Human beings have individual differences, variation of interests and aspirations. Such breed conflict in every given society. Conflicts and disputes are inevitable when human beings inter-relate. Therefore the law courts have been established as one of the legally recognized means of arbitrations and dispute resolutions in our society. Some people refer it as the ‘last hope of the common man.
Mbaise is made up of 3 local governments namely: Aboh, Ahiazu and Ezinihitte. Presently, there are state high courts in Aboh and Ahiazu and none in Ezinihitte. Reports have it that presently, the High Court in Ahiazu has not sat for more than one year from the time of this write-up. Accordingly, it then means that in the last one year or more, the only high court serving the entire Mbaise is the one at Aboh.
Be that as it may, service delivery in the Imo judiciary is accessed through the quarterly return of cases usually made to the National Judicial Council. A quarter here means a period of four months. From the report of the Quarterly Return for Aboh Mbaise High Court for June 2011 to September 2011, it was discovered that 420 cases were brought forward from the preceding quarter. In the quarter under review, 8 new cases were assigned bringing the total number of cases for the quarter under review to 428. However, report has it that by the end of the quarter as at 30th September 2011, none of these cases was struck out and neither was judgment delivered on any. It was further observed that the judge at the court in question was also involved in the 2011 Governorship Election Tribunal outside the state making it impossible for the court to sit throughout the duration of the tribunal.
Before I go further, I wish to state that this write-up was not incited or sponsored by anybody. It is also not targeted at anybody. Rather, it is a product of candid observation and in-depth investigation which the writer feels will help Imo State Government strengthen the judiciary.
Ironically, further observation has revealed that the judge at the said Aboh Mbaise High Court is one of the most hardworking and dedicated judges in Imo State. Information has it that she personally sees to the beatification of the court premises with shrubs, flowers, grasses etc.
Also, there is this funny story that because of the epileptic electricity supply in the court that the judge sometimes, uses light from the head lamp of her official vehicle to work late hour in the court so as to meet up with her work load. Regrettably, it was observed that the entire working environment at the court is nothing to write home about.
The table of the Court Registrar is so bad that some of its legs are being supported with cements block. It was also discovered that the air-conditioners in the place have not worked for the past 25 years. Presently, there is no bore-hole for portable water in the place, no computer, photocopy machine, good office furniture and filing cabinets for office documents and case files. Furthermore, there are no bicycles, motorcycles or vehicles for the staff and majority of the staff come from outside the jurisdiction owing to lack of accommodation.
Let us face it, with the above few mentioned bizarre working conditions prevalent in this court, how would one expect judgment to be delivered? Presently, there is a murder case that has been in the court since 1995. Furthermore, since this court is the only court sitting in the entire Mbaise, it means that efficient justice delivery will elude the people of Mbaise for a while now as far as high court judicial system is concerned. For a person who goes to such a court that has more than 428 cases without judgment being delivered on one to file a fresh matter, what hope has he to get justice as at when due?
Interestingly, the situation in Aboh Mbaise High Court is a replica of what happens in majority of the courts in Imo State. Therefore, it is the submission of this writer that more courts be created and more judges appointed to lessen the burden of the courts in Imo State. The working conditions of judiciary staff should be improved with modern office equipment installed in the courts. Necessary amenities like efficient electricity, water and efficient means of transportation should also be made available so as to improve justice delivery in the state. The idea of the executive renovating court buildings, buying cars for judges and donating things for the court derogates the independence of the judiciary. I also advocate that the judiciary in the state be granted financial autonomy whereby it can take care of her needs.
Justice delayed they say is justice denied. Therefore, it is only when our courts become very efficient that cases could be resolved effectively and expeditiously. The time to rescue the judiciary in Imo State is now. Any delay can lead to people’s loss of confidence in the judiciary as the ‘last hope of the common’.
Barr Emperor Nnabuihe Iwuala (Ksc.)
Legal/Media Practitioner writes from Owerri, Imo State
08037247295 / 08185772166, firstname.lastname@example.org