The story of Pa Saidu Alagbe whose residence was demolished along thirteen other buildings by landowners in Jones Street, Ebute Metta (west) of Lagos Mainland of Lagos State in 1995 is one of hopelessness.
Why? In the last 25 years, the 90-year-old has been homeless and living in penury hence his loss of confidence in the country’s judicial system as the hope of the oppressed and the downtrodden.
Apart from court congestion, one of the major challenges confronting the judicial sector is a compromised judicial system which hinders prompt justice delivery.
However, as daunting as this challenge is, it is by no means new which was why President Muhammadu Buhari in his speech delivered by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at the 60th Virtual Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) recalled his experiences in court in litigations he instituted over his electoral losses and eventual win while calling for an urgent reform of the country’s justice system.
As a petitioner, between 2003, 2007 and 2011, President Buhari disclosed that he spent four years and two months seeking justice and another six months in 2019 as a respondent in a case filed by Peoples Democratic Party, PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Recounting his ordeal to Newsexplorersng.com in a wooden structure which serves as his abode where he lives under constant fear of eviction, filth and flash flood, Pa Alagbe aided by his walking stick wondered he had to wait for 25 years and still counting for the determination of a civil case that was filed in 1995 during a military regime without any relief in sight.
He said, “I worked really hard as a carpenter throughout my youthful years. From my sweat, I built a 14-room house where I had tenants. I was fulfilled and I thought I had secured my old age but I never knew this is what it would turn out to be.
My torment began in 1995. I had gone out for my carpentry work only to return in the evening to see that my house and other building had been demolished by the landowners with my property, wife and children thrown out into the street.
We were not given any prior notice neither were we forewarned. I was destabilised and shocked beyond expression. As the demolition continued, I went to look for the man that sold the land to me to ask him what I have done wrong to deserve such inhuman act.
But he denied having any knowledge about the demolition. He told me it was the decision of his elder brother and some members of their family to sell the land to another buyer.
According to him, several meetings were held where it was concluded that the land on which our houses were built would be sold to a rich politician without any consideration for what becomes of us.
I was alarmed with what I heard but he assured us of his support and advised us to seek redress in the court of law.
I filed a case at the High Court of Lagos State on 18th of October 1995 with suit No: LD/4323/95 challenging the demolition of my only building and our case was heard.
On a particular day, my brother and I were returning from the court and got arrested by police officers from the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Yaba, Lagos.
They took us to their station and detained us because I instituted a case against the landowners and the person that bought the land. It was then I knew that they were working for those that demolished our houses. They lied against us that my brother and I were disturbing the peace of the community.
This is when I knew that the policemen had been compromised and that they have been bought over by the politician that bought our houses.
The officer investigating our case ordered us to bring all the documents to the landed property but I politely refused.
I told him that if he truly wants us to give him the documents, he would have to go with me to my lawyer but he said I shouldn’t bother.
Perhaps, he was moved by our calmness. He later confessed that they were paid to arrest and kill us in the night.
But when he heard our side of the story, he sympathised with us and advised us to withdraw from the case if we don’t want to be killed. But I was determined. I told myself that I would prefer to be killed than be alive and lose my only building to greedy landowners and politician. After that encounter, we were allowed to go home.
On the next adjourned date, the Judge instructed my lawyer and the defence lawyer to go to the Ministry of Land to confirm our claim of ownership.
We went together for the name search but there name was missing in their record but my name was registered. I felt relieved. I thought my troubles had ended and that the Judge would make his pronouncement in our favour but I was wrong.
When we return for a continued hearing, rather than deliver judgment based on the findings of both counsels, the Judge advised us to go for alternative dispute resolution which also failed. After some years, the defendant died and his son and the politician were joined in the case for continuity.
There were concerns that the politician had manipulated the cause of justice. If not, what could have caused a civil case to be delayed for as long as 25 years and continues till now without any hope of relief?
Other victims of the demolished building had died but God preserves my soul to see it to a logical conclusion. I sought relief in the country’s justice system but I was denied justice.
The litigation began when I was 65 years now I am 90 years. The last 25 years of my life has been of torment, homelessness, sickness and penury. I have lost all that I laboured for all because of a compromised judiciary system.
In my old age, having lost my 14-rooms apartment, I am at the mercy of good spirited Nigerians. I built my only house with my sweat. I had tenants but since it was demolished, I have been moving from one place to another. I have suffered. My health is failing. My strength is diminishing. You can see I could no longer walk without my stick. But my body and soul yearn for justice but if I die in the course of seeking for justice, my God will avenge for me.”
Slow pace of justice system has ruined many homes-Community head
The slow pace of the country’s judicial system, according to High Chief Kehinde Kalejaiye has sent many people to early grave and has ruined many homes.
Citing the case of Pa Ajagbe who lives in his domain, Kalejaiye said, “Since his house was demolished, Baba has been living on the mercy of others. He now lives in a wooden structure built in a flood prone environment. You need to visit his abode during raining season. You will be amazed with the sight that would confront you.
I am appealing to President Buhari to pull all necessary strings to ensure that his proposed time limit for quick dispensation of justice is assented to.
This will enable the common man to have an unhindered access to dispensation of justice. An average Nigerian has lost faith in the country’s judicial system because many people are denied justice.
They are reluctant to go to court because they believe that they would end up wasting their time and resources.
Both the executive and legislative arms need to restore the court as the hope of the common man. Our judicial system should consider the less privileged. The old man had his only building demolished by the person that sold the land to him. He was rendered homeless and sleeps around.
Rather than sit back to enjoy what he had laboured for, he is suffering in his old age moving from his shackle to the Lagos High Court without any hope in view.
Our law and court are not protective of the voiceless and the weak. I am appealing to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the State’s Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo to replicate same in Lagos State. The All States legislature and National Assembly must work hand in hand with their executives to ensure speedy dispensation of justice within the 15months time limit suggested by President Muhammadu Buhari.”
Lawyers are culpable for delayed justice delivery- Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary
Speaking on the factors hindering speedy disposal of cases in courts in Lagos State, Chairman, Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Judiciary, Hon Victor Akande said lack of adequate judges and courtrooms are major challenges militating against quick judgment delivery.
He said, “One major challenge confronting the judicial arm of the state is inadequate number of Judges and courtrooms. There are no enough Judges and courtrooms. There is also the challenge of bureaucracy of case filing. Aside this, lawyers are culpable in delayed justice delivery too.
In order to make more money out of their clients, many of these lawyers drag cases beyond necessary while defendant’s lawyer might want to frustrate the plaintiff. Another issue is when a judge is suddenly transferred. Definitely such Judge won’t carry the case along. This will amount to another judge taking over the case and starting afresh regardless of the number of years that have been spent on it.
The only way out of the aforementioned challenges is mediation. With mediation, our courts can be decongested and hindrance to justice administration will be a thing of the past.”
Lagos should have nothing less 250 Judges- Rights activist
Limited number of Judges, according to a Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Jiti Ogunye are responsible for delayed justice system.
However to achieve expeditious disposal of cases, the legal luminary advocates a critical look at factors that are responsible for the delay in the disposal of cases and the administration of justice.
He stressed that, “The structure of the judiciary itself promotes delay. We have in a supposed federation a conical structure. The Supreme Court of Nigeria constitutionally is made up of 21 Justices.
When viewed from the criminal angle, how can 21 justices determine the volume of appeals the High Court through the Court of Appeal that has many divisions?
This is also applicable to Lagos State and other States of the federation. For example, in Lagos State, the Judges are not up to a hundred whereas lawyers are produced annually.
With its population, Lagos State shouldn’t have nothing less than 250 judges because of the volume of cases available to be heard.
Nearly all Judges in Lagos will be handling over 1500 cases in their dockets. How can they handle such cases? Even if they are able to hear 20 cases per day, how long do you think that would take?
Usually in Lagos, you don’t get more than three adjournments in a legal year. If September comes and the new legal year starts, and you are in court in October, the next adjournment you are going to get will be around January or February.
This is not the judges are lazy but because the docket is full. It is not that they are not competent. The innovation of Alternative Dispute Resolution, ADR cannot be a default solution. It could only be a deliberate solution. In other words, the Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism that we have should be freely taken and fully adopted.
There are cases that cannot be resolved by ADR. It shouldn’t be a default solution. There are people
There is no country that survives without relying on the rule of law and that rule of law is an independent judiciary and not ADR. It is not mediation. It is a judiciary that has the power to compel, to force and to make things happen.”