THE LEGAL PROFESSION AND THE JUDICIARY IN REVIEW: 2020 AN UNEXPECTED OUTCOME – By Bayo Akinlade, Esq.
The whole of 2020 was characterized by the Covid 19 outbreak or should I say an awareness of Covid 19, since the real outbreak started in 2019 but only became (arguably) an issue in Nigeria in 2020
The Judiciary entered into 2020 with the familiar challenges such as Funding, Corruption, lack of transparency in the appointment of Judicial Officers, disobedience of court orders and judgments, over politicization of it’s administration, just to mention a few.
However, most of these issues took a back seat as Covid revealed another aspect of Justice Administration that had not received much attention. This aspect was the use of technology to advance justice delivery.
In the final realization of the Covid 19 outbreak in Nigeria and the subsequent lockdown measures; the Judiciary unfortunately did not act fast in making changes by adopting remote hearings and other forms of technology in ensuring that the wheels of Justice did not totally grind to a halt.
There was however an increased private sector participation in the Judiciary in 2020. These private sector interventions played a major role in encouraging the judiciary to abandon the old ways and adopt more practical systems that will help it do justice more effectively.
It is however saddening that CORRUPTION within the Judiciary was not a focus for many heads of court in 2020. This of course resulted in the highly damning report from ICPC stating that the Judiciary was the most corrupt arm of Government in 2020 as well as the attack on the Courts in Lagos on the aftermath of the EndSars protest.
By and large, the Judiciary needs to reorganise itself. The National Judicial Council and the National Judicial Institute must be reconstituted and reorganised to give the Judiciary a better image. State Judicial Service Commissions must not be a political agency but must consist of members who have the expertise to reform the Lower Courts.
The integrity of the Bar has unfortunately suffered more damage than that of the Judiciary. The Corruption in NBA cannot be measured as many members are completely dis-illussioned and unimpressed with the leadership of the Bar.
Lawyers in the Judiciary and the official Bar (Ministry of Justice) do not consider the NBA as a reliable institution capable of birthing a sustainable development agenda for the legal profession as a whole and has shown this by sidelining the Bar in the making of many decisions that affect lawyers generally.
NBA elections are marred with political interests and other forms of unprofessional activities which include vote buying, riggings and violence.
The NBA in 2020 didn’t fair any better as it struggled to even provide much needed welfare for it’s members and was largely invincible in the scheme of things regarding policies and decisions made regarding the Courts and Covid protocols.
It could be argued that because 2020 was an election year for the NBA, the NBA went into it’s usual semi comatose state hence it’s inability to constructively add value towards nation building. This may be a valid point but not an excuse if the NBA was a proper institution based on its values rather than on those who held positions in it’s Executive Committees.
Notwithstanding, many individual lawyers, NGOs and other Lawyer subgroups did their best and remained relevant and productive in 2020
THE ADMINISTRATION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE
The lockdown and the Endsars protest stretched the limits of our Administration of Criminal Justice Sector.
2020 exposed many loopholes in our structures in this regard, right from the police to the courts to our prison/Custodial systems, we have failed woefully in this regard and this is largely due to bad leadership and corruption.
There are however some improvements brought about by a few Attorney General’s of a few states like Lagos, Ogun, just to mention a few; that have continued to update our laws and bring in some new ideas and concepts to ensure that good laws are made and enforced.
The greatest challenge however to the Administration of Criminal Justice has been the rising insecurity without adequate funding to provide better policing, court infrastructures and prison facilities to counter the rising tide of insecurity.
FORWARD TO 2021
The leadership of the Judiciary and the NBA must collaborate more, establish a few joint taskforce to fight corruprion, set up joint committees and develop strategic engagement protocols to combat all the ills that bedevil our profession.
Lawyers in the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary are all members of the NBA….THE NBA MUST REINVENT ITSELF, return to it’s core values and provide leadership by harnessing the potential of lawyers in the 3 arms of government.
All lawyers must be conscious of their responsibility as social engineers and give a little back to the community they earn a living from.
Most importantly, we must agree to fight corruption at every level of governance and in our daily lives.