‘Seun Ibukun-Oni, Abuja
DAILY COURIER – The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, on Monday, lamented that Nigerians, especially the political class, are the most litigious people on earth, putting unprecedented pressure on the Judiciary.
Justice Ariwoola canvassed the need for the Nigerian public to do less litigation and embrace more alternative dispute resolution to free the courts of unnecessary over-stretching of human and material resources.
Speaking against the incessant rush to court after every little disagreement, the CJN explained that Nigeria has various alternative dispute resolution mechanisms across the country that can conveniently be leveraged on, with a view to freeing the courts of the incessant case overload.
“In every little disagreement, we rush to court; and in every lost case, we rush to appeal, even up to the Supreme Court, no matter how little the issue might be. That has obviously accounted for the several appeals pending in the Supreme Court.
“Though we receive scathing criticisms from members of the public over our over-blotted docket, we are neither in any position to regulate case inflow to the court nor have the supernatural powers to attend to all in one fell swoop”, he said.
Justice Ariwoola spoke at the Supreme Court in Abuja, at a special court session, to mark the 2022/2023 legal year of the Apex Court and the inauguration of the 62 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria SANs.
He explained that during the 2021/2022 legal year alone, the CJN revealed that the Supreme Court entertained a total number of 1,764 cases, comprising motions and appeals.
Out of the figure, he said the Justices of the Court heard 816 Civil, 370 Criminal and 16 Political matters, making a total of 1,202 motions.
Similarly, he said, the court considered a total number of 562 Appeals, comprising 341 Civil, 186 Criminal, and 35 Political. A total number of 154 Judgments were delivered in the year.
“Our pending (backlog) Civil Appeals are 4,741 while the number of pending (backlog) Criminal Appeals is 1,392. On the other hand, we have 751 moribund Appeals for disposal. That brings the total number of pending (backlog) Appeals in this Honourable Court to 6,884.
“Out of the 4,741 Appeals in the Court’s docket, 1,495 have briefs filed and exchanged and are ready for hearing; whereas, the remaining 3,246 appeals are having about 10,000 motions, with some contentious and others innocuous in nature.
“As for the pending 1,392 Criminal Appeals, 461 already had briefs filed and exchanged and are ready for hearing. The remaining 931 appeals have about 2,000 different motions for hearing to determine their eligibility for hearing.
“However, the identified 751 moribund appeals are to be disposed of for non-compliance with the Supreme Court Rules, i.e. Order 8 Rule 8.
“Available facts on judicial activities in various jurisdictions across the globe still emphatically confirmed that the Supreme Court of Nigeria remains the busiest and most hardworking Supreme Court in the world.
“It is on record that we work from Monday to Friday every week. We conduct sittings on a daily basis. It is only on Wednesdays we do Chamber sitting to consider non-contentious matters. On Fridays, we deliver judgments and rulings.
“I remain eternally grateful to the Almighty God for strengthening and giving us the tenacity to accomplish the much we do on a yearly basis. We are humans and equally have blood running through our veins; if no one praises us, we have the inalienable right and obligation to praise and eulogise ourselves.
“Self-praise is no viler an offence than self-denial. Even with the meagre resources at our disposal, we still strive to achieve so much and cover enormous grounds, at least to justify our passion to serve this country to the best of our ability.
“The public space has been replete with varied forms of debates at different fora as to whether the Nigerian Judiciary is actually independent or not.
“In the course of these various engagements, discussants always assess the situation from different unrelated perspectives; and that has largely accounted for the often conflicting solutions proffered at the end of each dialogue session.
“The Nigerian Judiciary, to a very large extent, is independent in conducting its affairs and taking decisions on matters before it without any extraneous influence.
“At the Supreme Court, without mincing words, we are completely independent in the way and manner we conduct our affairs, especially in our judgments.
“We don’t pander to the whims and caprices of anybody. If there is anybody to be feared, I must say with full confidence, that it is only the Almighty God. We will never be subservient to anyone, no matter his position or influence in society.
“Nevertheless, I will make it clear to whoever cares to listen that when the Nigerian Judiciary is assessed from the financial aspect, we are yet to be free or truly independent.
“The annual budget of the Judiciary is still a far cry from what it ought to be. The figure either stagnates for a long period of time or goes on a progressive decline when placed side-by-side with the current realities in the market.
“Prices of goods and services are not getting less or friendly to buyers; while at the same time, our purchasing power is abysmally low and weak enough to transmit on the same wavelength with the market forces.
“The only thing I can do at this juncture is to plead with the other arms of government and allied agencies to clear all the impediments so we can enjoy our independence holistically.
“This is a clarion call to the other two arms of government to make the funding of the judiciary a major priority”, he said.
The CJN also said, there has never been any division at the Supreme Court and there will never be any.
He pointed out that Justices of the court always engage impregnable internal administrative mechanisms to accommodate and address their diverse views.
“All communications within the system are done through internal memos and the misleading information that widely made the rounds about protest letters is not only strange but unfounded”, he said.
Justice Ariwoolaa assured that Justices of the Supreme Court will give their best in this new legal year, even as he called on judicial officers to be on guard and be masters of the game.
He charged the new SANs, “not to put up any lackadaisical attitude at this crucial period of our national history. You must not allow yourself to be used, or else the sledgehammer of justice will descend heavily on you.
“Don’t allow your soft spot in you that may easily fall for material lust to blight your emotions and power of resistance. As judicial officers, we must imbibe the culture of conservatism and live a life of solitude to avoid any company or communication that will corrupt our good manners and violate our judicial oath.”