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Decongesting Supreme Court



FOLUSO OGUNMODEDE writes that there is the need for the nation’s apex court, the Supreme Court to design a mechanism, a system-wide but focused reform aimed at reducing docket congestion with a view to fast tracking dispensation of justice if the apex court must unburden itself of too many cases ahead of next year’s general election


Adetilade Ojowewe died a few years ago without getting justice in a case he initiated against a traditional ruler in Lagos state over a forceful acquisition of a vast land bequeathed to him by his late father.
The case which began at an Ikeja High Court in 1998 is still stuck at the Supreme Court. Ojowewe, who was 52 years’ old when the matter began, died last year at 72.
An alleged murderer, whose conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal last year after 19 years on death row, has gone to Supreme Court, waiting for justice.
These are a few of thousands of cases pending at the Supreme Court, having passed through all stages of judicial echelon.
Nevertheless, this is no fault of the court already described as not only the busiest on the continent of Africa but most hardworking.
For instance, the Supreme Court of United Kingdom delivered a total of 38 judgements in four months.

The same goes for the Supreme Court in United States of America which delivered a total of 38 judgments in four months compared to 32 judgements delivered in one month by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
This was corroborated a few months ago by one of the Justices of the Supreme Court, Justice Mohammed Tanko Ibrahim, who said that despite congestion of cases in the court, there was no Supreme Court anywhere in the world that worked as the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
He said: “Every Friday you find out that the Supreme Court delivers 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 judgments. There was a month where the court delivered about 32 judgments.

The work is too much. There is urgent need for a solution to reduce the work load.
“Lawyers will have something to say to the legislature to stop this kind of a thing. There is no Supreme Court in the world that works as the Nigerian Supreme Court works.
“Traffic jam cases. Let it (SCN decisions) be on policy issues and on law only, but if a judge (someone) coughs and someone does not like that cough, the matter goes to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

“Landlord and tenant cases go to the Supreme Court of Nigeria which could be determined by magistrate courts. The work is too much; we better start thinking of what to do.”
Apparently worried, some lawyers at the weekend were unanimous that only constitutional matters should go to the Supreme Court.

Section 233 of the 1999 Constitution outlines the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court especially its appellate jurisdiction, which also has its original jurisdiction conferred upon it by the Constitution.
It is also an obvious fact that Supreme Court’s dockets were congested which had compelled the apex court to sit from Monday through Friday.
This, a lawyer described as a sad fact
“They are burdened with too many cases regardless of the time lag between filing and disposition and irrespective of whether the cases hit a snag as they inch forward towards final disposition. The accumulation of prior years’ cases aggravated by the increase in the number of new filings without a corresponding increase in case disposition simply results in a huge backlog,” he said.

Specifically, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Adeniyi Akintola said the Supreme Court should be made to attend to only matters bordering on constitutional matters.
He said: “There are cases that should not go beyond the state level that are being taken to the appellate court. All over the world, Supreme Court deals mainly in constitutional matters, but that is not obtainable in Nigeria. Matrimonial causes find its way to the Supreme Court. The same thing with land, inheritance and chieftaincy matters. The problem will persist until we change the structure we are operating.

“Each state of the federation must be allowed to develop at its own pace. That is one of the principles of federalism. Even, the United States does not operate a uniform system. In some states in the U.S, abortion is legalized while it is not so in other states. In order words, the peculiarities of each components part that make up the United States of America are recognized.

“The Court of Appeal was established by the Western Nigeria, being the pace setter and this was eventually embraced by the Federal Government. Its establishment was meant to clear congestion but when it was taken to the center, it now becomes an all comer affair.
So, the fundamental thing is to restructure the country along federal line and all these problems will disappear.
“If we cannot have state Court of Appeal, let us have regional ones. Do you know that of all the nine Justices of the Court of Appeal in Lagos, none of them is a Yor

uba man? What type of anomaly is that? All these things are happening in an attempt to force us together, it cannot work.
Ours is unity in diversity and we must recognize our feelings. Our forefathers even recognized this fact. We must start to respect our differences and there will be a way out of all these problems”.
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Seyi Sowemimo canvassed a limit to number of cases going to the Supreme Court as some of the cases ought to terminate at the Court of Appeal.

Sowemimo said: “One of the ways that is often canvassed to address the problem is that there should be a limit to the number of appeals going to the Supreme Court. It’s not proper that all cases must go to the apex court before they are ended. In some other countries, a lot of cases stopped at the Court of Appeal level. It is only cases that are of unusual public importance with constitutional significance that ought to get to the Supreme Court.

“Then, you will also found out that if there are better judgements and credible decisions at the lower courts, the temptation for people to want to appeal will be greatly reduced. Most times, judgement from the lower courts does not engender confidence.
“Besides, most times, the Supreme Court is bombarded with election petition matters. Except for the last election which we had that brought in President Buhari, volumes of petition emanated from the election and most of it ended up at the apex court as hearing of the petitions are usually longer than expected even close to the next election.

So, we should ensure that elections are properly conducted so that we will have less of petition about it.”
Deacon Dele Adesina also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria was concerned about the structure of the nation’s judiciary which he said was built on delay.
He said: “The present structure of our judiciary is inherently built on delay. It is a triangular kind of structure. At the base of the triangle, we have the High, Federal, State, Industrial and so many other courts. At the appellate level, we have the Court of Appeal with about 16 divisions nationwide.
“In most of the divisions, we have only one courtroom except Lagos, Abuja and probably Port Harcourt with more than one courtroom. Now, at the final level, you have the Supreme Court. We only have one apex court, even though, we have three courtrooms. Going by the nature of Nigerians, not less than 80 and 85 per cent of our cases terminates at the Supreme Court. So, if you have about 3,000 judgements at the lower court out of this number, not less than 2,700 will go to the Court of Appeal. Out of the 2,700, about 2,600 will end up at the Supreme Court. It goes on like that.
“In addressing the problem, a federal system of administration should be put in place. If each state of the federation has High Court in their domain, they should also have appellate courts. There should also be Supreme Court in each state. This means only matters of constitutional importance that has to do with the entire country will go to the Federal Supreme Court. This will address many problems.”
Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN) said congestion at the apex court would only be addressed when there was a full complement of Justices at the Supreme Court.
He said: “I am not sure there is the full complement of judges at the moment. There are supposed to be a minimum and maximum number of judges at the Supreme Court. The full complement should be more than 17. This may be a factor contributing to the congestion at the place.
“Besides, I don’t think there is any reason why we cannot have more than two panels of Supreme Court Justices sitting at the same time. Even, if there are 17 Justices at the moment, we can still have two panels sitting at the same time. This will surely help in decongesting the court.
Abiodun Jelili Owonikoko (SAN) said “I think we need to reduce the number of cases that go to the apex court. The United States has just nine Justices of Supreme Court and the number of cases they handle in a year is not up to ten per cent of what our Justices are handling here. The cases that go to the Supreme Court in America raise fundamental, constitutional and legal issues that will impact so much on the entire society.
“However, it is not enough to reduce the number of cases coming to the Supreme Court, it is also important that we should firm up professional ethics that lawyers must be discouraged from filing frivolous cases. Lawyers must see the need to terminate cases that don’t have any chance of success at the lower court and should also embrace alternative ways of dispute resolution. No one seems to be exploring the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) options offered by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.”
Festus Keyamo (SAN) said there was the need for immediate appointment of all the 21 Justices, who were constitutionally empowered to sit at the apex court.
He said: “There are both immediate and long-term solutions to the problem. The immediate solution is to appoint all the 21 Justices that are supposed to be at the Supreme Court, so that there can be more hands. Constitutionally, they are supposed to be 21 in number, but we are having between 15 and 16.
“The long-term solution is to have regional Supreme Court and ensure that all the cases from the Court of Appeal from each region go to that Supreme Court.
“Then, there will be one Supreme Court in Abuja where only constitutional matters involving different levels of government are entertained. We must also ensure that certain cases must terminate at the Court of Appeal. In essence, not all matters should go to the Supreme Court.”

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Court resumes hearing in forgery case against lawyer, May 9




Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo of a Lagos High Court in Ikeja will on May 9 resume further hearing in a trial of a lawyer, Kole Bello, who was accused by the Lagos State Government of forging a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) of a land belonging to a deceased woman, Mrs. Francisca Awolaja.
Bello was arraigned before the court alongside one, Chukwu Victor, Friday Palmer and Osumah Terry on October 30, 2017 by the Lagos State Government on a three-count charge bordering on conspiracy, fraud and forgery.
The defendants were said to have conspired among themselves and forged the C of O with reference No. 63/63/1989, dated September 28,1989 “with the intent that it may be acted upon as genuine” in order to take over a plot of land which is the Estate of the late Mrs. Francisca Awolaja.
They were also accused of conniving with another to impersonate the late Awolaja in other to fraudulently sell her land to Rotimi Olubeko for N5 million.
They were alleged to have committed the offence which contravened Sections 422, 423 and 467 of the Criminal Law, Cap. C17, Vol.2, Law of Lagos State, 2003, sometimes in December 2001, at Lekki Peninsula Scheme 1, Lagos. The defendants however pleaded not guilty to the charge.
At the last hearing of the matter, the third prosecution witness, Felix Awolaja, narrated how he was arrested by the police over a petition written against him by the presumed buyer of the land, Olubeko.
The witness, who is the first son of the late Mrs. Awolaja, the owner of the land in question, disclosed that owing to the controversy surrounding the sale of his late mother’s land , he instituted legal action against Olubeko and won up till the Court of Appeal.
He added that it was based on the revelation about the fraudulent sale of the land that prompted the state government to drag the defendants to court. He said he was dismayed that the said Olubeko was not a defendant in the case.
“I am amazed that Olubeko was not among the defendants facing trial in this court. The police report of investigation indicted Olubeko but I don’t how a prime suspect was turned to a prosecution witness, it really amazed me,” the witness said.
Under cross-examination, Awolaja disclosed that he had no dealings with any of the defendants, saying the only person he had issue with is Olubeko.
The court had earlier in the course of proceedings admitted the lawyer to bail in the sum of one million naira with one surety, who must sworn to an affidavit of means, in like sum.
Further hearing in the matter has been adjourned to May 9.

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Bwala: Why FG’s looters’ list is prejudicial



Daniel Bwala is a member of the Lincoln’s Inn London. He is an academic and public affairs commentator. In this interview with TUNDE OYESINA, Bwala speaks on the looters’ list, its legal implication as well as the twin problem of lobbying and cronyism in the country’s judiciary


What are your thoughts on the alarm being raised by a former CJN, Justice Mariam Mukhtar, that lobbying and cronyism have become prevalent in judicial appointments in the country, corroborating a view by retired Justice Clara Ogunbiyi (JSC)?
Well, I cannot speak on the details of what the Honourable Justice Ogunbiyi said and what the former CJN said because these are issues within the precinct of the judiciary. However, I can speak on politics that is associated with virtually everything in our national life in Nigeria. For instance, the point Justice Ogunbiyi made that she was going to be elevated to the Court of Appeal, but the then Chief Judge of Borno State did not give his support. While I may not know the details that were there, but one thing is clear; Borno State is one state where the majority (the Kanuri) followed by my tribe, most of the times try in almost all facets of life to oppress our people.
Our people are the ones by privilege exposed and educated, but politically and numerically, they are not. So, anytime anything is happening to someone from that part of the state, there is always some manipulation by the majority to stop them.
And I can even attest to myself that during my undergraduate days when we had a national competition; I came first in Nigeria and a colleague of mine from Bauchi, represented Nigeria in the UK. We came 2nd in the entire world. When we came back, we were recommended to our respective states’ governor for scholarship abroad. My other colleague from Bauchi got scholarship from his state. But in my state, because I am not from the majority tribe, I was denied the opportunity to even see the governor let alone getting scholarship. So, I have in my own honour and struggle go through all the things that I have gone through to come to the point where I am today; I was able to go for my Master’s degree, I was admitted to the English Bar. I have been able to do everything today by God’s grace, never by the political efforts of the majority tribe.
So, if that happens in other aspects, then it can also happen in the legal landscape; I’m not surprised.
Secondly, with regard to lobbying; lobbying in itself is not a crime, especially in politics, in National Assembly matters. It is a legal means by which interests of a group are aggregated and articulated. But when it comes to an individual lobbying for something that affects him, which is where the dichotomy is; that is where it becomes wrong, especially in our legal profession where integrity and merit are paramount. Therefore, I agree with the former CJN that lobbying is very bad in the judiciary.
Even at the Bar, people lobby to become Senior Advocates of Nigeria and people lobby to be made judges. It is a terrible situation in Nigeria because when you dig deep into lobbying, what you would end up finding is that while “lobbying” on the face value is not a crime; but so many things go behind what is considered as lobbying; it can be bribery, it can be suppression of merit, it can be promotion of certain tribe or religion as criteria upon which a favour is to be given.

Recently, President Buhari was in Lagos on an official visit with the Vice President, where they said the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government would continue to tell Nigerians about the corrupt activities of the immediate past government of President Goodluck Jonathan. Three years down the line in the life of the Buhari-led administration, shouldn’t the blame game stop?
I have on several occasions, warned the APC not to focus on the past administration as the talking point leading to 2019; the reason you were voted into power is to change what had happened. I went to my village at the last Christmas; and the people kept complaining that it was corruption that brought us to where we are. So, when the people are aware, why do you go about talking about it? If you continue to build on the narrative of constantly making reference to the PDP, then the PDP in countering it would then say okay, since the APC cannot solve the problem, they (PDP) need an opportunity to resolve the problem.
I said the APC should focus on what it has achieved. For example, the Treasury Single Account (TSA) has stopped massive corruption in the system; they are supposed to emphasise more on it. The N-Power programme has created job opportunities. Take a look at the school feeding programme. They are supposed to talk more on all these and talk about what they can do to improve on that. What about the increase in foreign reserve? What about the anti-corruption fight? They are supposed to talk about it. Why are they not talking about it? Therefore, it is lack of focus for them to continue to talk about past administration’s failure when they are on the saddle, and they are supposed to correct whatever it is that is the problem of the past.

What is your reaction to the list of alleged treasury looters?
The Federal Government’s action on this is subjudicial. Definitely, it is. When a matter is before the court, you are supposed to allow the matter to come to an end. You see, what the PDP did was to put a trap; they baited the APC and the APC fell right into it. Now, to counter the APC’s list of alleged looters, the PDP has released its own list which it said is three times longer than APC’s. And the list of looters by the PDP is credible.
When a matter is in court, you are not expected to talk about it. You are being prejudicial. First of all, somebody who has stolen and is charged to court is presumed innocent until proven guilty. When you go ahead and say the person has looted; you have made a judgment out of the situation.
For instance, Justice Adeniyi Ademola was charged, against all weight of evidence, he was discharged and acquitted. Secondly, when the PDP published its own list, the burden has now shifted to the EFCC to make sure that they investigate the list that was published by the PDP. This is why people believe that our institutions are being controlled by the government, otherwise, with the PDP list, the anti-corruption agencies are supposed to swing into action and investigate the persons on the list.
Now the popularity of the EFCC will go down because it will then be clear to everyone that it is ‘persecution and not ‘prosecution’.

Now that it seems the APC and the PDP are peopled by alleged looters, shouldn’t Nigerians look up to the “Third Political Force” as we approach the 2019 general election?
I intend to run for the Senate in my state and I am most likely going to run under a party supported by the Third Force. I believe in the philosophy of the Third Force. And Nigerians should look towards them. But the Third Force should be swift and fast enough to bring candidates ahead of time for Nigerians to make up their minds.
You don’t have to wait until the ruling party declares its candidate. If I’m thinking about you and you have not declared your intention and I give my support to Mr. B, by the time you come out, it might be too late because Nigerian politics goes with commitment.

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‘Pupilage gave me edge in law practice’



He was called to the Bar in 2011. Oloruntoba Obadofin, an alumnus of the Kogi State University, shares his experience in the legal profession with AKEEM NAFIU




Oloruntoba Obadofin is an associate partner at Niyi Olopade & Co., a law firm at Alausa, Ikeja. He was called to the Bar on October 5, 2011. Obadofin had his secondary education at the Kwara State College of Education Model Secondary School, Ilorin and his LL.B at the Kogi State University, where he graduated in 2008.
I am Oloruntoba Obadofin. I had my Primary Education at Start Right Nursery and Primary School, Taiwo-Oke, Ilorin, Kwara State. From there, I proceeded to Kwara State College of Education Model Secondary School, Ilorin in 1997 and had my University Education in Kogi State University. I was called to the Nigerian Bar on October 5, 2011.

Well, right from the 2nd term of my SS1 days in secondary school, I always wanted to be a lawyer. I had spent the 1st term in science class and I discovered that the core science subjects–Physics and Chemistry were just not for me. So, I moved to the Arts Class and started nursing the ambition to become a lawyer. I always had this impression from way back that I was meant to be a lawyer”.

First day in court
My very first day in court was cool and collected even though I was a little confused as I didn’t really know what the matter was all about because my then boss just gave me an instruction to get a trial date for the matter. I did as I was instructed after I announced my appearance but the judge asked me a few questions to which I could not provide answers. I then became jittery and lost my composure. Her Lordship stood down the matter and asked me to study the file well and address her later on those questions she asked. When the matter was called up later, I’d gleaned some facts from the file and I managed to keep my composure while I addressed the court and got over with the business of the day in court.

Moments of embarrassment
My Most embarrassing moment was when I went to court sometimes in my first year of practice. I had to go and appear in court for a case that had a large file with several processes and letters that had been exchanged by parties and their solicitors and because I was not properly guided by my then boss, I had to figure things out myself and then I saw a letter in which my client admitted to owing the opponent a sum different from what the opponent was alleging in the matter. Based on that letter and due to my naivety, I admitted in open court that my client was owing the sum of N180,000.00 during Case Management Conference (It was called Pre-trial Conference then).
When I got back to the office and informed my then boss, he lambasted me and said I was totally incompetent. The other lawyer filed an application for judgment in the sum of N180,000.00 based on my admission in open court. However, at the next date, my boss went to court to withdraw the admission I made and informed the court and the other counsel that I made a mistake. A few days later I saw the other counsel who informed me that the judge berated my boss for making me handle the case without properly guiding me on the intricacies of the matter.

Fond memories
Oh, I have a handful of fond memories. One event I’d never forget is when I was briefed to recover money for a client. I was envisaging that the matter would go through a long hurdle of litigation. However, all I did was to write a letter after which I followed with a visit and the money was paid to the client. Based on the agreement I had with the client, my professional fees was considerably large, you know when you are paid an amount that is three times more than your salary.

Well, my pupillage has been challenging, interesting and rewarding. I have worked with a couple of firms and I have learnt a lot. I remember a particular firm in which I worked for 2 years, the Carrington Law Firm, where I got the most training in the practice of law, the business of legal practice and I was set on the path to becoming a sound, vibrant and industrious lawyer. I have also built good lasting relationships with senior colleagues in the course of my pupillage.

My judiciary dream
I envision a judiciary that is totally efficient, impartial and incorruptible. One in which there would be speedy dispensation of justice. You know, where you file a case in the High Court and it does not exceed 6 months before the case is finally determined. Also, a system in which the matters before the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court would be determined in much shorter time as opposed to what obtains in reality where the matters drag on for years. There may be a need for more judges for this, especially at the High Court level because I know that High Court Judges (in Lagos) have so many cases in their dockets.
The judiciary should be more effective and efficient in administrative matters.

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