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May 21, 2018

The reforms of the Judiciary and Administration of Justice in Imo State (3)

The Emergence and Proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra
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In a case, Okonkwo, the Diokpara lived to the ripe age of 70, a very wealthy man but predeceased his father after building a mansion in the Isiobi. The father died a year later. The Osoge Okpara, one Chief Francis, thereafter laid claim to the Isiobi and took over the mansion with his own family and banished Okonkwo’s wife and teenage children to the boys quarter built by their father. This case has never gone to court in spite of the great opportunities of success under the repugnancy rules and public policy. But where a court is faced by these facts what should it do?

Most courts would not enforce the rule and those that enforce it would have their decisions set aside. This is why the rules of equity guide the enforcement our customary laws to ameliorate its hardship. Yet Ndigbo have continued to tolerate these barbaric laws that have set mutual suspicions between eldest son and the father who always thinks that his first son wants him to die.

We need a legislative intervention because many Diokpara have become the victims of character assassination, diabolic designs, poisoning, and untimely deaths even from their own parents and sibblings because of these rule of Iwufu obi. A father’s longevity becomes a threat to the eldest child and the eldest child presence around his father becomes a threat to the father.

Another experience in the State is that the summary jurisdiction of the lower courts seems subdued by extreme attention to technicalities, longhand and loquaciousness of lawyers at great costs to litigants. We should liberate   our lower courts from attention to extreme formalism so that they can be more summary.

It is also of primary importance to replace the use of long hand recording of court proceedings by judicial officers. This is a task for paralegal officers. I really cannot understand how a judicial officer is supposed to study the demeanour of witnesses, whilst taking notes, listening, talking over proceedings of varied cases? There is no doubt that the use of long hands has contributed to the delays in adjudication leading to the congestion in the courts.

In addition, our court rules should be amended to make the award of punitive costs for any adjournments against the benefitting party, taking into consideration, real costs to the state, and the adverse party, so as to discourage frivolous applications for adjournments. These would reduce the length of adjudication drastically and lead to speedy trials in the lower courts where summary trial is the norm rather than the exception.

In another vein, one of the problems of the courts encountered in the processes of trial is often associated with incessant transfer of judicial officers leading to the cases starting afresh or as they say de novo.

The reason for the transfers is no longer sustainable if the courts are properly organized and monitored. In fact it has aided few corrupt judicial officers to abort the cause of justice whilst escaping the wrath of litigants and the public vide the awaited transfers. Many of these judicial officers have refused to give Judgments in their matters after collecting bribes from both sides. The use of court inspectors has not helped matters. They have become relaxed and corrupt.

The State should discontinue the incessant transfer of judicial officers to other jurisdictions outside their local government Area. It is aptly escapist. Of course, Judicial Officers, on appropriate occasions should be transferred subject to guidelines and conditions which must take into cognizance, the primary interests of litigants.

It must rather facilitate intra- Jurisdictional transfers to enable such a judicial officer to handle assignment cases, even in his own new court. Only when such judicial officer has served in all or most of the courts within his jurisdiction, and fully decongested, should he be transferred out of it. Transferring a Customary court Chairman from Eziachi to Mbaise makes little sense when it could have served the purpose of Justice to leave him at Ihioma, also within Orlu Jurisdiction. This enables him to facilitate his assignment matters of part heard matters to conclusion without prejudice to litigants. This is however subject to the collectivization of the courts.

One of the ways to facilitate intra -jurisdiction transfers is by the collectivization of genre Courts within a particular facility in a jurisdiction. In any event, all customary courts in Orlu, may for example, be located within a community building in Orlu, say at the city gate Owerre Umudioka; all High courts at  The Okporo Judiciary centre and all magistrate courts at the Orlu LGA  headquarters. Such collectivization of courts by Genre or Class will improve monitoring and supervision and at the same time give advantages of registry services without the duplication of human capital resources and or labour hence saving costs whilst permitting easy access of judicial officers on intra jurisdiction transfers to Assignment cases and continued hearing of their prior transfer cases within the same facility at far lesser inconveniences and costs to the litigants. This approach is commonsensical and legally plausible. Indeed most of our courts are far flung and inaccessible to litigants and their attorneys.

The needed reforms in the State have to be well articulated and given the necessary legal frame work to ensure its success. We need a State law reform commission to look into our legal development and in particular, our statutes.

As. a state governed by the rule of law, we need to ensure that there is a sitting Attorney General and a commissioner for Justice, at all times at the helms of our affairs. It is bad for the judiciary that at any time, its chief legal officer is unavailable. The Government must put in place a policy of always ensuring that there is a serving Attorney general and commissioner for Justice in the State irrespective of the dissolution of the cabinet.

More importantly, it is important to create Divisions in the High Courts. It is stupefying to see a Judge dabble from criminal matters, to civil matters, or admiralty or petroleum and labour matters all in one day and in one court. There is the need to create specialized courts and divisions in the high court and a judge can be transferred from one division to the other and gaining specialized knowledge and training in the course. Thus we can have the criminal division, civil division, Admiralty division, Customary law Division, industrial division, amongst others. This will create division of labour and specialization which in turn will lead to high productivity.

It is also worrisome the failure of Police prosecutors in our courts to secure convictions in glaring criminal charges. In our state, we are confronted with cases of kidnappers who escape the wrath of justice because of the system error in trying public sensitive cases with police prosecutors who are not trained in law which are eventually frustrated by technicalities. Why do we continue using police prosecutors who are not lawyers who are not allowed to respond to points of law in a law court?

Legal strictures should ensure that non lawyers are not given exposures in our courts as prosecutors. Periodically, thousands of recruitments are made by the police and yet, they cannot provide enough experienced and trained attorneys for its service as if there is a deliberate policy to keep lawyers out of law enforcement. This has undermined the credibility and integrity of the criminal trial.

I also wish to suggest a reform in our Custody rules.

Where a suspect is detained at a police station, beyond the constitutional limits of 24/48 hours, unlawfully and without a court order, any subsequent charge no matter credible must be vitiated and the accused set free. It is my respectful view that the ability of the police to detain suspects beyond the constitutional limits has been responsible for the monetization of bail by the police for private profit. This ineptitude has degraded our criminal justice administration which remains an existential threat to the rule of law.

The above  characterization of our justice administration may seem an over simplification,  with respect to our criminal justice system, but it remains true, that the police service in Imo state is more of a public threat than the suspects they bring to trial; and  to the rule of law and constitutionalism.

I also wish to see a reform in our legal system which will over rule the current practice of the citizen, individual or corporate suing the state in its own courts. There is an implied or presumed bias, and or conflict of interests, adverse to the citizen. In which court, may I respectfully ask, should a citizen sue its state? Whereupon, the Citizen wins, how can he enforce his judgment using the state infrastructures against it? How many times have we witnessed a citizen suing the state for employment related matters or human rights abuse only to be deliberately frustrated?

It appears to me that the anticipated reforms to our legal system are endless but we have to start from somewhere.


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