The Gazelle’s Special Report: The Wig Also Cry – #Covid-19  Hitting Judiciary Hard 

Our Correspondents
Almost four months now, the whole world has been on a standstill. No thanks to the novel Corona Virus that is ravaging all parts of the world. Almost every human endeavours have either been stopped altogether or devastated beyond repairs, The Gazelle reports.
Health, economy, entertainment, sports, none has so far been spared. In Nigeria, the situation is not any different. Every branch of economy and governance was badly affected by the rampaging virus since the first active case was reported about four moths ago.
Apart from the economy thta was shut down, another branch of government, which has been suffering is the judiciary. As central and important as this arm is to the government and the people of the nation, the impact of COVID19 has also paralised it. The Gazelle went to town to feel the pause of the members of the judiciary.
Starting from the courtrooms, to the judges, legal practitioners, police, correctional services and their officers as well as inmates across the country, the stories of woes are one and the same, with each counting its losses in the area it has affected and is affecting them. As for the judges, the court rooms was at the hieght of the plague closed down.
Currently, it is now operating skeletal services. This means no more revenue for the government as filling of court process have ceased altogether. The registrar of the courts now have no services also as some, who are below Level 12, have been asked to stay at home.
The judicial calendar too has been altered with the present situation, thereby making it difficult for judges to proceed on annual vacation, the period with which some of them go for seminals for retooling as well as rest for the new caledal yea’s uphill task of the courtrooms.
A retired Magistrate, Olawale Oladuuni, who spoke with The Gazelle, said the pandemic has destroyed the judiciary like it did to other sectors of the society in the sense that courts could hardly dispense justice now.
He said many rights have been infringed upon, many contracts breached and many innocent people languishing in the correctional centres, all due to the prevailing condition imposed by the Coronavirus.
“You can imagine that a matter, which has been in court for more than two years and which is on trial stage, can now no longer go on again because based on the practice directions issued by Chief Judges of the courts across the country, no trial can go on, no new trial can be opened.
“Imagine that justice will surely be delayed. And justice delayed is justice denied. In the process a lot of subject matters of litigation, some of which may be perishable items, will have been destroyed.
“The situation is incurably bad. The wheel of justice has been stopped; the temple of justice almost abandoned. Imagine what is happening to the society now! Human rights violation that requires accelelrated hearing cannot be attended to anymore. We are in anomie situation no doubt,” he said.
As judges count their losses, so also the government for the dwindling revenue. What about the ministers in the temple of justices, the legal practitioners?
Our investigations revealed that lawyers are now roaming between their chambers and their homes. This, it was gathered, a situation imposed on them because courtrooms hardly opened and if they opened, they offer limited services, quick arraignment of offenders, bail or commital to correctional services until further notice.
The real advocacy, a legal practitioner, Yusuff Nurudeen Temilola, told The Gazelle, could no long be practices in the current predivalent situation.
He noted further: “Even the courtrooms, which was a public place for every citizen to watch the proceedings of the court, is no longer accessible to everybody. Even lawyers can no longer stride confidently into the courtroom, which is his primary office. You will now be screened at least five lawyers at a time before you allowed into the courtrooms.
“A lot of time is wasted and it may not get to your turn. If it does, the business of the court did not give you any time to express yourself again. It is a quick business. Too bad. A lot of us don’t even go to our chambers again. What will you go there to do when cases are no longer attended to in the court. Everything has stood still. And this means more hardship for us lawyers, whose source of income comes from the courtrooms and cases we handle.”
He stated further that the worse hit among legal practitioners are those who are still young at the bar called New Whig, saying many of them who are working in the chambers of senoir lawyers are just sitting down at home doing nothing.
According to him, since the chambers in which they work has no work to do, no clients to serve because of the situation at hand, that also translates to no payment of salaries.
“This no work, no pay has badly affected young lawyers across the country. Thanks to the initiative of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). For instance, the NBA Ikeja Branch disbursed N10, 000 palliative to each lawyer between 1 – 4 years at the bar. At the national level, NBA also distributed palliatives to young lawyers acrsoss the country. These are some of the measures put in place to cushion the effects of the pandemic,” Yusuff said.
An officer of one of a popular correctional center in Lagos, who crave anonimity, also corroborated the narative of hardship ocassioned by the novel virus as he lamented the huge problems facing the correctional centers.
He disclosed that the correctional center has been overcrowded because the lockdown has prevented the courts from sitting. He noted that offenders of minor offences, who would usually be arraigined and release on bail have now been residing at the correctional facilities pending when the atmosophere would become normal.
He noted that if the situation did not abate, the facility will explode with the population of inmate increasing on daily basis, adding that the directive by government couple of months ago to get some awaiting trials and inmate whose offences were minors released only had little or no effect at all.
With the skeletal services the courts are rendering, the hardship being experienced by all subsectors of the judicairy may likely continue until the lockdown is lifted. When that will be done, only time will tell.
Copyright: The Gazelle 

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