According to Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Nigerians, particularly the political elite, are the most litigious people on earth, which puts a lot of strain on the judicial system.
At a special Supreme Court session held on Monday in Abuja to commemorate the start of the 2022–2023 legal year and the swearing-in of 62 newly appointed Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Justice Ariwoola made the statement (SAN).
The CJN claims that regardless of how little the dispute may be, we rush to court whenever there is a dispute and appeal every lost case all the way to the Supreme Court.
“That has obviously accounted for the several appeals pending in Supreme Court.
“Though we receive scathing criticisms from members of the public over our over-blotted docket, we are neither in any position to regulate case inflow to the court nor have the supernatural powers to attend to all in one-fell-swoop.
“We have said it repeatedly that ordinarily, most appeals should be allowed to end at the Court of Appeal, but such constitutional provision is yet to be enacted so we have no blame in it.”
He argued that it would be practical to modify the constitution to prevent interlocutory appeals from reaching the Supreme Court and to require them to be resolved by the Court of Appeal instead.
He added that Nigeria had a number of alternative conflict resolution procedures spread out over the nation that could easily be used in order to relieve the courts of their constant caseload.
According to the CJN, the Supreme Court heard motions and appeals in a total of 1,764 cases during the 2021–2022 fiscal year.
He said that out of the total, the justices of the court heard 1,202 motions and 816 civil, 370 criminal, and 16 political cases.
He further said, the court considered a total number of 562 appeals, comprising of 341 Civil, 186 Criminal, and 35 Political. A total number of 154 judgments were delivered in the year.
“Our pending (backlog) civil appeals are 4,741 while the number of pending (backlog) criminal appeals is 1,392.
“On the other hand, we have 751 moribund appeals for disposal. That brings the total number of pending (backlog) appeals in this court to 6,884.
“Out of the 4,741 appeals in the court’s docket, 1,495 have briefs filed and exchanged and are ready for hearing; whereas, the remaining 3,246 appeals are having about 10,000 motions, with some contentious and others innocuous in nature.
“As for the pending 1,392 Criminal Appeals, 461 already had briefs filed and exchanged and are ready for hearing. The remaining 931 appeals have about 2,000 different motions for hearing to determine their eligibility for hearing.
“However, the identified 751 moribund appeals are to be disposed of for non-compliance with the Supreme Court Rules, i.e. Order 8 Rule 8”, he said.
Ariwoola further said that the court had between Oct. 2021 and Sept. 2022, made a total of 3, 563 convictions.
“Available facts on judicial activities in various jurisdictions across the globe still emphatically confirmed that the Supreme Court of Nigeria remains the busiest and most hardworking Supreme Court in the world.
“It is on record that we work from Monday to Friday every week. We conduct sittings on daily basis. It is only on Wednesdays that we do Chamber sitting to consider non-contentious matters. On Fridays, we deliver judgments and rulings.
“I We are humans and equally have blood running through our veins; if no one praises us, we have the inalienable right and obligation to praise and eulogise ourselves,” the CJN said.
The CJN reiterated that contrary to speculation from some quarters, the Nigerian judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, has strived to remain independent and withstand external influence.
“The Nigerian Judiciary, to a very large extent, is independent in conducting its affairs and taking decisions on matters before it without any extraneous influence.
“At the Supreme Court, without mincing words, we are completely independent in the way and manner we conduct our affairs, especially in our judgments.
“We don’t pander to the whims and caprices of anybody. If there is anybody to be feared, I must say with full confidence, that it is only the Almighty God. We will never be subservient to anyone, no matter his position or influence in the society.’”
He, however, expressed concerns that with regards to financing, the Nigerian judiciary could not be said to be completely independent.
“Nevertheless, I will make it clear to whoever that cares to listen that when the Nigerian Judiciary is assessed from the financial aspect, we are yet to be free or truly independent.
“The annual budget of the Judiciary is still a far cry from what it ought to be. The figure is either stagnated for a long period of time or it goes on a progressive decline when placed side-by-side with the current realities in the market.
“Prices of goods and services are not getting less or friendly to buyers; while at the same time, our purchasing power is abysmally low and weak enough to transmit on the same wavelength with the market forces.
For his part, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, (SAN), said he was optimistic that the recent approval for the increase in the salaries and allowances of judges would boost their moral.
“I like to place on record that since inception, this administration, in line with its commitment to promoting the rule of law, has accorded top priority to the funding of the judiciary.
“As a result, we have ensured a progressive budgetary allocation to the judiciary which has seen an increase from N73 billion in 2015 to over N130 billion in 2022 and a further increase of N150 billion has been proposed for 2023.
“In addition to the foregoing, we have provided special intervention when the need arises, particularly, in meeting the huge cost of running election tribunals”,Malami said.
He said the collective efforts of the judiciary was needed to attain desired levels of good governance and development.
“Since law and development are interwoven, then positive changes in the judiciary will by necessary implication serve as precipitating factors for the much-needed developments in our national polity.
“We continue to solicit the support and cooperation of the judiciary in this regard”, he said.
Speaking at the ceremony, Mr. Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Chairman of the Body of Benchers, echoed what the CJN said and added that it would be a relief if some political cases did not go to trial.
Recall that luminaries attended the ceremony, including various ministers and the governors of Kogi, Ondo, Gombe, and Plateau.