By Chijioke Okoronkwo
Abuja, Aug. 22, 2020 Vice President Yemi Osinbajo says synergy among the three arms of government including representatives of the legal profession will be a useful approach to the required reform of Nigeria’s administration of justice system.
Osinbajo’s spokesman, Laolu Akande, in a statement in Abuja, said the vice president made the submission on Saturday at the virtual edition of the Wole Olanipekun and Co (WOC) Justice Summit.
The theme of the summit is “Developing an Institutional Concept of Justice in Nigeria”.
The event featured prominent speakers including the convener, Olanipekun, Prof. Fidelis Oditah, Mr Yemi Candide-Johnson, notable economist, Prof. Pat Utomi, a prominent lawyer from the UK, Brie Stevens-Hoare, among others.
“Working together, the sub-nationals and the federal government and their judiciaries, we can make a fundamental change.
“This is obviously a matter that we must take seriously and address, not just as professionals but we must involve all the arms of government.
“Because of the kind of system that we run, the reform of the Justice System is many-sided; it can’t be done by one segment; it cannot be done by the executive alone, it cannot be done by the judiciary alone, and it certainly cannot be done by the legislature alone.
“There is a need for us to appreciate that it is a many-sided thing, complicated, and we have to simply look for ways to work together. I am seeing that critical mass of individuals in the legal profession, in the executive and also in the judiciary who are willing to reform.
“We are working quite hard to see how we can all come together to make a real change.”
Osinbajo said that the big question was also the relevance of Nigeria’s paradigms of justice to the major socio-economic circumstances that confronted it.
He said that the law was a social construct and made sense only within a social context.
“To treat the law as something apart from society, or as a body of technical abstractions is to strip it of meaning and to alienate the legal order from the very people it is meant to serve.
“Consequently, a definition of justice that focuses on the social and economic rights of the people is not only more meaningful, it is more just.
“These rights include the right to food, shelter, employment, education and a reasonable national standard of living, care for the elderly, pensions, unemployment benefits and welfare for the physically challenged.”
Osinbajo said that socio-economic rights even where wholly justiciable meant nothing unless there was a fiscal commitment to enforcement.
He said the opposition in Nigeria was prepared to abolish Nigeria’s social investment programme if it won, while the ruling party’s understanding of the imperative of delivering social justice was the provision of a massive social safety net.
“This was a fundamental feature of our manifesto.
“So, our Social Investment Programme, which is the most ambitious welfare programme on the continent, and our effort to expand universal health insurance all aim at ensuring that our most vulnerable citizens are not abandoned to the vicissitudes of fate.”
On the appointment of judges as an important area of reform in the system, Osinbajo said that judicial appointments should follow a merit-based system.
According to the vice president, stakeholders need to clearly look more carefully at how judges are selected.
“There has to be an objective process of selecting judges; we cannot insist that the only way to become a judge is to be a (judicial) career person or move from the high court to the Court of Appeal, to the Supreme Court.
“ We must be able to bring in practicing lawyers, academics to be justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court; if it requires rewriting the rules, then let us rewrite the rules,” he said.
In his contribution, the keynote speaker, Oditah said pertinent issues that required urgent reform in the administration of justice system included the reform of dispute resolution mechanisms.
He also listed the overhaul of the current system that focused more on technicalities rather than the substance of cases brought before the courts, among others.
Oditah regretted instances where appellate courts overturned decisions merely based on technicalities, without addressing the public interest implications.
He said that such judicial behavior was not desirable, should be avoided and possibly prevented as much as possible through the reforms.
The summit was moderated by Mr Bode Olanipekun, the Managing Partner of Wole Olanipekun Chambers.