- April 26, 2019
- Posted by: Stephen Azubuike
- Category: Special Feature
It is a well-known fact that the Lagos State Judiciary has over time been a pacesetter in the advancement of the justice system in Nigeria. Honourable Justice Olufunmilayo Opeyemi Oke was appointed by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in September 2017 as the 16th Chief Judge of the State. Since her appointment, Her Ladyship has embarked on several projects towards improving the administration of justice in Lagos State. She builds on the legacy of the former Chief Judges of the State.
At the Inaugural Humphrey Fellow Lecture Series by Humphrey H. Fellowship Alumni Association on the 5th of April, 2019 at the US Consulate Multipurpose Room, Lagos, the Honourable Chief Judge recounted, most humbly, some of the achievements of her administration while delivering a paper on leadership titled, “Leadership; A Distinctive Skill of every Hubert Humphrey Fellow.”
1. Installation of the Solemn Creed
The Hon. Chief Judge noted the “Installation and commissioning of the vision, mission and commitment sign posts of the Lagos State Judiciary across all the Court premises in Lagos State. Very guardedly, we have been running with our vision and our steadfastness has birthed laudable achievements to the glory of God and the advancement of the Lagos State Judiciary… It is only when the people know the vision that they can run by it. Every signage of the vision is a daily reminder of the shared dream.” The vision, according to her, reads thus:
- “To create a truly independent and empowered branch of government by providing a fair and responsive system of justice committed to excellence.
- To uphold the rule of law in interpreting laws.
- To stamp out all forms of official corruption.
- To make speedy dispensation of justice a hallmark of Lagos State Judiciary.
- To improve on the reputation of Lagos State Judiciary as a pacesetter and the best in Nigeria and Africa.
- To improve public access, transparency and accountability so as to boost the confidence of the public in Lagos State Judiciary.
- To improve the training and welfare of judicial officers and staff of Lagos State Judiciary.
- To position the Judiciary as a partner in improving the quality and professional legal training in Lagos.’’
Perhaps in addition to hanging the creeds as signage, members of staff should be made to recite them at some meetings and know them by heart. It is not enough to hang them on the courtroom walls, otherwise, they begin to see them as mere decorations (because these framed signs truly beautified the court temples).
2. Fight against Corruption
According to her, “We walk the talk and fight against corruption. Disciplinary actions taken against erring staff: Sheriff Department, Probate Registry, Cash Office and Administrative staff.”
This will surely be a long walk but with the right commitment, we shall get there.
3. Innovation – Small Claims Court
In her words, “The innovative creation of Small Claims Courts in the Magistracy on 23rd April, 2018 which is the first of its kind in the Country. This innovation was inspired by the objective to provide easy access to informal, inexpensive and speedy resolution of simple disputes, particularly those arising from business relations. The Small Claims Court Practice Direction has been translated into different local languages namely: Pidgin English, Yoruba, Egun, Hausa and Igbo and is being printed to be launched soon.”
The lingua franca of the Nigerian courts is English Language. All laws must be in English primarily and the courts can only interpret laws that are in English. See Ogunye v. The State (1999) LPELR-2356(SC). In Babarinde v. The State (2012) LPELR-8367(CA) it was stated that: “The law is settled that the lingua franca for adjudication in the Nigerian courts is English Language, inherited and imposed on Nigerians by our colonial masters – the English men. It is a cold fact that Yoruba vernacular has never been the official language in the Nigerian courts. A court of law is presumed to be an illiterate in any document written in any Nigerian local language as it cannot comprehend its content no matter the dexterity of the Judex in that language.” Although the translation of the Small Claims Court Practice Direction to other languages is a welcome development in ensuring that the relevant message reaches the grassroots, it must be for this purpose only and for no other.
4. Digitalization of the Probate Registries
The digitalization of the Probate Registries in the Lagos State Judiciary was launched pretty recently, few days before the Inaugural Lecture.
This is an awesome achievement.
5. Hospitality Unit for Staff
According to Her Ladyship, “Setting up of Hospitality Unit to cater for all members of staff which is very paramount in my mind: Duties include supply of monthly provisions for members of staff. This appeals to the staff and essentially responds to their emotions because, as you will agree with me, welfare is an important determinant of the emotions of followers.”
Oh! This is enjoyment galore for members of staff of the Lagos State Judiciary. However, whether these provisions (of beverages and milk) will stop them from always asking for ‘the needful’ is another issue.
6. Innovation – New Specialised Judicial Divisions of the High Court
There was the creation of two new Specialised Divisions of the High Court of Lagos State on 1st February, 2018. These are Economic/Financial Crimes Division which deals exclusively with economic and financial crimes and Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Division which deals exclusively with sexual crimes to facilitate faster hearing and trial of sexual offences and get survivors justice and closure. According to the Honourable Chief Judge, “The creation of these specialized divisions is also the first of their kind in the country.”
This is good. It is a sign that instead of clamouring for specialised courts always, we should consider creating specialised court divisions.
7. Backlog Elimination Programme
Given the high volume of cases and the litigation culture, backlog is inevitable. The Hon. Chief moves to promote the Backlog Elimination Programme (BEP) aimed at getting rid of old cases speedily and through mediation.
Her Ladyship is a pro-mediation Judge, this is also owing to her background and training in Mediation and interest in speedy and amicable resolution of disputes.
8. Training for Judges
Her Ladyship has ensured continuous International Training and Conferences on various topics and issues of law for Honourable Judges of the High Court.
9. Tackling Poor Power Supply through Solar Energy
Installation of Solar Panels at Yaba and Ebute Metta Magistrate Courts to provide constant electricity supply and so many more.
Great move. It is sad seeing some of our Magistrate courts without electricity. I urge my Lady to urgently reach out to the one at Ogudu Road, Ojota axis and other areas.
10. Creation of Restorative Justice Centres
There is the creation of Restorative Justice Centres in 7 Magisterial Districts to handle simple criminal cases with the view of achieving amicable settlement.
11. Re-enacting ADR
Exploration of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is now mandatory before resorting to litigation as provided for in the High Court of Lagos (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019.
The level of success being recorded by the LMDC is a clear indication that ADR has come to stay. It is the way to go.
12. Creation of Senior Citizen Help Centre
There is the creation of Senior Citizen Help Centre at Ikeja and Lagos Judicial Divisions for Citizens of 60 years and above aimed at facilitating easy access to courtrooms and use of other available facilities.
This is quite impressive. It also goes to show that, although firm, the current Lagos State Chief Judge is quite compassionate.
13. Care for the Physically Challenged
Although the High Court of Lagos State was not set up to care for the needy and physically challenged in the State, the Honourable Chief Judge has found the worthy necessity of creating a designated special car parks for citizens with disability.
Also impressive. We only hope the security will not start asking them for illegal parking fee and intimidating those not willing to ‘cooperate’.
14. Promulgation of Sentencing Guidelines
Promulgation of Sentencing Guidelines to promote uniformity in the imposition of sanctions on convicted offenders. This, we understand, was launched on 27th March, 2018.
15. ICT Training
Training on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) generally and in relation to law for Judges and staff members.
Of course, the importance of this cannot be over-emphasised.
16. Introduction of Social Media
According to the Learned Chief Judge, there is “The introduction of social media handlers/platforms to facilitate easy and faster feedback from stakeholders and the general public as well as dissemination of information to them.”
The kind of persons who will manage the social media handles is key. They must receive the requisite orientation to avoid any unnecessary disruption of the good image and visions of the Lagos State Judiciary. They must not be like some of those managing the EFCC handles who frequently post the pictures of persons suspected of crime in a manner clearly suggesting that those persons have been convicted already in the ‘court’ of EFCC. In EFCC v. Chidolue  2 NWLR (Pt. 1657) 442, the Supreme Court held that “Conviction takes place in court, not at the EFCC office.” What if the person is later declared innocent, what happens to his/her already damaged personality?
17. Supervisory Judges for Magistrates
Appointment of supervisory Judges for Magistrates to promote accountability.
This one is quite crucial. This supervision is not only necessary for accountability but also for quality and efficient service delivery.