Courts in Nigeria are created by the Constitution as the third arm of Government. The courts have the primary constitutional mandate to interpret the laws. In doing this, the courts are armed with the powers to make orders and issue directives which should be obeyed until set aside by a superior court.

The powers of the courts are extensive just like the law itself. Courts have the jurisdiction to look into virtually every aspect of the affairs of people in the society. It is from this background that the courts earned the title of being the “last hope of the common man”. 

It is common knowledge that our judicial process is marred by challenges such as inordinate delays and high uncertainty. Considering the situation of our justice system in Nigeria, it has become important to take a look at the role of the courts in the scheme of things and to explain the true meaning of the courts being the last hope of the common man.

The courts being referred to as the last hope of the common man is precisely what it is – the Last Hope. Not the first. Except in some other compelling instances (of extreme urgency or as a matter of statutory requirement), you should approach the courts only when all other options have been explored and they all failed.

With particular reference to government agencies and other business organizations, the regulators are armed with the statutory powers to step in and resolve issues effectively. The threat of sanctions from these agencies are sufficient to call an erring person to order. For instance, when dealing with complaints against the electricity distribution companies (Discos) in Nigeria, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has the powers to treat any such complaints and on time too. There are procedures for activating the NERC. This is by submitting a petition with proof of allegations made. If any university wrongs you, the National University Commission is there to tackle the situation. This is perhaps after escalating to the Senate of the University but nothing happens. The banks have more fear for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Bankers’ Committee than the courts. A medical practitioner does not want the troubles of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), just like a lawyer would not like to hear from the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC). 

In contracts, good faith negotiations from top management still play an important role in dispute resolution. Also, business entities operating in a given sector belong to associations within the industry who have the control to call parties to order and come up with resolutions that can resolve any issues. For instance, in Ladipo and Alaba areas of Lagos including many places where Igbo traders reside, they have effective associations that resolve disputes. Some of them have provisions in their constitutions mandating members never to escalate any issue until the associations have looked into it. More so, regulatory institutions within certain sectors may be of help if called upon to resolve disputes.

Where any agency or institution of government is involved, there is always a higher office to resort to by way of petition. We must note that it is the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of some top government offices to tackle complaints and the sickening bottlenecks in the system that force people to go to the courts in the first place. Thus, relevant government agencies and institutions must look into this. 

There are also other windows of settlement like the use of mediation. Engaging professional mediators could be quite effective too.

Social media is there too as our eye in the sky and our voice in the wilderness. A careful and strategic use of the social media can bring good results.

Therefore, it is when all genuine efforts at resolution fails that the courts should be approached. This is even more important now that it appears the Nigerian courts are growing more and more impotent as the day goes by. 

Role of Lawyers

Legal practitioners are trained with high intellect and emotional balance to help in mapping out strategies in seeking resolution of issues before approaching the courts. Clients who understand and appreciate the role of legal professionals in this regard would have no difficulty paying their professional fees even when no case is filed. Avoid being penny wise, pound foolish. Lawyers have the capacity to draft compelling petitions, sit at negotiation tables and come up with powerful ideas on how to secure favourable outcomes. In effect, while the courts are the last hope of the common man, the lawyers should be right there from the start. Cases are most times lost or won from the beginning. You need all the legal advice you can get from your retained attorneys. Please note the word, “retained”. When you have retainership with a lawyer or a law firm, you tend to save more cost.

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has advised a number of both established and startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.
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