An x-ray of judiciary/executive harmony in Niger state

It is believed that good governance stems from equity and fairness in the administration of justice and a robust relationship among the three arms of government. AIDELOJE OJO reports.

Legal luminaries from across the country gathered recently at the High Court 1 Courtroom in Minna, Niger state on October 17 2023 despite the early morning downpour. The Chief Judge of the state, Justice Halima Ibrahim Abdulmalik thereafter reviewed the parade of honour mounted by the personnel of Nigeria Police before commencing the special court session marking the beginning of the new 2023/2024 legal year.

A show of solidarity

By the time the state governor, Mohammed Umaru Bago, arrived the venue, the courtroom was overfilled. Observers were of the views that the presence of the governor along with his deputy, Comrade Garba Yakubu and commissioners was a clear demonstration of the cordial relationship between the judiciary and the executive.

Governor Bago corroborated this view in his address to the Bench, Nigeria Bar Association, legal luminaries, serving and retired judges when he said, “The judiciary plays a crucial role in upholding the rule of law and ensuring justice for all. It is through your unwavering commitment and dedication that our society remains stable, fair and resilient. I commend the judiciary for its tireless efforts in protecting the rights of citizens and maintaining the integrity of our legal system.”

The governor stressed the need to increase public trust in the judiciary as he noted that transparency, accountability and integrity should be upheld at all levels and in all aspects of the legal profession. While acknowledging the fact that the judiciary as an arm of government has been facing various challenges, he expressed satisfaction that the courts have continued to dispense justice impartially and efficiently despite limited resources and growing caseload.

What Niger gov’t does to enhance judicial proficiency

Numerous issues required the attention of the state government towards the efficiency of the state judiciary. Some of those issues included inadequate funding, lack of office and residential accommodation and lack of mobility for judges. However, Justice Abdulmalik did not minced words in enumerating some of these challenges.

She disclosed the fact that some Magistrate Courts were operating in rented accommodations while others are in a state of dilapidation. What is however of serious concern to the public is the case of Izom Magistrate Court which has partially collapsed thereby endangering the lives of the presiding Magistrates and litigants.
She said, “Some of our Magistrates commute in public transport to and from their stations. This is not just undignified, but also constitutes imminent danger to their wellbeing as they sometimes join vehicles with litigants/defendants/accused persons who appear before them.”

She insisted that the implementation of the Harmonisation of Conditions of Service Law 2023 would provide immense succor to the plight of the judicial officers.
According to Justice Halima Abdulmalik, “On May 24 2023, the 9th Assembly passed into law the Harmonization of Conditions of Service for Magistrates, Sharia Court Judges, state counsels, draftmen and other connected purpose therewith.”

She therefore appealed to Governor Bago to direct full implementation of the law even as she made it clear that the monthly allocation to the judiciary for both capital and recurrent expenditure is grossly inadequate to take care of its needs.

The CJ pointed out that the High Court complex is in dire need of upgrade by way of reconstruction, rehabilitation and re-roofing. It was learnt that although the Chief Judge recently carried out some renovations, government intervention is still expedient because the complex is as old as 1976.

Executive collaboration

Soon, the governor took to the podium and announced some measures aimed at bringing succor to the state judiciary by taking the issues raised by the CJ one after the other. It is believed that what the judicial staff took home that day was the promise to immediately look into the payment of backlog of allowances as it affects the judiciary. The governor also assured that the welfare of judges would be given serious attention.

According to him, “The government would provide three CNG luxury buses to the judiciary to cushion the effect of subsidy removal by way of free transportation to office”.
Blueprint learnt that work would soon commence on the construction of the state three arms zone where the government has designed expansive accommodation for the judiciary. The governor said that it is essential that the government provides adequate support to the courts to enable them function optimally.
“This includes investing in the training and development of our judicial officers, improving infrastructure and embracing technology to streamline processes and enhance efficiency.”

Preview of cases/ performance targets

The special court session which also marked the commencement of the 2023/2024 legal year no doubt provided the Chief Judge the opportunity to present the score card for the preceding year and set target for the new legal year. This was as she rolled out achievements recorded in the previous year, thereby leading to a resounding ovation. She explained that a total of 3418 cases were pending in the year 2022/2023 legal year out of which 486 were freshly filed and 2,932 brought forward for 2021/2022 legal year.

She said that in all, 448 cases were disposed off while 2,970 are pending. “From the available statistics, it is apparent that on the average, each judge of the High Court has a total of 228 cases in his docket and 34 cases were disposed off per judge.” At the Magistrate level, the Chief Judge said 8,840 cases were filed during the year under review adding that 5,478 were disposed off while 3,234 are pending. At the Sharia Court of Appeal, 61 appeals were filed, 27 were disposed off while 34 are pending.

She said, “This means that our current complement of judges need to be augmented to meet the workload and to facilitate speedy dispensation of justice.” She pleaded with all judicial officers both at the high and lower bench to work hard to eradicate delays in trials and decongest their dockets. It was learnt that the state has newly enacted the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) which provided timelines/limits for the disposal of cases particularly in the Magistrate Courts.

Legal luminaries and other laymen in the society are however worried over the conditions of accused persons awaiting trials kept in police detentions/cells. This has apparently come to the notice of the Chief Judge who has invoked the provision of Section 35 of ACJL for Magistrates to commence inspection visits to police stations and other places of detention within the state to handle cases of inmates awaiting trial.
Many believe that this would enable innocent citizens who are clamped into detention for offences not committed to regain freedom. However, the activities of miscreants and street urchins in Minna and its environs has been a disturbing phenomenon in the state for long.
Observers and other residents of the ancient city have continually cried out for peace and order as the miscreants engage in attacks, stabbing of innocent citizens to disposes them of valuables including handsets.

Blueprint reports that concerned citizens believed that the judiciary was not helping matters because many of the urchins arrested by the police were often released on bail by the courts only for them to return to the streets. However such thuggery and insecurity in the state particularly within Minna will soon be a thing of the past according to Justice Halima Abdulmalik who mentioned some steps taken by the judiciary to get the situation under strict control.

In a bid to check incidences of thuggery and insecurity bedeviling the state, particularly within Minna and environs, we have designated four High Courts and five Magistrate Courts in the different Judicial Division and Magisterial Districts to expeditiously try such cases.”