The Nigerian legal system subtly abuses the rights of its citizen and makes seeking respite and justice seem a chore and an impossibility. Rather than seek redress for wrongs done, certain people just live with the damage because they simply cannot afford to sustain a legal cause for more than a few months both financially and psychologically.
On the other hand, the Law will also tell you that it needs to verify details, so it would not jump into conclusions or judge matters on a technicality, while the undeserving party walks away with victory and his head up high.
Sometimes too, moving fast could prevent the full effect of the Law from becoming operational. The long and meticulous model is mostly why the Law works, but this need for meticulousness is also why courts take time and do even greater damage to the people they seek to help by robbing them of the joys of justice and sapping them of energy to fight.
The Law is meant to cater to people and solve their problems, not aggravate their problems; it’s meant to make people’s lives easy, not complicate them.
Whatever the Law can reasonably do to make lives easier, it should do it. Sometimes, what people need - when things like confession and guilty pleas align - is quick justice that does not enable the offenders enjoy life for too significant a period while the victim or his supporters wallow in pain through that period.
The perpetrator should be robbed of his life suddenly just as he robbed the victim of some part of him that makes the victim turn to the full weight of the Law and Justice – the concept of the Law is tailored for the principles of poetic justice after all.
The case of Saheed Arogundade
As Pulse reported on February 7, 2019, alongside Mustapha Layeni, Adebayo Abdullahi, Seyi Pabiekun, Sikiru Rufai and Yusuf Arogundade charged on two counts of conspiracy and murder, the chairman of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Boundary/Aiyetoro Unit, Saheed Arogundade has been sentenced to death by hanging.
He was convicted for killing Police officer, Gbenga Oladipupo, at Gbara junction, Ayetoro, Ajegunle, Lagos around 8am on April 10, 2010.
The matter took nine years to conclude – nine years of pain, legal rigours and constant reliving of the cruel details of the inhumane murder of their kin by Oladipupo’s family members. With a good procedure to fast-track matters like this, sentencing would not have taken nine years.
On Wednesday, February 6, 2019, Pulse reported the story of Gift Alonge, a 17-year-old girl who gets raped by her native doctor father, Jacob Alonge - he impregnated her twice. The first time - in 2017 - he forced her to go through an abrasive abortion procedure by giving her a concoction to drink, only to impregnate her again in 2018.
The members of Ososo community in Akoko Edo where Gift and her father resided noticed the issue and reported to the traditional leader of the community. On December 18, 2018, when Gift was 21 weeks pregnant, Brave Heart Initiative for Youth and Women (BHI) stepped in.
A case was instituted against Jacob and he reportedly confessed at the Police station. During his arraignment, he also pleaded guilty. On January 16, 2019, Gift, alongside her uncle, Mr. Ukere Adagbogu, and two members of Brave Heart Initiative for Youth and Women (BHI), Rhoda Braimoh and Promise Ezekiel, all lost their lives in an accident while on their way from Igarra, to attend the court sitting in Benin.
After news filtered to Jacob, he reportedly changed his plea to ‘not guilty.’ Protests have since been held in memory of Gift, but it’s too late. In the heat of passion, questions were then asked why Jacob could not have been convicted on the spot, after he both confessed at the State CID in Benin City and pleaded guilty.
Questions were again asked of the Nigerian legal system on why the matter could not be fast-tracked as Jacob could now be on an expressway to acquittal with no witnesses. This procedural lag might have denied Justice and shines a light on the classic legal adage, "Justice delayed is justice denied."
Nonetheless, the Law has certain procedures like fast-track, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) models and summary judgement, but they are only applicable in civil litigation with very stringent conditions and do not apply to human interest stories.
Despite these worries of certain cases being hastily concluded, with the gamut of the law missed, a few years ago, the sound concept of fast-tracking was introduced into the Nigerian legal system from the Civil procedure perspective, but even in civil procedure, not all cases would pass for a fast-track – certain conditions have to be fulfilled to even pass for consideration.
The conditions of this fast-track procedure are codified under Order 56 of the Lagos State High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2012 and the purview is to alleviate crowded court dockets, and time spent on litigation. Any case subject to this fast-track procedure is not to exceed a period of nine months for conclusion.
Even within the civil purview, the fast-track procedure is limited to only commercial, business, mortgage and revenue disputes.
Amongst the conditions required to qualify a case for fast-track; the matter must come by a Writ of Summons and the amount contested in the matter must meet a certain procedure prescribed by Law. If we could fast-track human interest or even corruption matters, both in civil and criminal matters to be concluded in nine months, or even shorter, Nigerian will be a better place for it.
On the other hand, due to the advent of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), procedures like mediation, arbitration, conciliation and the multi-door courthouse system, terms of settlement during any of these ADR procedures, as agreed by both parties, away from the rigours and lag of court systems can then be entered as summary judgement by a Judge.
That summary judgement can then stand in the stead of the ruling of a trial court after the judge enters those terms.
The principle of Summary Judgement is also not limited to just entering terms of settlement as judgement of a trial court, it could also come into play when a defendant fails to fulfill certain necessities on issues like an appearance, or a breach of fundamental matters to the institution of a case. The Summary Judgement procedure is also codified by the Lagos State High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2012.
Its variation, but usually entered in favour of a defendant and only applicable in liquidated money demands is an undefended list, provided in the Abuja High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules. Like exception to the conventional practice of Law, these procedures have very stringent conditions before cases even pass under their purview.
However, summary jugdments too do not ensure human interest cases are fast-tracked.
Criminal Cases and human interest matters
While cases of human interest are not limited to criminal cases, most of them like rape, unjust killing, violent crimes and so forth have criminal leanings and are prosecuted under Criminal Laws – though, they could equally be prosecuted under Civil Laws.
Criminal cases are mostly instituted by plaints, summons or charges, not writs of summons. It then becomes hard to fast-track anything under this heading. Currently, Nigeria has no principles to fast-track criminal or human interest matters.
The problem is that in Criminal Nigerian cases, human liberty and human lives are usually at stake. Thus, every case has to be proved beyond all reasonable doubts.
If there is any doubt, the plaintiff gets acquitted. The onus of proving in a criminal case is primarily on the defendant – even though it shifts sometimes, depending on the level of case. He who asserts must prove.
Thus, the problem we have is that we cannot then fast-track every case when peoples’ lives and liberties are at stake.
What then is the solution?
Honestly, it is hard; different cases have different peculiarities and all cases have nuances – nothing is ever what it seems. But as in cases like Gift Alonge’s, where the perpetrator explicitly confesses to the offence and then pleads guilty, we can carve out good conditions that enable judgement to be swiftly passed.
Cases should not be taking nine years for conclusion – it’s unhealthy. Asides that, the above discussed NURTW Chairman could yet appeal the case all the way to the supreme court, which could mean 30 years or a set of weary aggrieved people who end up, ‘leaving the fight to God.’
Thus, the solution could be simple, yet risky. It could be that when an accused person or suspect confesses and pleads guilty to an offence, the case qualifies for a Criminal fast-track procedure. It could also be that human interest criminal or civil cases with high sensitivity are placed on a premium over other cases.
Obviously, all cases cannot be subject to a fast-track, the opportunity can only be open to a few, so the fast-track procedure in human interest criminal cases doesn’t then become the regular clogged court system we’re running away from.
How do you determine suitable human interest cases to pass?
This would be very hard, but first, the modalities like confessions and guilty pleas can sway the matter, no matter the type of criminal cases. Equally, cases of violent crimes, rape, sexual harassment, unjust killing, genocides, corruption and other cases of similar profile could pass.
However, not all of them should pass. Sensitivity criteria should be set out of cases that could pass. Factors that could sway in these cases can include;
- Guilty pleas.
- Compelling evidence like videos of the act itself.
- High sensitivity like multiple deaths and a defiant suspect.
- Loss of human life, even without guilty pleas, confessions or compelling evidence should be placed on a premium to be completed within one year.