Legal practitioners across the country yesterday threw their support behind the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, who asked the Senate to amend appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in the 1999 Constitution so that not all appeals (cases) terminate in the apex court.
The CJN, who made the request when the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters paid courtesy visit to him, said the number of appeals pending and those received so far this year are mind-boggling.
Justice Muhammad noted that not only is the Supreme Court of Nigeria is the busiest apex court in the world, but that despite spiteful remarks, the entire judiciary of the country remains the best in the world.
He insisted that the federal lawmakers should amend the constitution as of necessity to enhance timely dispensation of justice and to reduce the stress the heavy burden of appeals are putting on the justices of the apex court.
‘’Many of us don’t sleep for 12 hours as recommended by stress managers. We don’t write judgement merely by stating that so, so so and so cases were filed by this and that, and end it up by saying appeal is hereby dismissed or upheld. We have to give reasons which is the bedrock of judgement writing.
‘’Nigerian judiciary is one of the best in the world, and if nobody told you, I am telling you today.
‘’The constitution enjoins the Supreme Court to have 21 justices, yet we are having fewer than that number. We will have to appoint more justices to fill the gap soon.”
The lawyers, Emeka Ngige (SAN), Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN), Alasa Ismaila and Abanika Muktar Isah, who separately spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend yesterday, agreed with the CJN that not all appeals should lie at the apex court.
They averred that the value of some appeals are so small and even less than N5 million and they ought to have terminated at the Magistrate Court.
The lawyers further demanded that the constitution be amended for certain cases to be remitted to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) or arbitration court in order to minimize incidences of formal court adjudication.
They, however, said that matters which require the interpretation of the constitution and have to do with fundamental rights causes must end at the Supreme Court.
The lawyers said it was imperative for such cases to rest at the apex court to avoid divergent opinions usually found in the judgements at the court below.
The lawyers told the Senate to amend the constitution so that many matters to end at the Court of Appeals which is even opening more divisions at Asaba, Kano and Enugu.
With such expansion of the Appeal Court, they should be made to reduce workload at the Supreme Court.
The CJN also complained about the fund yearly allocated to the judiciary, saying the judiciary is highly underfunded.
‘’If you see the amount allocated to the judiciary, it is far less than what is given to some ministries. Salaries of the judicial officers are also stale for over 12 years running, and I hope you would look at all that’’, CJN told the visiting senators.
In his remark, the chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele said both the Senate Standing Orders 2015 and the 1999 Constitution empower the committee to oversight the federal judiciary.
Senator Opeyemi disclosed that all the 14 members of the committee are lawyers and that their names are contained in the Legal Practitioners’ Roll of the Supreme Court.
The committee chairman noted that the Judiciary played a very crucial role in the sustenance and deepening of democracy’s core values, adding that the committee would therefore make necessary interventions to strengthen and guarantee the independence of that arm of government.
He said the committee would make appropriate legislative interventions to ensure proper funding for the Judiciary.
‘’The Committee would work in collaboration with the Judiciary to review laws and embark on reforms – including amendment to the Constitution – to ensure effective and efficient administration of justice,’’ he added.
The committee also visited the president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, who also asked the senators to intervene in the poor funding of the judiciary.
According to her, most of the buildings belonging to the judiciary are collapsing virtually in the 16 divisions of the Court of Appeal.
According to Ahamba, ‘’I support CJN’s call for some of the appeals to rest at the Court of Appeal, but all appeals that have to do with the interpretation of the constitutional provisions and have to do with fundamental rights must rest at the Supreme Court.
This is to avoid the divergent of views as usually found in the judgements at the court below.”
Ngige however said, ‘’the Court of Appeal is opening more divisions at Enugu, Asaba, Kano and so on. It means that more justices would be recruited. Let some of the appeals end at the Court of Appeal.
‘’I reason with the CJN that not all the appeals be heard by the apex court. There are matters that should ordinarily end at the magistrate because a matter whose total value is N5 million or less ought not to be heard up till the Supreme Court.
‘’The Constitution should also be amended to insist that some matters be settled by the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provision or arbitration court to minimize incidences of formal court adjudications.
‘’The humongous appeals at the apex court is not good for our justice delivery system because it is not only affecting lives of the justices but also eroding the quality of judgements made by them.’’
On his part, Barrister Ismail said, ‘’the CJN is right to ask senators to amend the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. It is highly overdue and a legislative intervention should be exercised by the lawmakers also in the area of funding and obsolete laws in our statute books’’.
For Barrister Isah, Nigeria should adopt the Uwais’ report on the judiciary.
He said, ‘’Let us once more re-visit the recommendations of the former CJN, Justice Muhammadu Uwais-led 28 wisemen. The late CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher took a bill to amend the constitution for the reform of the judiciary, including the reduction of appeals resting at the Supreme Court. That Bill is still pending before the lawmakers and they should re-visit it.’’