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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

LAGOS JUDICIARY CRISIS

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12th November 2007

The Honourable Speaker
Lagos House of Assembly
Alausa – Secretariat
Ikeja
Lagos State

Dear Sir,

OPEN LETTER

PETITION AGAINST HONOURABLE JUSTICE AUGUSTINE ADETULA ALABI, CHIEF JUSTICE OF LAGOS STATE FOR MALADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE TO WIT: DENIAL OF ACCESS TO JUSTICE TO LAGOS STATE RESIDENTS, OTHER NIGERIAN CITIZENS AND THE PUBLIC IN GENERAL BY NON ASSIGNMENT OF CASES TO JUDGES.

The undersigned is a legal practitioner, practicing almost exclusively in Lagos State.

I am constrained to bring the above subject matter to the attention of your noble office and indeed the entire parliament of the state because of the gravity of the raging but silent crisis ravaging the Lagos State Judiciary.

At a superficial level of consideration, it may be considered impudent, rash, wrong, or ill-advised of any one to ask the State’s Legislature to concern itself or be bothered with problems of another arm of government, especially the judiciary; but cold and grievous facts on ground on the issue at hand, I humbly believe, will compel dissension from such a hasty notion.

Mr. Speaker Sir, the simple but sad reality is that since the beginning of the 2007/2008 Legal Year (Sept 17, 2007), the Lagos State Judiciary, particularly the high court section, has been in a sorry state of partial, man-made paralysis.

At the start of the new legal year, lawyers and litigants woke up to the reality of:
(a) the commencement of extensive renovation of the court complexes at the two main judicial divisions, Ikeja and Lagos – affecting about twenty court rooms.
(b) Mass re-deployment of high court judges from their various Cause Divisions such as Criminal, General Civil, Commercial, Family & Probate Division etc, by the Honourable Chief Judge.

As usual with such a development where judges are transferred out of their divisions (whether Judicial or Cause) they return their non part-heard cases to the Chief Judge who re-assigns all such cases to new judges in replacement of the transferred ones.

In the latest exercise, my investigation both as a practitioner and law magazine publisher (THE SQUIB) reveals that more than ten thousand non-part-heard cases were affected.

On the orders of the Honourable Chief Judge, same were released by the various judges and sent to the Court Registry and Records Sections.

Mr. Speaker, it may astonish you to learn that since September the vast majority of these cases have not been re-assigned to new judges to take them over despite ceaseless requests and pressures from lawyers and litigants alike.

Sir, I make bold to say, and without any exaggeration that the Lagos High Court has become a shadow of itself, as many of the High Court Judges do not have enough work to occupy their working hours since a large chunk of case files that are in dire need of their judicial attention are unjudiciously marooned and abandoned in the Court Registry and Records Sections.

A situation has been created by the Chief Judge wittingly or unwittingly whereby many practicing lawyers get nothing to do in the law courts and even worse are made to look like nincompoops before their clients (litigants) who naturally are un-amused by the prolonged detention of their cases, previously in court before judges, in some dumpsites in the administrative departments.

To my knowledge, individual lawyers as well as our professional association, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) via her branches in Lagos State have made representations to the Honourable Chief Judge on this grave crisis but there is little or no improvement in the situation despite ardent promises and earnest assurances to the contrary by the Honourable Chief Judge.

One cannot but wonder whether there is no hidden agenda or ulterior motive in the rather inexplicably prolonged delay in the re-assignment of thousands of non part heard cases in Lagos State High courts since some sixty days ago now.

Mr. Speaker Sir, it has become necessary, in my humble view, for the Lagos State House of Assembly to look into the affairs of the Lagos State Judiciary especially as it pertains to the alleged serious dereliction of duty on the part of the Chief Judge, Honourable Justice Augustine Adetula Alabi especially of his Lordship’s refusal, failure, neglect, or even sheer inability to re-assign thousands of non part-heard cases returned to the registry since September 17, 2007. Our people are suffering.

I believe that a reputable organ of government like the Lagos State House of Assembly should not wait for social unrest intervening in any maddening situation such as we now have in the Lagos State Judiciary.

I honestly and reasonably believe that the House of Assembly can make the leadership of the Lagos State Judiciary become more responsible and more responsive to the people of Lagos State and Nigeria which it was set up to serve, or else quit or be made to quit.

Sir, I respectfully urge that your parliament enquire from the Honourable Chief Judge the whys and hows the largest and self-acclaimed most sophisticated Judiciary in Nigeria has been lying so sorrowfully and ineffectually low since September 2007.

SIR, I BEG YOU IN THE NAME OF GOD, IN THE NAME OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION WHICH EMPOWERS YOUR PARLIAMENT TO ACT AS A BALANCE OF POWER AGAINST THE CHIEF JUDGE OF THE STATE, TO TAKE A HARD, LONG LOOK INTO MY COMPLAINTS IN THIS PETITION AND RESPOND DECISIVELY.

I remain,

Yours faithfully,

Adesina Ogunlana Esq.

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