President Muhammadu Buhari has directed governors and state chief judges to release prisoners who are unnecessarily detained as part of reforms in judiciary.
The president said in Abuja on Monday that he gave the directive to the states last month and explained that over-crowding prisons and some other noticeable problems in judiciary had caused loss of confidence in the system.
Buhari spoke at the opening of the 2017 All Nigerian Judges’ Conference of Superior Courts, in Abuja.
The theme of the conference, “Strengthening Judicial Integrity and the Rule of Law,” was apt at the time of consolidating and sustaining democracy.
He said that the public expected fairness, impartiality and speed in the administration of justice.
“Regrettably court cases can drag on for years and years, sometimes decades without resolution. I need only mention land cases in Lagos to illustrate my point,’’ he said.
He said that there were huge backlogs of cases waiting to be dispensed especially at the Appellate levels.
“Reform of the judiciary should start at eliminating these seemingly endless delays in settling what to the layman are apparently simple cases.
“Again, litigants expect that higher courts should endeavour to harmonise their rulings.
“There are contradictory decisions of superior courts on the same subject matter in cases where facts are substantially the same without a clear attempt in subsequent cases to distinguish the earlier cases. This lack of clarity leads to serious confusion to the lower courts,’’ he said.
He urged the judges to pay close attention to efforts at reforming the system, reasoning that a democratic system such as ours cannot survive or prosper without strict adherence to the Rule of Law.
“My Lords, Distinguished delegates, the prime purpose of any government is to regulate social relations within its territorial jurisdiction. Without the rule of law the government will degenerate into dictatorship or anarchy,” he said.
He restated that the objectives of his administration was to combat graft and other forms of corruption which had become endemic in public in the society.
Buhari explained that the probe of the Judiciary earlier in the year was not to intimidate it.
“Let me again assure the judicial community, this action taken by the Executive was in no way a prelude to usurping the powers of the National Judicial Council or aimed at intimidating the Judiciary as wrongly portrayed in some sections of the media.
“I am aware that the majority of judicial officers are learned and incorruptible and day in day out acting in the best spirit of their oath of office.
“At the same time, I am quite aware of the problems besetting the Judiciary including under-funding, inadequate personnel and absence of modern technological aids.
“Bearing these in mind, this Administration increased allocation to the Judiciary from N70 billion to N100 billion in the 2017 budget. A similar figure has been proposed for 2018.”
The administration’s commitment, he added, was to accord the judiciary its constitutional rights.