New Legal Year : NBA Benin Branch, Condemns The Use Of Mobile Courts To Determine The Rights And Obligations Of Citizens Of Edo State

* Judicial Autonomy And Judicial Funding Should Not Be Left Or Subject To The Whims And Caprice Of The Chief Executive – Prince Collins Benson Ogiegbaen
* Urges The State Government To Fill The Many Consequential Vacancies In The Judiciary Of The State
*Urges Govt To Absorb Contract State Counsels And Legal Assistants Into The Edo State Civil Service

The chairman, of the NBA Benin branch, Prince Collins Benson Ogiegbaen, speaking for and on behalf of all the other branches of the NBA in Edo state, at the Special Court session to mark the opening of the 2019/2020 legal year, has condemned in its entirety the continued use of Mobile Courts to determine the rights and obligations of citizens of the State.

The chairman made this statement whilst delivering a statement at the event in the Edo state judiciary on Friday the 4th day of October, 2019. According to him, they have received several complaints from citizens and colleagues alike of the rather unconventional procedures/proceedings in these Mobile Courts. He thus said that they are using the opportunity of the address to warn that whether it is a Mobile or an Immobile Court, it remains a Court in which case all the constitutional safeguards of a Court must be in place before it can assume the character of an independent and impartial arbiter.

Speaking on financial autonomy as a recipe for a truly independent judiciary, he said that they note that the issue of Judicial Autonomy and Judicial Funding should not be left or subject to the whims, caprice and predilictive idiosyncracies of the Chief Executive of the State but on a systemic entrenchment, sustainable legal framework and adherence to clearly defined rules of engagement among the three (3) Arms of Government. According to him, the financial independence of the judiciary and autonomy must be guaranteed by a first line charge to the Federation account as envisaged by extant provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended) and best practices in the developed and civilized democracies of the world.

“The Bar has insisted and shall continue to insist that for the Judicial Arm of Government to be truly independent, with nothing to influence or control it but God and the conscience of the Judge, its financial independence and autonomy must be guaranteed by a first line charge to the Federation account as envisaged by extant provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended) and best practices in the developed and civilized democracies of the world.

“We commend the Government of Bayelsa State and other States who have already blazed the trail in this regard by granting full financial autonomy to the Judicial Arm of Government in their State and we call on the Government of Edo State to, as part of its avowed commitment to the Rule of Law and Judicial Independence implement in full the all important issue of financial autonomy for the Judicial Arm of Government in the State.

“It is in the circumstances of the above that we hereby call on the Government of the State, the Speaker and Members of the Edo State House of Assembly to rise up to the occasion and leave their imprints on our Judicial history by ensuring that this feat is achieved during their time. In particular we call on the Speaker and Members of the 7th House of Assembly to pursue a clear departure from the 6th House which infamously and ingloriously voted against its own autonomy even when the required two third concurrence of all the Houses of Assembly of the Federation had been secured to amend/alter the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to favourably grant financial autonomy to all the Houses of Assembly in the States of the Federation,” he said.

He also added his voice to the issue of the welfare of magistrates and Area Customary Court/District Court presidents. He urges the State Government to take a critical look at the welfare of their Magistrates and Area Customary Court Presidents, stressing that, there is the need to enhance the welfare of these category of Judicial Officers by providing them with official cars as well as enhancing their salaries. He further urges the government to fill the man consequential vacancies in the Judiciary, while also asking them to urgently pay their standing arrears.

“We also urge the State Government to fill the many consequential vacancies in the Judiciary of the State occasioned by recent massive retirements, deaths, resignation etc. as there is a dearth (shortage) of staff presently in the Judiciary. The State Government is further implored to as a matter of urgency provide official vehicles for the Office of the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission of the State and the Chief Registrar of the High Court.

“It must be noted however that these two (2) categories of Judicial Officers are the equivalent of Permanent Secretaries and are the only Permanent Secretaries in the entire Judiciary of Edo State. The State Government is further requested to urgently pay our Area Court Presidents and Magistrates their June 2016 salary arrears and the seven (7) months salaries of Judiciary staffs still being owed them as a result of the 2015 JUSUN Strike in the State,” he said.

Also, he urges the State Government to automatically absorb Contract State Counsels and Legal Assistants into the Edo State Civil Service as Senior State Counsels, Senior Registrars or for appointments into the Bench whether at the Lower of Higher Bench because of the skill and experience they have acquired over time by closely working with the State’s Ministry of Justice and our Judges.

Speaking further, he appreciated the state government for the reduction in the cost of obtaining certificate of occupancy. According to him, this reduction will encourage investors, raise revenue for the state and bring back the business of lawyers at the Bureau of Lands which has been in limbo before now owing to the prohibitive cost, official bottlenecks and red tapism involved in the process, adding that, it is their hope that its implementation will be a reality and not a mirage. He also appreciated the state government’s deployment of the Geographical Information Service (GIS) technology, stressing that, they believe that the deployment of this system will to a large extent reduce the issue of overlapping registration of titles over the same land.

He further spoke on infrastructural development, information communication technology (ICT), the appointment of five (5) additional judges for the High Court of Edo State, the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), building and renovation of the Court rooms/halls, and The Independence Of The Judiciary: A Panacea For True Democracy.

Concluding, he said that they believe that there is always room for improvement as far as justice delivery is concerned. Consequently, the Federal and State Governments are under an obligation to sustain the administration of justice in the country by doing among others:

“To consider the desirability of making use of mechanical recording equipments and stenographers in court proceedings throughout the country instead of the judge having to take down evidence in long hand. It is gratifying to note that the Supreme Court has already embraced computer technology in its operations; to ensure that the Judge’s library in his chambers either at the court or in his residence is stocked with Law Reports and valuable books and Journals which are updated from time to time so as to facilitate the process of reliable adjudication.

“To note that the provision of adequate stationery is very vital to the efficiency of the judiciary, hence record books, files, typing papers, stencils, carbon papers, cyclostyling papers, envelopes, correcting fluids etc. must never be in short supply; to see to it that court buildings are properly maintained and that they are well furnished and kept clean not only for the comfort of the Judges and their staff but also for the comfort of the litigants, witnesses and the audience who come to watch court proceedings; to provide each Judge with a well furnished residence so as to ensure his full relaxation after the usual energy sapping and brain exhausting judicial sittings. Standby generators should be provided in the Judge’s Quarters because of frequent power failure.”

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