As part of efforts in reforming the Judiciary, President Muhammadu Buhari has directed that all prisoners who are unnecessarily detained without due process in prisons across the country should be released.
The President gave the directive on Monday, Nov. 20, at the opening of the 2017 All Nigerian Judges’ Conference of Superior Courts, held at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja.
At the conference which was themed: “Strengthening Judicial Integrity and the Rule of Law”, Buhari urged the leadership of the judiciary to pay close attention to the challenges confronting the system, stressing that the public expected fairness, impartiality and speed in the administration of justice.
While expressing the readiness of his administration to continue to address problems besetting the Judiciary including under-funding, inadequate personnel and absence of modern technological aids, Buhari disclosed that he had already written to all state governors urging them to make a special visit to prisons in company with Chief Judges and release prisoners unnecessarily detained without due process.
According to the president, he gave the directive to the states last month and explained that over-crowding prisons and some other noticeable problems in the judiciary have caused loss of confidence in the system.
Buhari also assured the Judicial community that the recent investigations involving some judicial staff was not aimed at intimidating the Judiciary as wrongly portrayed in some sections of the media, noting that the executive and legislative officials were also investigated.
Maintaining that the action was in no way a prelude to usurping the powers of the National Judicial Council, the President said he was of the belief that the “majority of judicial officers are learned and incorruptible and day in day out acting in the best spirit of their oath of office”.
The president stressed that his administration’s commitment is to accord the Judiciary its constitutional rights.
He, therefore, commended the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, for his recent decision to ask all judges at lower courts to provide him with a comprehensive list of all corruption and financial crimes cases in order to designate special courts to handle them.
“I support your action and the public is awaiting the results of this initiative,’’ he said.
He also stressed the need for fairness, impartiality and speed in the administration of justice by the judiciary.
The president noted that there were huge backlogs of cases waiting to be dispensed especially at the appellate levels.
He said the reform of the judiciary should start “at eliminating these seemingly endless delays in settling what to the layman are apparently simple cases.”
Lamenting that court cases could drag on for years and sometimes decades without resolution, Buhari said:
“I need only mention land cases in Lagos to illustrate my point.
“Again, litigants expect that higher courts should endeavour to harmonize their rulings.
“There are contradictory decisions of superior courts on the same subject matter in cases where facts are substantially the same without a clear attempt in subsequent cases to distinguish the earlier cases.
“This lack of clarity leads to serious confusion to the lower courts.
“The knock-on efforts of these delays and dis-continuities range from loss of confidence in the judicial system to over-crowding of prisons.”
In his remarks, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, said prison congestion was a worrisome phenomenon in the nation’s justice delivery system which he said had become an embarrassment.
He, therefore, stressed the need for the judiciary to partner with the executive arm of the government to curb this menace.
“Again, close supervision, and frequent visits by heads of courts to prisons within their jurisdictions, and synergizing with Attorneys General of States are veritable steps to a lasting solution.
“In addition, the executive should consider expansion of the present prison facilities to ease the situation,’’ he added.
Onnoghen advocated for full financial independence for the state judiciary so as to continuously strive to achieve their constitutional mandates.
He said the conference was intended to serve as a forum to give judges the opportunity to come together every two years to discuss common problems and exchange ideas and experiences for the enrichment of the nation’s judicial system.