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May 21, 2018

The reforms of the Judiciary and Administration of Justice In Imo State (2)

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In particular, our customary laws need to be reviewed to check the observances of rules that are archaic and in contraventions of the repugnancy rules and the strictures of the constitution.

By this time, it is anticipated that some of our  customary rules that have been determined as repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience should have been specifically and statutorily abolished with the courts denied the jurisdictions to entertain the enforcement of such rules. But this is not the case. Daily, in our courts, customary courts are expending resources trying matters advocating repugnant rules which have no redeemable value for a modern society such as ours.

In my view, aside the need for legislative guidelines and provisions to direct the courts, we need continuing legal education for judicial officers to aid them in coming to the right conclusions. This requires an overhaul of the system as to make it responsive to reformative and extraneous stimuli.

Perhaps what is needed most is the codification of our customary laws. Something I have often thought passionately of doing but such an extensive contribution to legal development requires exposure and political cooperation. But it can be done without me.

The time has come for us to seek customary uniformity in which sense I call for the Customary Courts Uniform code in Imo state.

Further beyond, are reasons to accept the conclusion as founded that the judiciary is gravely challenged in human capital resources and poorly motivated.

According to a source the congestion in our courts are primarily caused by inadequate numbers of judicial officers that are  overworked and overburdened .Many  cases are likely to start de novo than be concluded because of over congestions. You should forget about transferring cases from any Judge for that matter because all the existing courts are congested.  Like a registrar educated me, “which court are you going to transfer your action to? They are all congested.”

In other smaller Nigerian States, the average number of Judges per state is 25. We need at least 54 high court judges in Imo state. The same number of Magistrates and Chairmen of Customary Courts are also required to tackle the problem of backlog of cases in the state which has led to congestions in our courts and exacerbated the inefficiency existing in the judiciary.

The important factors determining the need for more judges are the state’s expansive population and the growing dissatisfaction of the native arbitration system which has created the congestion in our courts in the first place. In times past, the confidence in alternative native dispute system led to less reliance on the formal courts.

But these days, our grey haired elders and chiefs have abandoned the path of truth for materialism leading to appellate disputes resolutions at the formal courts which has created the congestions.

Thus one way of reducing the congestions is for the government to appraise the functions of native arbitrations and motivate the panels to excellence in addition to improving the availability and accessibility of formal alternative dispute resolution.

It is no longer news that some traditional rulers’ advice and witness the willing or partitions of the Isiobi against the interest of the Diokpara and by extension pervert the traditions of our forefathers because of material interests or spite. Such examples of   aggravated disrespect are petitionable as grave misconducts which are sufficient grounds for the suspension and removal of such a traditional ruler to the appropriate State regulatory authority. The Isiobi cannot be the subject of a will as it devolves upon death to the next beneficiary.

Indeed the reform of our legal system requires the restoration of confidence in the Native arbitration system through routine regulation and monitoring. Anyway, why should the traditional rulers be paid N100, 000.00 per month in Imo state when the institutional framework for their relevance is built around native arbitration legal system facilitated by the cabinet members who get nothing?

I think motivating these people by appropriate sitting allowances in addition to regulating them would restore the preeminence of native dispute arbitration system.

Delays in adjudication.

I wish to make suggestions for the reforms in the judicial processes of our Courts. With respect to the inordinate delays caused by congestions and adjournments, I wish to suggest the use of the frontloading system in the customary courts and in the exercise of the magistrate courts civil jurisdictions. This will accelerate the pace of adjudication and does not in any way amount to the application of adjective laws in customary law.

This simply requires as is the practice in the High court for litigants/ witnesses to file their statement of claims/plaints, file and adopt witnesses depositions, upon which they are cross examined, file addresses to support any and all applications made before the courts, file the lists of their exhibits where applicable. These steps will ensure the speedy trial of cases and save time caused by delays and frivolous applications. It is not in any way the application of adjectival laws of enforcement and procedure but rather the amendment of the customary court rules to provide it with the needed flexibility.

I am of the view that what a customary court should concern itself in a proceeding are as follows:

1.What customary rules are sought by the parties?

2.Whether the sets of facts justify the affirmation of the customary rules?

3.Whether the rules sought to be affirmed are repugnant to natural justice equity and good conscience and or incompatible with written enactments and public policy?

The above conditions require the filing of witnesses’ depositions which contains the sets of facts and customary rules sought to be enforced.

The defendant can upon be served with these depositions file a preliminary objection on grounds of repugnancy. The court on its own can elicit further information from the witnesses to reach a decision. For instance on the dispute of the Isiobi, the court should concern itself with the proof of ascendancy to the Isiobi and on whether the Isiobi is partionable and or the appropriate person entitled to the Isiobi and reach a decision summarily by calling for evidence in the relevant area of conflict in the backdrop of the sets of facts.. The court should not concern itself with other immaterial subtle evidence meant to deceive the court and waste time.

In a matter where a party alleges the doctrine of Iwufu Obi or a Diokpara predeceasing his father, the court should determine the case based on the consequences of the set of facts to determine if same are repugnant to the rules of natural justice, equity and good conscience, written enactments and public policy? The mere proof of the Iwufu Obi is not enough.

To be contd.

 

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