I was in a cinema with a friend recently and we got talking about politics. He said “there is no justice in Nigeria and that all judges and police officers are corrupt. Justice is for the highest bidder especially now that election is around the corner”
It is the general belief amongst Nigerians that our justice system is incredibly flawed and faulty. That there is no respite for the common man. That the police and the courts are full of corrupt bigots and thieves who sell justice to the highest bidder. This is not true.
On social media; the pseudo-community where millions of Nigerians now live, it has become a trend for people to bring grievances and crimes committed against them to the court of public opinion in order to shame or ridicule the other party. It is especially common on twitter where the ‘gist’ most of the time generate a lot of buzz, controversies, unsubstantiated tit for tat and jests. This is due to the general sentiment that even if you report the said crime to the police station or the appropriate legal authority in Nigeria, the crime might be eventually buried and thus go unpunished.
For instance the recent upsurge in the complaints of rape and sexual assaults on social media or even corruption-related arrests that filters into the social atmosphere have brought the Nigerian criminal justice system into question. After a while, the conversation around these incidents dies down. However, does that mean that the cases is dead? Has it been swept under the rug by the police? Has the judge received a bribe and therefore dismissed the case? Why are we not hearing about it anymore? None of these questions are always in the affirmative, in fact justice is usually served.
Let’s start from the point of the initial complaint being filed with the law enforcement authorities. Here, the suspect is arrested and taken to the police station. This aspect habitually generate a whole lot of noise and attention, both in the real world and on social media. After, he is charged and arraigned in court. Usually he is granted bail and the cases is adjourned. This is where a lot of people will “miss road”
Many will scream blue murder and groan about how the accused person have been released thus creating a new wave of aspersions against the judicial system. Under the law, an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty therefore he/she is entitled to bail except cases regarding capital offences like murder, armed robbery etc -even in this cases he can get released but more difficult.
He or she being released on bail is NOT the end of the case. In fact in order to ensure that an accused comes to court, an accused has to have sureties to stand for him/her and fulfill other stringent bail conditions set by the court. These conditions are not easy to meet and they are made that way to ensure that the accused is present at every adjournment of the case.
If an accused is not present, his/her surety must come to court to give reasons why. If it is discovered that the accused person has jumped bail, his sureties are held liable and they will be required to pay the bail sum or risk imprisonment themselves. Therefore, bail is not freedom or acquittal as it is being misconstrued by many.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act provides that a criminal trial shall not take more than 180 days. Most of the time, this may not be feasible because of inadequate resources and motivation. However, the case or cases are adjourned periodically until trial is done and judgment is given.
At this stage, the people who were passionately involved and interested in these cases have gradually lost interest. The conversation around it has died down and people are now interested in another thing. The attention span of the internet is short and people move on quickly. Nobody bothers to diligently follow up a case adjournment by adjournment. Who has the time right?
We have to create the time. We have to attend court proceedings to get first-hand information on cases. We have to monitor the trials; the examination-in-chief and the cross examination. We have to keep the prosecuting counsel on his/her toes. A lot of cases are dismissed due to lack of diligent prosecution. A lot of prosecutors are overworked and some are lazy and disorganized, therefore they are to be kept motivated by litigants and complainants.
Don’t seat behind the phone waiting for justice, be a part of the movement for the actualization of justice. Observe court proceedings (I am saying it again for emphasis). The court is open to all and sundry. Go to court preferably in the afternoons when trials are usually held and the courts get really interesting. Sit down at the gallery and see justice in motion. Judicial proceedings are not as dramatic and fast paced as it is normally depicted in movies and tv shows. Make applications for necessary court documents you might want to see or peruse. Every document concerning a case or matter is a public document accessible to an interested party.
As a complainant, monitor your cases, be on the prosecution’s neck, endeavour to be punctual at every court sitting (incredibly important), and report incidences of corruption in judiciary. You don’t know to whom to report, write to the Chief Judge or us and attach your evidences or ask the relevant authority to investigate. Do your bit.
As a concerned citizen and an interested party, you can do all those mentioned above too.
We can get justice, we just have to put in a little effort.
In the words of Catherine Pulsifer – The amount of effort you put in is the amount of results you end up with.
Legal Counsel, Citizens’ Gavel
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to get the short-attention-span twitter users to read through this.
I also think the question here isn’t just about how the system works or how to “motivate” prosecutors, but also how this system can be used to witch-hunt people with limited resources and knowing how safe and friendly or prison system is, adjournments can be a sentence in and of itself.
How do we speed up criminal cases and how do we reduce the likely hood of spending time in jail or even prison while awaiting judgement?
Speeding up the justice system has been at the forefront of our work at Gavel and we believe the increased use of Technology can help achieve this. But we know it’s not going to be an easy task achieving this but with God on our side, it would only be a matter of time.