“THE law is an ass” is a commonly used expression to convey the frustrations individuals experience with accessing justice. The metaphor of the stubbornness of the ass (donkey) refers to the very rigid application of the law. It has its origins in the works of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838), when the character, Mr. Bumble – the aggrieved husband of an overbearing woman, is told in court that “…the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction”, to which he replies: “If the law supposes that; …the law is an ass”. Everyone knows someone that has tried to access justice through litigation, and can understand why legal practitioner generally agree that disputes are not always best resolved in court, especially in developing countries like Nigeria.
Ekiti-born literary icon, Prof. Niyi Osundare, drives this point in when he wrote in his poem “My Lord, Tell Me Where to Keep Your Bribe” about corruption and inefficiencies in the Nigerian judiciary: “The Law, they say, is an ass. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. But the Law in Nigeria is a vulture; fat on the cash-and-carry carrion of murdered Conscience.” This is why governments all over the world continue to advance several ways to reform their justice sectors in keeping with the times, and to be amenable to the peculiarities of their peoples and cultures. For example, in the immediate aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when the formal justice systems in the country lay in ruins, the country’s leadership established the Gacaca courts, which were community courts which met once-a-week in villages across the country, often outdoors and under trees. The objective of the Gacaca courts was to achieve truth, justice and reconciliation among Rwandans, and though considered controversial was very effective in attending to the huge backlog of cases of accused persons.
Such efforts by governments all over the world have produced several models of what is called the multi-door courthouse which provides that litigants in mostly civil cases should not only access the court through litigation only, but that the court should provide them with alternative doors such as mediation, conciliation and arbitration, under the oversight of the court. With this in place, members of the society enjoy the advantages of these alternative methods of dispute resolution over litigation, while enjoying the timeless values and protection of the formal court system. This understanding of the place of the law, and the role that an effective and efficient legal ecosystem plays in supporting the equitable administration of justice and the building of a peaceful, cohesive, and progressive society is obviously not lost on the Dr. Kayode Fayemi administration of Ekiti State. Building on the well documented reforms carried out in his first term of office (2010-2014), the administration has taken crucial steps in advancing a comprehensive reform agenda in the justice sector, that is integrated and comprehensive.
It is significant to note that Governor Fayemi, whose political trajectory has seen him vindicated by the courts in many instances in the past, however understands that notwithstanding the rising popularity of these alternative methods, the formal courts remain an integral part of law and order in society, simply because certain critical roles the temples of justice play cannot be replaced. In recognition of this, the government of Ekiti State recently completed the renovation of the state’s High Court complex, with a commitment by the governor to ensure an annex is also built to improve the capacity of legal officers to carry out their mandate optimally in a conducive environment. The government continues to pursue its far-reaching vision to “provide a system of justice that is simpler, cheaper, more efficient and more responsive to people’s needs with a view to actualizing same with greater efficiency and effectiveness. Moving from the rigid law and order paradigm at the same time maintaining a focused, better result-oriented clients’ services through committed Legal Officers who are core professionals.”
It is in addition to the improvements in infrastructure, manpower development and other interventions in the justice sector that the government of Ekiti continues in its efforts to reposition the justice sector in the state. Today, Ekiti State makes history as Governor Fayemi signed the first ever Administration of Civil Justice bill into law – the first state in the country to do so. It is reported that the Federal Government and all other states have their respective Administration of Criminal Justice Laws, but Ekiti State has led the way to do the same for the Administration of Civil Justice. The Ekiti State House of Assembly had, last week, unanimously passed the bill entitled, “A Bill for an Act for the Provision of Administration of Civil Justice in Ekiti, 2019″ at a plenary presided over by the outgoing Speaker, Rt. Hon. Adeniran Alagbada. The bill was sponsored by the Attorney-General of Ekiti, Mr. Wale Fapohunda, to ease the administration of civil cases procedure. It is reported that during the debate on the bill, honourable members Chief Gboyega Aribisogan (APC-Ikole 1), Mr. Badejo Anifowose (PDP-Moba 2) and Mr. Wale Ayeni (PDP-Ikere 1), in turn all called for the speedy passage of the bill because of the advantages it promises to the masses in Ekiti. The bill, according to Ayeni, would create room for conflict resolution on civil matters, thereby easing the administration of justice in the state.
Disputes are a part of life because we cannot all see things from the same perspective. When people however trust the justice system, there would be less instances of resorting to self-help in resolving grievances. As a progressive society that is evolving under a visionary leadership, Ekiti is leading the way in circumventing, in as many instances as possible, the needless combative and adversarial tensions associated with litigation afterwards. in our justice system that must have inspired the Yoruba adage that says “A ki ti kootu bo, ka sore” translated to mean “you don’t take me to court and expect us to remain friends afterwards.” We therefore expect that the relevant government offices would in the coming days unpack the provisions of this new law, together with others, to let the people know exactly how it affects their lives, and how they can make the best use of them. The administration of civil law is no longer an ass in Ekiti State, but a humane tool for collaborative resolution of conflict that produces, in most cases, win-win outcomes for all parties. With Governor Fayemi signing this bill into law today, Ekiti State again leads as the first to enact what is now known as the ‘Administration of Civil Justice Law, 2019’ in the state.
We look forward to studying the provisions of this new law, but we guess that the government would be looking into our rich native culture and tradition to devise ways to expedite the resolution of civil disputes, in a way that reduces pressure on our formal justice system, and takes away the sting that litigation inflicts on relationships between individuals and communities.
- Rotimi, a public relations practitioner, writes in from Lagos, Nigeria