Eight new justices of the Supreme Court were confirmed last week, sequel to the favourable report of the screening by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters chaired by Opeyemi Bamidele representing Ekiti Central. The new justices were all of the Court of Appeal. They include Justice Lawal Garba, North West; Justice Helen M. Ogunwumiju, South West; Justice Addu Aboki, North West; Justice I. M. M. Saulawa, North West; Justice Adamu Jauro, North East; Justice Samuel C. Oseji, South South; Justice Tijjani Abubakar, North East; and Justice Emmanuel A. Agim, South South. Presenting the report, Senator Bamidele noted that the justices satisfied all constitutional provisions, including the 15 years post-call experience required for their appointment and that all the required regulations and processes were followed.
Unlike in the United States where a Supreme Court confirmation is frequently a life and death ideological struggle between liberals and conservatives, Senator Bamidele took time to explain that the appointments had met the usual sore points of Nigerians, and satisfied the contentious requirements. This, from what he said, meant, the appointments are a fair reflection of Nigeria’s Federal Character as enshrined in Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. The Supreme Court, with its new additions, now had 20 justices with three from each geopolitical zone except the North West and North East which (including the Chief Justice of Nigeria) have four members each and North Central, which has only two. The reason the North Central zone has only two justices, Senator Bamidele explained, “can be attributed to the fact that during the selection process, the nomination from the zone was stood down by the selection committee for a further review of the nomination by the Federal Judicial Service Commission.” The Committee satisfied about their qualifications, experience, suitability, competence and integrity, therefore, deemed the nominees fit and proper persons for appointment as Honourable Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
This is the first time the Supreme Court is fully staffed with the requisite number of justices. We have no doubt that these appointments would ease the pressure on the Supreme Court and enhance its efficiency and speed. The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, had last year said the Supreme Court was over-stretched given the number of cases it is required to handle. Likewise, President Muhammad Buhari had in recent times expressed frustration with the pace of the work in the bench. This has led to the agitation for specialised courts. Nigerians have for decades endured delayed justice and were almost giving up. We hope these new appointments would revive their hopes. So many cases have gone through the system for 10 or 12 years without resolution. As it is said, justice delayed is justice denied. More than 60 per cent of prisoners in Nigerian jails are awaiting trial; some of them have been in prison for more than five years. We hope the new appointments would somehow help to reduce the pressure. Above all, we hope the Federal Government would provide the new judges with all the necessary tools, including computerisation of their work processes.
It is obvious that the pressure on the Supreme Court is a reflection of the pressures from the high courts, federal and states, and the courts of appeal, which seem clogged with thousands of cases throughout the country begging for adjudication. In a digitised world in which electronics have automated most processes, it is sometimes incomprehensible that judges still write decisions and take evidence in long-hand at a time digital recording is not only universally available but costs next to nothing. We are also tempted to raise the issue of productivity at the bench. It is reasonable to demand that judges should conclude a case within a certain period. But it would also be helpful to get judges to adjudicate a certain number of cases within a period; that way a state chief judge would be able to manage the cases in the state high courts and know when more judges are needed, and hold accountable those whose work rate is appalling, and reward those who deserve promotion or such other incentives.
A democratic society is necessarily litigious but we have a situation where many Nigerians think that going to court for anything means interminable years of “come-today-come-tomorrow.” This is the kind of thinking that leads to self-help, avoidable violence and breakdown of law and order. We are already resigned to the pace of the due process and the rule of law but no society can get used to a dozen years spent in court over a regular dispute. It is often not also understood that as an economy grows more complex, as ours has, its judiciary must also grow in scope to be able to cope with the pace and volume of everyday transactions and the complexities of a society that has gone through a population explosion.