases suffer lengthy trials and multiple adjournments. Delaying justice is denying justice. Corruption cases involving governors and high visible public officials have turned cold cases. Omoyele Sowore’s case is in perpetual abeyance.
How long is too long? Justice delayed is justice denied. Delayed cases mean accused constitutional right to a speedy trial as guaranteed by the constitution has been breached. Delayed justice is of greater concern to Nigerians. It has a cruel impact on victims. It erodes public confidence in the criminal justice system. When long adjournments are granted, there’s a failure to properly prosecute crimes.
Civil cases should be resolved in a shorter time, say six months. But complex criminal cases should not last more than one year. For example in Kenya, any case is considered “backlogged” if it’s older than one year. In Serbia, it’s two years. In Croatia, it’s three years. The corrupt and lazy Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, instead of taking leadership role in reforming our jungle justice system, is busy looting the treasury.
Pastor RUGA, as a matter of urgency, working in concert with Malami, should establish a program to design computerised systems that will (1) effectively manage criminal and courthouse proceedings, (2) allow for more procedural matters to be addressed by means of computer to avoid unnecessary court appearances, (3) permit the disclosure of evidence by a standard electronic system.
As VP and law professor, what has Pastor RUGA done to reform Nigeria’s primitive justice system? Absolutely nothing! Pastor RUGA should be a beacon of light in Nigeria’s darkest of times.