Political Interference, Corruption: Clog On Wheels Of Justice -- Nwifuru

By Celestine Okeh, Abakaliki

Governor Francis Nwifuru of Ebonyi state on Wednesday, identified political interference and corruption as clog on the wheels of justice in Africa, stressing that judiciaries in many African countries, especially in Nigeria, had suffered from huge backlogs, delays and corruption, and such had affected speedy resolution of disputes in the country.

Nwifuru revealed this while delivering his speech at the opening ceremony of South East Special policy summit on criminal justice reform holding at Re-meritonia  Hotel, Abakaliki, the state capital.
He further blamed the delay in dispensation of justice delivery in the country on politicians who allegedly buy their way into the judicial process.

“Political interference and corruption in the judicial process has contributed in no mean measure to delay in the sequence of vents in dispensation of justice in the Nigerian courts.

“Politicians buy their way into the judicial process and cause cases to linger to satisfy their political aggrandizement and ego. Police in this manner is paid to trump up charges, judges and magistrates are paid to remand and or refuse bail for the accused, etc,” he lamented.

On his part, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Olasunkumi Fagbemi said, the summit serves as an avenue for promoting access to both civil and criminal justice, in terms of deployment of Alternative Dispute Resolution, Plea Bargaining and Restorative Justice in Civil and Criminal Justice Reforms in Nigeria.

He noted further that “It is not in doubt that an effective and efficient justice system is a panacea for peace, stability and economic growth and development in Nigeria’ and further revealed the committed efforts of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to take necessary steps to promote access to justice and rule of law in the country.”

According to him: “The current government, under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in his ‘Renewed Hope Agenda’, is highly committed to transcending the status quo arid crafting a criminal justice system that not only meets the needs of the present but also sets a foundation for a more secure and prosperous future for our country.
“The Federal Government is also keying into the justice sector reforms to compliment what is happening today in the South-East.”

Laying a background of the essence of the summit, the Chairman of body of Attorneys General of South East and Honourable Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ebonyi state, Dr Ben Uruchi Odoh said, "Nigeria, like every other evolving nation, has its own challenges – political, economic, etc. Successive administrations have strived to fix some of these problems in our march toward a greater Nigeria. Meanwhile, the backdrop against which we are gathered here is the deteriorating state of our Criminal Justice System in Nigeria, which has worsened in the South East region, affecting the economy and potentially threatening the sustainability of democracy in our region. This summit is a response to that call—a call for innovative reforms that combine the strengths of the current retributive justice system with a restorative and reparative approach.

"According to the Comptroller General of Prisons, Alhaji Halliru Nababa, as of November 1, 2023, we had 80,020 prison inmates across the country. Seventy percent—over 50,000 individuals—are awaiting trial. As the Commissioner for Justice, in one of my routine visits to the Ebonyi Custodial Centre, I couldn’t resist tears running down my cheek over the condition of the inmates. 

"The prison built to house 387 persons now houses over 1,300 inmates. Some have spent over two years awaiting trial. Some have communicable ailments, like Tuberculosis, etc. This not only raises questions about the efficiency of the legal process but also underscores the urgency of addressing the root causes behind this backlog.

"Several factors have been identified as contributing to the overcrowding dilemma. From individuals on death row awaiting their governor’s endorsement for execution to those unable to pay fines. The situation is further exacerbated by the manual recording of court proceedings, leading to a backlog of cases even in the Supreme Court. 

"Aware of the unique challenges in our justice system, the burden of responsibility rests on our shoulders and demands our immediate attention and collective action to address this age-long menace. From the overcrowding of correctional centres to the systemic issues within the legal process, there is an urgent need for reform. 

"As responsible citizens and guardians of justice, we are not just here to acknowledge the problems; we are here to be architects of the solution. We should care about the well-being of those awaiting trial, the fairness of our legal system, and the overall integrity of justice in our country. By understanding the challenges and advocating for meaningful change, we can contribute to building a justice system that truly serves our citizens. This is the essence of the South East Special Policy Summit on Criminal Justice Reforms.

"The Summit will extensively explore the virtues of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Plea Bargaining, and Restorative Justice in reforming Civil and Criminal Justice systems. These methods are considered simple, practical, and cost-effective approaches to crime management, caseload reduction, and prison decongestion.

"The methods have worked in other countries. We can make them happen here. Drawing inspiration from successful models in countries like the Netherlands and Norway, we have the opportunity to reshape our justice system, making it more humane, efficient, and responsive to the needs of our region, and the time for action is now".

They were good will messages from Attorneys General of other state of the federation. 

The policy summit is expected to end on Saturday with the presentation of legal framework for effective dispensation of criminal justice and civil justice in the five States of the South East. 

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