Thursday, September 29, 2022

One judge assigned 1,000 cases; Nigerian judges overworked: Ex-Justice

“The Court of Appeal is short of manpower. They need more justices in the court. In my personal view, every state should have a division.”

• March 30, 2022
Supreme Court Judges
Supreme Court Judges used to illustrate the story

Retired Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi of the Jos Division of the Court of Appeal says Nigerian judges are overworked, with one judge handling up to 1,000 cases, stressing the need for the decentralisation of the Supreme Court to speed up the dispensation of justice in Nigeria.

“Here, like the high court, we don’t have specialised courts, and that is why you find judges doing criminal matters, civil matters, and commercial,” he stressed. “A judge may be assigned to 1,000 files in a court which is on every subject; commercial, criminal, civil.”

Mr Oniyangi, who made the call while speaking with journalists in Abuja, noted that the workload for Nigerian judges was too much in most cases.

The Kwara-born retired jurist said the decentralisation of the apex court would enable assigned justices in each geopolitical zone to handle cases without congesting the court in Abuja.

“The headquarters can be here in Abuja as well as the chief justice of Nigeria, but when that division is created, the justices of the Supreme Court sent there will attend to matters in that geopolitical zone, but it will be the same one Supreme Court, no division,” he expatiated. “The justices will just be assigned to do the job there and decongest the headquarters in Abuja. Abuja is full to the brim. Cases are pending.” 

The jurist also called for a division of the Court of Appeal in each state to reduce pending cases.

“The Court of Appeal is short of manpower. They need more justices in the court. In my personal view, every state should have a division of the Court of Appeal so that they can face the issue and problems happening in every case rather than the present number that we have,” added Mr Oniyangi. “It will reduce congestion or risks on the road.”

While arguing that the judges could not cope with the volumes of court cases assigned to them, he pointed out that the delay in delivering judgment in most cases was not the judges’ fault.

“Speedy dispensation of justice as far as I am concerned and my experience in the bench, on most occasions, the court sits either 9:00 a.m. or just a little after 9:00 a.m. But if case A is called, you either find the prosecutor or the defence counsel telling the judge my witnesses are not ready,” explained the retired justice.

Mr Oniyangi also observed that low judiciary funding, poor infrastructure, among other factors, were responsible for delayed justice in the country.

“The judge will never say I am not ready to handle this matter. Rather you would hear from the prosecutor or defence counsel saying, ‘give us another date, or throw away the matter’, said the retired judge. “The judge will still insist and say, ‘let’s give them some time’. So the court is always ready. I am not beating my chest for everybody, but you will find out that 98 per cent of these courts sit on time.”

Mr Oniyangi, who began his Judiciary career as a clerk in 1973, had worked in several states of Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.


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