At university, as a student of Laws, I dreamed of how interesting practicing law would be. At times while reading in the library, the words on the text-book would be there, but I wouldn’t actually see them.
Rather, I’ll be in a trance, fantasizing on how I will rule the court one day and mesmerize the public with great advocacy skills, adjusting my gown once in a while to play to the gallery, as the lines of my robe would struggle to break the air thick with admiration for my fight, savor and passion for justice.
Maybe I speak for most law students when I talk about these fantasies, or may be my daydreams are peculiar to me. But one thing is certain; you do not study a professional course without some wish or inkling to make a mark in your field.
And so I had this same passion and dream in my heart when my boss sent me on an errand to the Federal High Court Ikoyi, Lagos state to receive a C.T.C (certified true copy) of a Court Order. The C.T.C was ready; however, I had to process it by paying court fees.
Being a new-comer to the High Court premises, I honestly did not know the cash office. And so I was directed to the appropriate place upon inquiry.
Upon my entry I could have sworn I was at the only kiosk in a village. The cash office was jam-packed with lawyers and paralegals who were all bustling and hustling to have their various legal documents processed, that it seemed impossible not to lose a shoe in the struggle.
The whole scenario was definitely not in sync with what I had imagined. I felt like the kid who loved sausages so much only to see for himself how they are made.
Noble profession? What I saw reflected a different adjective! But who was I to stop all the madness on sight. And so, in line with acting like the Romans while in Rome, I think I climbed onto someone’s back, or squeezed in between taller persons’ armpits (I can’t really remember), but I finally saw the cause of the bottleneck at the counter.
And I couldn’t believe it; there were only two computers manned by four women in two separate cubicles (i.e., two women to a computer) to attend to countless numbers of persons. This was due to the fact that all transactions at the Federal High court cannot be processed without these computers as the TSA policy administered by President Buhari’s regime requires online or direct payment into the Federal Government coffers.
There’s a maxim in Equity that “delay defeats justice.” In other words, swiftness, in the dispensation of justice is a core criterion. The set up at the cash office of the federal high court Lagos is a recipe for slowness, delay and utter frustration, and in the long run amounts to injustice. It defeats the intendment of a modern judiciary system. To the extent that if someone has to file a fundamental right case in the Federal High Court Lagos, all the improvements brought to the fore by the fundamental Human Rights enforcement procedure Rule, that goes to eliminate unnecessary technicalities and undue delay, will be of no avail as one would have to go through the bottleneck at cash office before court will sit.
It is a terrible experience to sweat and fuss just to get to a cashier to pay court fees that most times amount to nothing more than 60, 100 or 150 Naira.
Access to court services shouldn’t be so cumbersome, tiring and apathetic. It’s a noble profession, and lawyers shouldn’t have to shove and push each other in an agbero fashion just to get court stamps or receipts.
It took a whole day to get that C.T.C properly processed. And it makes me think why efficiency at the judiciary has to start and end with the judge alone. It should flow from bottom to the top and vice versa. A well run machine is not oiled only at one part, and the other parts are left dry; all the connecting parts are well maintained and oiled so as to give the machine maximum efficiency.
Wole Soyinka stated that the man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny. Inefficiency in the judiciary is a tyrannical non-progressive element. And I knew I had to say something about it, else the man in me dies or kpeme like Nigerians say.
So while the TSA policy is a worthy development, as it encourages transparency, it is not without challenges, especially as regards the Federal High Court which is known for its analogous system of operation.
Most courts in Nigeria operate in isolation from new inventions, computers and gizmos. The challenge of the Federal High court is its inability to automate and computerize its operations. This has deeply affected its efficiency.
Of course, the problems with the Federal High courts are not peculiar to Lagos alone. It is a “Federal Government issue” and more particularly a “Federal Government fund issue.”
The judiciary is not well-funded. The judiciary in the past has decried the amount budgeted to it; the amount which hitherto made up 1% of the total budget. Thankfully, the proposed 2017 budget has 100 billion Naira allocated to the judiciary, which is an increase from the 70 billion Naira of the 2016 budget.
Hopefully with this increment in the budget, the judiciary can make itself into a better version of the last hope of the common man, for as it stands now, the judiciary is an involuntary party to the obliteration of the last hope of the common man. Shame!
*Written by Michael Ayua.