A litigant has no duty to pay court bailiff any money to effect service.

U.B.A. Plc v. Ujor [2001] 10 NWLR (Pt. 722) 589 at 603, para. B, per Opene, JCA:

“When a litigant files a document in the court Registry and pays all the fees, it is not his duty to pay the bailiff any money for transport or otherwise so that he could effect service on the other party…”

Notes:

The above statement by the Court of Appeal is actually not saying anything new. In general sense, a litigant has no duty to pay any court official money outside the official fees paid to the government through the courts. The question is, why then is the payment of money to court bailiff (outside official fees) prevalent? We shall show below that, considering the current state of affairs, failure to pay court officials unofficial monies to do their jobs is detrimental to a litigant.

In commencing a court action, the filing and service of court processes by the sheriff and other internal arrangements leading to the assignment of the case to a particular Judge and subsequent giving of date for mentioning of the case are all administrative processes which a litigant and his lawyer ordinarily have no control over. In the case of Ede v. Mba [2011] 18 NWLR (Pt. 1278) 236 at 267, the Supreme Court noted:

“By our law and practice, once a prospective party has properly made his claim as required by law and delivered same in the Registry, what is left to be done such as sorting out of the processes, giving them identification numbers for ease of reference; distributing such processes to the various Justices, is the domestic responsibility of the Registry. The party has no more say on it except what the court/Registry requires of him to do.”

However, in practice, a litigant and his counsel have much bigger role to play to PUSH virtually each and every official at the court registry to do his or her job, as it is customary for them to do little or nothing except when pushed. This is contrary to what is naturally expected of a court registry staff who, “by nature of their job, ought to always be meticulous, sober and dedicated” (Ede v. Mba (supra) at 267) – as well as disciplined.

How is the pushing done? To understand this, one needs to understand an unwritten ‘rule of procedure’ called “Mobilization and Facilitation” or “Doing the Needful”. In the entire Nigerian civil service, the concept of “Mobilization and Facilitation” or “Doing the Needful” is common and smoothly practiced. It is only sad that such exists too in the judicial system. In tracing the history of this development, one cannot rule out the fact of honest show of appreciation by some people who simply give monetary gifts to these officials for doing their work. These generous givers sometimes reckon with the poor salaries of these officials and the fact that some suffer months of unpaid salaries. In this historic development is also the fact that some impatient people want to do everything to jump the queue and fast-track the process, hence, the term – “Facilitation”. There is also the issue of slow disbursement of funds by the officials in charge due to bureaucratic bottlenecks to help these officials like the sheriffs, for instance, to do their work timeously. This brought about the need by litigants to assist them with quick funds to mobilize them. This is called, “Mobilization”. Taking the issue of service of process by court bailiff as an instance, in U.B.A. Plc v. Ujor (supra), the Court of Appeal acknowledged that giving money to a bailiff “is only to speed up the service on the other party.”

All these finally gave birth to a system where many court officials now see “Mobilization and Facilitation” as a right. They demand for it openly and sometimes rudely. You’ll hear questions like, ‘have you done the needful’? And responses like, ‘I’ll do the needful…’ or ‘I’ve done the needful’. The term – “Needful” is a ‘clean word’ used to express the ‘trade’. In fact, in U.B.A. Plc v. Ujor (supra), the court bailiff expressly stated it in his Report of Service letter that he approached counsel in the matter for transport money to enable him effect service.

Unfortunately, the situation today is that it is absolutely difficult to drive one’s matters with deserving speed (not necessarily jumping queues) without doing the “Needful”. Did I mention that subsequent to filing, service and assignment of the case, you’ll continue to do the “Needful” when you need to secure certified copies of court orders, hearing notices, enquiries, further filings, etc. Otherwise, cases of litigants might suffer. This is notwithstanding the trite principle that the tardiness or failure by court officials in the discharge of their duties is not to be visited on the litigant (Shanusi & ors v. Odugbemi & Anor (2017) LPELR-43377(CA)). The suffering that might befall the litigant however need not necessarily flow directly from the court (Judge) e.g. by way of either striking out or dismissal orders but same may manifest in other forms such as undue and harmful delays and damage.

Our policy makers and stakeholders need to urgently look into this issue in order to ensure that all that is necessary is done towards sanitizing the system for a better and reliable administration of justice.



Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a Legal Practitioner, Consultant, Mediator and Social Entrepreneur. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts. Desirous of implementing new legal solutions, he founded Stephen Legal, a firm in the business of providing innovative legal insights and easy solution in this information age. Stephen also serves as a volunteer at Prof. Pat. Utomi’s Centre for Values in Leadership in Lagos, given his passion for capacity building and leadership development.

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