Law

YOUNG LAWYERS’ FORUM; ‘Governors’ undue overbearing killing LGs’ autonomy’

Olamiji Martins, an indigene of Ogun State is a senior partner at Marvic Alpha Legal Practice. Martins was called to Bar in 2015. In this encounter with JOHN CHIKEZIE, he speaks on impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the judiciary, government’s penchant disobedience for court orders, insecurity and sundry issues

 

Judiciary in amidst COVID-19 and reform of criminal justice system

 

In very many states across the federation, civil proceedings were stalled, many criminal cases were stalled too and suspects languished in remand beyond statutory period especially those arrested and kept in police custody for simple offences and misdemeanours.

 

Ordinarily such suspects are not meant to be kept for more than 24 hours but because they could not be arraigned as courts were already shut due to COVID- 19, they languished behind bars in various police detentions and this constituted breach of their rights to be tried within a reasonable time.

 

However, since the pandemic was not envisaged or to say the least that Nigeria did not adequately prepare ahead, COVID- 19 became a cog in the wheel of justice.

 

Much as the efforts of the Chief Justice of Nigeria are commendable in acting quickly, I will suggest that the various penal laws of each state should be amended to provide for remote/virtual hearing. Most courts do not have functional IT departments.

 

I suggest that for each High Court and indeed all levels of court, there should be the office of the Deputy Chief Registrar in charge of Information Technology/Virtual Proceedings. This department should be equipped with modern IT tools to take care of virtual proceedings in case of the outbreak of another pandemic in the future

 

By so doing, lawyers and judges can conduct trials from home and it will enhance speedy dispensation of criminal matters.

 

Disobedience of court’s orders

 

There had been very many examples of disobedience of governments to court orders from military to civilian dispensations.

 

There had been periods when ignorantly, some governments disobey lawful orders on the ground of national security e.g. the case of Dasuki and El Zakzakky. The law is quite clear that to refuse to heed court orders is tantamount to making the court a toothless bulldog, a paper tiger.

 

Most times, when matters are in court, we have seen governments carrying out actions that are meant to  rob the court of its powers or overreach the powers of the court in the long run. Most, especially when it comes to revocation of land matters, don’t obey interlocutory injunctions and you find out that they end up breaching the doctrine of lis pendis by causing wanton demolition of private properties.

 

Though there is separation of powers among the three organs of government, yet the executive arm sees itself or carries itself as the most superior.

 

The executive arm pays the other arms and hence he who pays the piper dictates the tune. When orders are made against the executive arm by the judiciary arm, it is still the executive arm that will enforce the order. So, this also contributes to refusal to obey court orders by the executive.

 

Amendment of Constitution and the Electoral Act

 

First, the National Assembly should ensure the full financial and statutory allocation autonomy of local government areas in the Constitution. Since 1999 when the Fourth Republic started, less dividends of democracy accrue from the local governments to the people of the grassroots level because of the overbearing control by the Governors on the local governments.

 

The governors appoint at will all local government heads using Caretaker Chairmen. This is an aberration to democracy and the rule of law. Full financial autonomy should be entrenched in the Constitution and the Federal government should pay directly to the local governments their allocation without passing through the state governments.

 

Second the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should be saddled with the task of conducting elections into local governments in all states of Nigeria and this should find its ways into the Constitution. If INEC can successfully conduct Presidential and NationalAssemblyelectionssuccessfully and simultaneously across the Federation in a single day, it should also be able to conduct local government elections too.

 

This is because local government elections in Nigeria are oft to favour the political party at the helms in each state. Itisverydifficultforoppositionpartiesto winany seatbecausetheStates’Electoral Commissions are saddled with the task of conducting the election which will be appointedandfundedbytheStateExecutives. By so funding and appointing the members of the States’ Electoral Commission, it will be difficult for the states’

 

Commission not to do the bidding of the States’ Governors on the local government elections. Third, the Nigeria Police should be decentralized and moved fromtheExclusive Legislative List to Concurrent Legislative List amidst the insecurity in the country.

 

This will curb the proliferations of tribal policing ideology being propelled across ethnicdividesand forge strengthinthe Nigerian Policing system. WhentheConstitution does not permit states to have their police and that is why we are having the likes of the Amotekun, Eastern Security Network, Miyetti Allah vigilantes among numerous others.

 

Sentiments are brewing that the Nigeria Police is no longer capable of handling or grasping the security challenges in the country and calls have been made that each State knows where it’s being pinched security wise. I will advise that the Constitution should be amended to allow each State to recruit its own Police and am sure this will aid better community policing.

 

Better still, each State should be allowed to recruit its police officers and this should have the backing of the law. Importantly, electricity generation should also be moved from the Exclusive Legislative List to Concurrent Legislative List.

 

Each state should be permitted to generate its own electricity at its own pace. It will allow innovations in power generation and abundant energy supply even to the hinterlands.

 

There are several hierarchical bottlenecks clogging the wheel of independent power generation and this can be ridden of if states are allowed to generate power independent of the federal government.

 

The Electoral Act should be amended to take care of electronic form of voting in the sense that every Nigerian can vote in the comfort of their rooms/homes/ businesses. There are lots of Nigerians who may not be physically present at polling booths on election days but are desirous of voting.

 

Electronic voting will permit mass voting, increase turnout in voting and will reduce rigging and electoral violence to the barest minimum. In similar fashion, the Electoral Act should permit Nigerians in Diaspora to send in their votes through mail-in system as applicable in the United States.

 

Just as there are tax laws permitting repatriation of taxes from those in Diaspora to Nigeria, so also should they be able to vote and determine how their taxes are being expended and who takes charge of expending their taxe

 

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