President Muhammadu Buhari has decried the “terribly slow pace” of justice administration in Nigerian courts.
Speaking at the 60th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, with the theme, “Stepping Forward”, on Wednesday, he therefore proposed a 12-month time limit on the hearing of criminal cases from the high court to the Supreme Court, while all civil cases should be concluded within 15 months.
Buhari, who recalled how it took so long for the courts to decide and eventually dismiss the election petitions he filed to challenge his losses in the 2003, 2007, and 2011 presidential polls, declared that the Nigerian justice system needs an urgent reform.
“At the end, I lost all three cases. I wondered then, why it needed to take so long to arrive at a verdict and if I had won the case, someone who did not legitimately win the election would have been in office all that time,” the president said.
“In 2019, I was no longer petitioner; I had now become a respondent in the case of Atiku and Buhari and the whole process took barely six months; just over six months. What was the difference? The law had changed since my own in 2003, 2007 and 2011. You had now introduced time limits for election petitions.
“Everything must be done within a six to eight-month period. My question then is why can’t we have a time limit for criminal cases? Why can’t we have a rule that will say a criminal trial all the way to the Supreme Court must not exceed 12 months? And why can’t we do the same for civil cases? Even if we say that civil cases must not go beyond between 12 and 15 months. I think that for me is stepping forward.”
He equally lamented the churning out of multiple and conflicting court orders by judges, noting that in the recent leadership crisis that rocked the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), no fewer than eight conflicting court orders were made by different judges in a space of six weeks.
Buhari also proposed a reform of the process of judges’ appointment, recommending that aspiring judges should take tests.
His speech was read at the virtual conference by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN).